The NHL’s salary cap ceiling will be $81.5M for 2020-21 and will not increase until the league’s hockey-related revenue surpasses $3.3 billion once again. Even then, the number will grow slowly as the difference in escrow is slowly paid off. Despite that cap being the theoretical number that teams can spend to, many around the league will be icing rosters that are quite a bit cheaper.
Frank Seravalli of TSN reported just a few days ago that the Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes and Pittsburgh Penguins could all be operating with an internal budget much lower (with the Coyotes perhaps going “just south of $70M”). They aren’t the only three, which could potentially open up even more opportunities for cash-rich organizations that have strong financial backing. Not only will they be able to bring in a roster that adds up to the salary cap ceiling, but players that are earning more money than their cap hits in 2020-21 could potentially be available in trade at a bargain price.
The other opportunity is one that has existed for some time but could be amplified this offseason: long-term injured reserve.
For years now, teams have traded in “dead contracts” in various situations. Trading for players who are under contract but will never play again has been a routine occurrence for teams like the Coyotes and Toronto Maple Leafs—though the two use those opportunities in very different ways. The Maple Leafs have used a strong financial situation to take on the contracts of players like Nathan Horton and David Clarkson, giving them a bit more flexibility when it comes to the salary cap. No, these dead contracts are not just bonus cap space as some imply, but they can create some creative ways to provide wiggle room around the hard cap.