Entering the NHL off-season, it appears the league's projected increase in the salary cap to $74 million could fall short.
Each year, the NHLPA votes on approving a five-percent escalator clause. If the players vote against it this year, the cap ceiling could drop. Last Saturday, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported the cap could fall to under $70 million.
The New York Post's Larry Brooks cites a source with ties to the PA claiming the cap would drop to $69.3 million if the players reject the escalator. If they approve it, the ceiling rises to $72.8 million.
An increase in the cap mean higher escrow clawbacks in 2016-17 from the players' salaries. However, Brooks points out it also means teams have more money to invest in new contracts and protects against “cap-necessitated buyouts and waivers.” He claims the PA is expected to approve the escalator clause.
Jared Clinton notes a decline or a marginal increase in the cap ceiling will have consequences for clubs squeezed for cap space. He singled out the Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets.
With over $73.9 million invested in 22 players, the Penguins could end up over the cap ceiling. Fortunately, they only have depth players such as Beau Bennett, Justin Schultz and Ben Lovejoy to re-sign. They'll also get $3.75 million of salary cap relief when 2016-17 begins by placing all-but-retired left winger Pascal Dupuis on long-term injured reserve.
Still, that won't provide the Pens much room to re-sign anyone or to address other roster needs as required. They could be forced to move a high-salaried veteran this summer.
Evgeni Malkin ($9-million annually) recently surfaced in the rumor mill, but it's doubtful the Penguins will trade him. A likelier option is goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who lost the starter's job to rookie Matt Murray.
Fleury, 31, carries a $5.75-million cap hit through 2018-19. While he has a no-movement clause, it only covers waivers and demotions. He has an 18-team list of preferred trade destinations. With expansion on the horizon and teams allowed to protect only one goalie, Fleury's days with the Penguins appear numbered.
Re-signing pending UFA left winger Milan Lucic is a priority. Of late, however, there's talk the power forward may be open to offers from the Vancouver Canucks or Edmonton Oilers.
Cost-cutting options appear limited for the Kings. Dustin Brown's name popped up as a trade candidate following a recent report he would be relieved of the team captaincy. His declining production, $5.875-million cap hit through 2021-22 and modified no-trade clause makes him difficult to move.
The Blackhawks have all their core players signed through 2016-17, but gritty center Andrew Shaw is a restricted free agent. The 24-year-old is completing a two-year, $4-million deal and is in line for a raise.
GM Stan Bowman is expected to try again to move little-used left winger Bryan Bickell ($4 million through 2016-17) this month. Failing that, he could buy him out. That should provide sufficient relief to re-sign Shaw and perhaps Richard Panik. However, that will lead to the departure of veteran left winger Andrew Ladd via unrestricted free agency.
The Blue Jackets have over $66.5 million invested in 19 players. Defenseman Seth Jones and center William Karlsson are completing entry-level contracts. Jones, 21, is a star on the rise and could be an expensive re-signing.
Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen attempted to shop left winger Scott Hartnell ($4.75 million through 2018-19) and defenseman Fedor Tyutin ($4.5 million through 2017-18) before this season's trade deadline. It's expected he'll try moving them again this summer.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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