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Salary cap for 2015-16 ignites trade talk at GMs meeting in Las Vegas

The NHL GMs and Board of Governors meetings in Las Vegas will address hot topics including expansion, new rules and the salary cap.

Expansion, overtime and the salary cap top the agenda as the NHL’s general managers and Board of Governors gather during the next two days in Las Vegas.

On Tuesday, commissioner Gary Bettman surprised observers by announcing a salary cap ceiling of $71.4 million. Credit a decision by the NHLPA to use the full 5% escalator at its disposal for pushing it to that level despite the drag caused by the devaluation of the Canadian dollar.

That’s higher than the $69 million cap for 2014-15 and up slightly from his early estimates of $70-$71 million, but nowhere near high enough to rescue several teams from cap woes of their own making.

The cap floor was set at $52.8 million, a level that 11 teams will have to add salary to reach. The Coyotes, for instance, are currently $18 million below the new floor. The Predators are $14 million under. The Sabres are $11 million. Expect all of those teams to be active in the coming weeks.

The pump is now primed for trades ahead of Friday’s first round of the NHL Entry Draft. Players like Chicago’s Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell are up for grabs as the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks look to clear cash off their books. With several key RFAs to sign, Boston may be willing to move David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand (photo above) or Loui Eriksson. The Penguins are thought to be shopping Brandon Sutter to clear space for some help on the wings.

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And it’s not just cap casualties who will be flooding the trading floor. The Maple Leafs are exploring their options with Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf. The Vancouver Canucks are looking to dish either Eddie Lack or Jacob Markstrom. The Ottawa Senators, another team with one goalie too many, are listening to offers for Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner. The New York Rangers may want to get out ahead of the market by swapping backup Cam Talbot. The Buffalo Sabres might want to move on from malcontent center Mikhail Grigorenko.

With all the decision makers in one place, it could be a busy couple of days.

On Wednesday, the Board of Governors will meet to discuss the competition committee’s recommendations for three-on-three overtime and the coach’s challenge system. Either or both could get the go-ahead for implementation as soon as the upcoming season. There will also be an update on the ongoing situation in Arizona, where the Coyotes are locked in a heated court battle with the City of Glendale over their arena lease agreement.

The meat on that menu, though, will be expansion.

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There’s no certainty that the BOG is ready to open the doors to their exclusive club for the first time since the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild were admitted back in 2000, but the pieces seem to be in place to formally open the process. That would give the green light to potential owners in prospective cities to make themselves known and allow the league to investigate the merits for each.

Obviously, Las Vegas stands as the frontrunner with prospective owner Bill Foley claiming to have more than 13,000 season ticket commitments from local residents. Foley is not in town this week—intentionally, no doubt, to avoid being a distraction—and won’t be part of the activities. But the viability of his efforts will be front and center. If all goes well with the vetting process we could have a formal announcement on his bid before the start of next season and could see Las Vegas enter the league for the 2017-18 campaign.

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