TAMPA, Fla. — The fears of general managers could soon be realized: Next year’s NHL salary cap might come in lower than expected.
Gary Bettman has consistently targeted a cap of $71.5-million, but acknowledged during his state of the league address on Wednesday that it hinged on negotiations with the NHLPA about whether to kick in the yearly escalator set out in the collective bargaining agreement.
“We obviously have to have a discussion with the players’ association as we’ve said all along,” Bettman said before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final. “If we use the full five per cent (escalator), our preliminary calculations is we’ll be somewhere over $71-(million). But the cap is somewhere in the $70-, $71-(million) range we believe.”
While the difference might not sound like a lot, teams like Chicago, Montreal, Boston and others will need all the wiggle room they can get this off-season.
Last season the NHL and NHLPA came to a compromise on the escalator issue, deciding to apply a 2.5 per cent increase that took the cap to $69-million.
Traditionally, the players have always wanted to see the full escalator used so that the cap number climbed as high as possible. However, since the split in revenue was reduced to 50-50 in the most recent CBA, they have had to pay a lot more escrow — the money taken off each pay cheque to balance out the system.
Players on long-term deals, in particular, don’t want that to continue and are willing to see a lower salary cap as a result. That was an important area of discussion during the NHLPA’s executive board meeting in New York this week. The players were instructed to poll teammates and report back before the cap is set later this month.
Bettman’s annual address wasn’t particularly high on news value. The commissioner declined comment on Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle’s decision to put the Pittsburgh Penguins up for sale, and saved his sharpest words for the new executive compensation policy.
He isn’t a fan of seeing teams give up second- or third-round draft picks when hiring a coach or general manager from another team. However, Bettman indicated that the policy won’t be altered until Jan. 1 at the earliest and said any picks that have already changed hands won’t be reversed.
“The other system was much simpler — either let the person go or don’t,” said Bettman. “I didn’t believe it was necessary. After repeated conversations with the general managers, I ultimately deferred to their desire and request — with the caveat that if we have any disputes we’re going back to the old system.
“So far we haven’t had any disputes. Some debates, but no disputes.”
The NHL board of governors is scheduled to meet in Las Vegas on June 24 when they’ll receive an update of that city’s pursuit of a team. Bettman was encouraged by Wednesday’s announcement that Bill Foley has taken deposits for over 11,500 tickets.
The commissioner outlined how they might eventually go about getting a team.
“If the board has any interest in pursuing it, my recommendation would then be to open a formal expansion process,” said Bettman. “The board may say, ‘That’s interesting, but we still don’t want to do anything.’ That’s an option. And even if they green-light a formal expansion process, it doesn’t mean we’re going to expand.
“It means we’ll go through the steps of looking through things, and the conclusion at the end of that process could be very well, no expansion. So it would just be a question of possibly looking at the expressions of interest and looking at them a little more seriously than we have.”
Among other items of note was a recent discussion with the Russian-based KHL about expanding the player-transfer agreement to mirror that of other European countries. Officials with that league are looking at allowing players under KHL contract to come over to North America in exchange for development fees.
“We’ve made that offer to the KHL over time,” said deputy commissioner Bill Daly. “Previously they were not interested in doing that.
“There’s a sense that they may be open to having a more friendly transfer arrangement with us than we currently have.