The NHL salary cap for the 2016-17 season will be either $71.4 million or $74 million. Bill Daly, the league's deputy commissioner, said Wednesday that the cap will rise to $74 million if the NHLPA agrees to exercise its escalator clause. If the escalator clause is not exercised, the cap will remain at its current upper limit of $71.4 million.
For the Blackhawks and many other teams, that means the escalator clause will be a major issue coming into the offseason. The difference of $2.6 million in salary cap space would have significant implications for many teams that are already near the max.
The escalator clause was built into the CBA because the salary cap is designed to increase each year. The clause, which designates a five percent year-to-year increase, requires annual approval from the NHLPA. Because of various economic factors, including the escrow on players' paychecks, it hasn't always been as simple as giving the escalator a thumb's up.
Last year, the NHLPA approved the escalator clause, which saw the salary cap increase from $69 million to $71.4 million. ESPN's Pierre LeBrun reports that the initial projection for an increased 2016-17 cap was $74.5 million back in December, so the league has already lowered that figure slightly.
There are no indications being made now as to whether the clause will be exercised again in 2016, which means GMs will likely be following this development closely leading up to the summer. The cap holding steady would lead to some very difficult offseasons for teams across the NHL.