NHL salary cap could go as high as $77.5 million next season, per report

Cap projections are getting increasingly optimistic.

The NHL salary cap is likely to settle near $75 million next season, but the players could increase the upper limit to over $77 million if they use the full five percent escalator clause, per The Athletic’s James Mirtle.

This is a much more optimistic projection of the salary cap increase than indicated in previous reports. Back in March, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the cap could stay flat at $73 million for next season, but Mirtle reports “there’s actually no scenario where the cap goes down or stays flat at $73 million.”

With revenues of just under $4 billion this season, the 2017-18 salary cap is set to be roughly $74 million even if the NHLPA declines to use any of the escalator clause. So it’s going up at least $1 million, and likely more than that given the low odds the players decline to use the escalator.

A few days ago, Bob McKenzie reported there was “virtually no chance” the NHLPA doesn’t use the escalator, so it seems like we’re moving toward a multi-million dollar increase in the cap.

The most likely scenario is an approximately $75 million cap with the players using only a small portion of the five percent escalator. But there’s reportedly a faction in the union — likely comprised primarily of players set to hit free agency soon — that wants to max out the escalator, which would push the salary cap closer to $77.5 million.

Either way, this is great news for the Blackhawks. They’re currently set at a $77.5 million cap hit with 22 players on the roster for next season, per Cap Friendly. That figure will drop closer to $74 million once Marcus Kruger is traded, which seems like a lock at this point.

The most important thing here is that it decreases the Blackhawks’ urgency to trade a big name. Rumors have been swirling over the past few days that a major trade is “likely,” but the circumstances that would necessitate such a deal are weakened with a higher cap. GM Stan Bowman will have greater flexibility, which should only give him greater leverage in trade talks.

A high cap doesn’t guarantee the team stands pat, however. The Hawks likely know more about the potential cap increases than we do, and all indications are that they recognize the first-round sweep this year showed this team needs more than mild tweaking on the fringes.

But a higher cap allows the Blackhawks to deal from more of a position of strength rather than weakness, and that’s great news as we await another offseason of moves.