The NHL’s Board of Governors will meet next Monday and Tuesday in Pebble Beach, Calif., and while all eyes will be on the discussion of expansion proposals from Las Vegas and Quebec City, there will be another topic of more pressing interest to teams around the league.
If tradition follows, Commissioner Gary Bettman will provide the governors with an early projection of where the 2016-17 salary cap will land. It's expected that the estimate will hew closely to this season’s boundaries, with a lower limit of $52.8 million and an upper limit of $71.4 million, although a number of underlying factors could edge it one way or the other.
We won’t know the actual cap numbers until next June, but Bettman’s early estimate will give the teams valuable information to work with ahead of some important deadlines. And it could have a significant impact on both pending contract issues and the sluggish trade market.
Case in point: the lingering negotiations between the Lightning and superstar center Steven Stamkos. At the moment the two sides appear to be stalemated, although neither is making details of the negotiations available to the public. It’s obvious though, as Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times writes, where the hold-up is:
"[GM Steve] Yzerman is probably still pondering if he can sign Stamkos and still keep his championship-caliber core together. Can he give Stamkos $10 million or $11 million a year—a hefty bump over his $7.5 million cap hit this season—and find room for Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Victor Hedman and Ben Bishop, who all will need new deals after next season, and Nikita Kucherov, a restricted free agent this summer? Hedman is a no-brainer to lock up. Bishop, due to the emergence of Andrei Vasilevskiy, could be let go. But who else?"
That $11 million number is the key. The current high-water mark under the new contract rules is the $10.5 million paid annually to both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane by the Chicago Blackhawks. It is believed that Stamkos and his agent, Don Meehan, are looking to set a new standard and you can’t blame them for trying. Sure, Toews and Kane earned their deals with a pair of Stanley Cups, but a Stamkos deal could be viewed as critical to Tampa Bay’s chances of claiming a championship in the future. And every contract these days is designed with the future in mind, not the past.
Or it could be seen as an impediment if Yzerman decides to bet on depth over a top-heavy salary commitment.
Bettman’s estimate could grease the skids for a resolution. Either the number lands somewhere that allows Yzerman enough room to make Stamkos happy while leaving himself enough space to take care of his future obligations ... or it doesn’t.
It’s a tough call either way for Yzerman. And it's one whose difficulty will only be magnified when the Bolts play in Stamkos’s hometown of Toronto on Dec. 15.
The Lightning aren't the only team that will be watching the numbers closely.
The Jets have two major players headed towards unrestricted free agency: captain Andrew Ladd and top defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. Ideally, they’d like to have both players signed to long-term deals before it gets to that point, but Winnipeg is far from being a cap team. That means the Jets will likely have to choose one over the other, and given that Byfuglien’s name has been mentioned in connection with Travis Hamonic trade rumors, it seems likely that he’ll be the one to go.
Of course, a team trading for Byfuglien likely will want a chance to work out an extension. And it will be best positioned to do that if it knows what it will have to spend next season. That doesn’t mean a deal will happen after the cap estimate is released, but that information will make it easier for potential trade partners to project what they can or can’t do financially moving forward.
It will be fascinating to see where the numbers land.
The numbers game
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