MANALAPAN, Fla. — One day after the NHL took a big step towards an expansion franchise in Seattle, commissioner Gary Bettman said the league’s existing 31 teams will be allowed to spend more next season.
A lot more, in fact.
Bettman told reporters at the conclusion of the league’s board of governors meeting Friday that the projected salary cap for 2018-19 will be somewhere between US$78 million and $82 million, up from the current $75 million.
"The league has never been healthier," Bettman said in a ballroom at the swanky Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa. "The game has never been healthier. Our franchises have never been healthier. Our fan base has never been better."
Bettman said hockey-related revenue will be around US$4.54 billion this season, an 8.2 per cent increase.
The cap bump should help a number of teams close to the ceiling like the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks heading into next season, and others like the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have to lock up young stars Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner in the not-too-distant future.
Leafs president Brendan Shanahan didn’t stop to speak with reporters after the meeting broke Friday, but Edmonton Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson, whose club recently signed star forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to long-term deals, said the cap increase was welcome news.
"Where we are with the cap going forward … it’s certainly going to help us, and really continue along with the plan that (general manager Peter Chiarelli) has for our team," said Nicholson.
The players and the league have to agree on on a "growth factor," which would see the cap at $78 million if it stands at zero per cent, and $82 million if it reaches five per cent.
The growth factor for this season was set at 1.6 per cent.
A percentage of player salaries is withheld in escrow to ensure a 50/50 split of hockey revenue with owners, according to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
"My preference is to keep the cap as low as possible because then the escrow is low," said Bettman. "We’re projecting from our standpoint that the final escrow, when it’s settled out and we disperse it, will be a single-digit escrow from player salaries for last season."
The projected salary cap increase of at least $3 million would mark the biggest jump since it went from $64.3 million in 2013-14 to $69 million in 2014-15. If the cap rises to $82 million, it will be the largest increase in league history, topping the $6.4-million bump from 2007-08 to 2008-09.
The NHL brought in a salary cap after the 2004-05 lockout, which stood at $39 million in its first season.
The cap increased from $73 million in 2015-16 to the $75 million it stands at this season.
"The salary cap is going to go up every year," said Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson. "We’re a team that is a salary cap team.
"It wasn’t a surprise."
The league opened the board of governors meeting Thursday by announcing it has agreed to consider an expansion application from billionaire David Bonderman and filmmaker Jerry Bruckheimer for Seattle — the franchise would cost $650 million — and allow the pair to start a season-ticket drive to gauge interest.
That news came on the heels of the announcement that Texas businessman Tom Dundon had signed an agreement to purchase a majority stake in the Carolina Hurricanes.
Bettman said that apart from the salary cap update, Friday’s agenda included the board of governors discussing business reports, the league’s centennial celebration, games overseas, next season’s schedule, esports endeavours, as well as player and puck tracking.
Scotiabank CEO Brian Porter also made a presentation that touched on some of the uncertainty surrounding the North American Free Trade Agreement, which U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to scrap.
The board of governors were coincidentally meeting about 10 kilometres south of Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago club.
"The relationship between Canada and the U.S. is extraordinarily important to both countries, not just the NHL, and we’ll have to deal with whatever may or may not happen," said Bettman. "I know that in Canada, NAFTA is viewed as very important."