The NHL provided owners with a best-case scenario salary cap projection of $74.5 million for the 2016-17 season during the league's board of governors meeting Monday, reports Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman. That would represent a $3.1 million increase from the current salary cap of $71.4 million, although it's a highly preliminary estimate that could change by the summer.
The final salary cap figure will be of massive importance to the Blackhawks, who will once again be near the upper limit entering the summer thanks to their various high-salary contracts. The team had to ship out key names like Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad and Johnny Oduya last offseason due to financial constraints and could face some similar issues after this season.
That makes the league's initial upper level projection of $74.5 million fairly good news, although it's important to note this is the best possible outcome. Last season, the NHL first projected a 2015-16 salary cap of $73 million before some external factors, namely a sinking Canadian economy, led to a much more modest increase. Friedman says most GMs are planning for a lower cap figure just to be safe, which is probably sensible after how the last year played out.
Chicago presently has 19 players -- 11 forwards, six defenseman, two goaltenders -- under contract for next season for a total of $68.1 million. There will also likely be overage bonuses from Panarin's contract, which could be over $2 million. So once again, the Hawks will need every dollar they can get next summer, even if they're not quite staring at the mass exodus we saw after the Stanley Cup this year.
Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, Michal Rozsival and Brandon Mashinter are all set to hit free agency, with the first two names being RFAs. If you figure the Hawks will already have somewhere around $70 million in committed money for next season, that doesn't leave much room even if the cap hits the high projection. While losing guys like Shaw and Kruger wouldn't hurt quite as much as Sharp and Saad, you have to imagine the team would prefer to keep one or both if it can. That may be challenging even if the cap falls on the high end, though, unless the Hawks move Bryan Bickell and/or Trevor Daley to clear salary.
Still, a high projection of $74.5 million is good for the Hawks, because anything significantly lower than that would create some challenges. Most of the roster for next season is already filled up with a combination of huge salaries and cheap young players. There are also a bunch of guys in Rockford who could get looks like Phillip Danault and Ville Pokka. The team will likely have to move on from some veterans again next summer no matter what, but it's not going to be as active as last offseason's overhaul.