NHL salary cap likely to go up after NHLPA votes on escalator clause, per report

Bob McKenzie says there’s ‘virtually no chance’ the players vote for zero increase in the cap.

The NHL salary cap for the 2017-18 season could stay flat at $73 million if the NHLPA votes against the five percent escalator clause, but TSN’s Bob McKenzie says there’s “virtually no chance” that happens in full.

While a lack of increases in NHL revenues means the league’s projection of the salary cap is flat without the escalator clause, the NHLPA retains the option through the CBA to increase the salary cap by up to five percent. That’s not a hard “yes or no” proposition, though, and McKenzie is reporting that the players could opt for an increase in the cap that’s not the full five percent.

The debate over how much to crease the salary cap is complicated for the players because of escrow. The greater the year-to-year increase in the salary cap, the greater the percentage of players’ salaries gets placed into escrow. This season, 15.5 percent of  player payments were withheld, which is part of a complicated system to ensure a 50-50 split in revenue between the owners and players.

Last season, the salary cap rose 2.2 percent from $71.4 million to $73 million. If the players voted for a similar 2.2 percent use of the escalator clause this year, barring any unexpected last-minute changes in the NHL’s projection, the cap would increase to $74.6 million. A full five percent increase would bring the cap to $76.65 million next season.

McKenzie’s tweets seem to leave some possibility for that full five percent increase, which would be incredible news for the Blackhawks. But even so, hearing that there’s minimal chance of a flat cap has to be music to their ears. A cap closer to $75 million than $73 million would be a boon for GM Stan Bowman as he tries to figure out how to build next season’s team.

We already got the rumor this week that the Blackhawks are likely to trade a “core player,” but their urgency in doing so could change based on the final cap number. Marcus Kruger seems like a goner no matter what. The need to move someone like Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, or Artem Anisimov, on the other hand, hinges partially on where that cap upper limit ends up.

Right now, the Hawks have $77.5 million tied up in 22 players for next season, per Cap Friendly. Take out Kruger and Trevor van Riemsdyk, who seem to be likely departures, and you’re at $73.6 million with two or three open spots, plus the remaining need for an upgrade at backup goalie. Jeff Glass probably won’t cut it there.

Even if the cap goes up to $75 million, it’ll be hard for the Blackhawks to build a team under those circumstances. But just how desperate they’ll need to be to make big changes, and how much breathing room they’ll have to decide their path, will depend on the players’ upcoming vote.