During last week's NHL Board of Governors' meetings, league commissioner Gary Bettman declined to reveal his salary-cap projections for 2020-21. That's a change from recent years, likely because his previous annual projections kept falling short.
Last year, for example, Bettman projected a salary cap of $83 million for 2019-20. It ultimately reached $81.5 million. That's because the NHLPA approved a modest increase in its annual cap inflator to reduce escrow claw-backs from players' salaries.
TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported that a league governor said several different ranges were discussed, including a modest increase to $82.5 million. Another governor suggested $83.5 million.
The cap could go higher if escrow payments for next season are lower than expected.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported players and agents structured their actual salaries to avoid putting too much into what was expected to be a lockout year (2020-21). With that concern pushed down the road to Sept. 2022, there's less actual cash to be paid out next season. That could provide the NHLPA with the breathing room to use more of its five percentage inflator on the cap, Friedman speculated.
Several NHL clubs could be praying for the latter. An $82.5 million cap could complicate their efforts to ice a competitive roster in 2020-21.
CapFriendly indicates the Arizona Coyotes have over $80 million invested in 16 players next season. They'll get some cap relief by placing all-but-retired winger Marian Hossa ($5.275 million) on long-term injury reserve. Nevertheless, it won't leave much to re-sign or replace unrestricted free agents such as Taylor Hall, Carl Soderberg, Brad Richardson, or restricted free agents Christian Fischer and Vinnie Hinostroza.
A small increase in the cap will make it tough for the St. Louis Blues to re-sign captain Alex Pietrangelo. The UFA defenseman could seek over $8 million annually on his next contract, but the Blues already have over $73.7 million committed to 16 players. A cost-cutting trade could be necessary to re-sign Pietrangelo and fill their remaining roster spots.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have over $65.6 million tied up in just 10 players. Of their top-six defensemen, only Morgan Rielly is signed beyond this season. Jake Muzzin and Tyson Barrie are their notable UFAs and could cost over $10 million to re-sign, while Travis Dermott will seek a pay bump after completing his entry-level contract.
Re-signing key defensive players could also be an issue for the Tampa Bay Lightning. They've got over $73 million tied up in just 12 players. Resurgent veteran Kevin Shattenkirk is a UFA while two-way center Anthony Cirelli and young rearguards Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak are completing entry-level contracts. The Bolts have a well-deserved reputation for re-signing players for less than market value, but they could still lack sufficient wiggle room to retain all their key free agents.
In Chicago, the Blackhawks will be forced to chose between long-time starting goaltender Corey Crawford and 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner. Young center Dylan Strome is in line for a significant raise coming off his entry-level contract. With over $71.8 million invested in 15 players, there won't be much room to improve the remainder of the lineup.