NHL stagnant salary cap drama expected in 2017-18

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The last “flat cap” the NHL had from year to year was in 2009-10, which was seen as a symptom of a global economic downturn (even the NBA’s cap took a hit). But after a $1.6 million increase for 2016-17, all signs point to another “flat cap” year for 2017-18, which is bad news for more than a few teams.

Back in December, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman signaled that it could remain at $73 million or rise upwards of $2 million.

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Larry Brooks of the NY Post notes on Sunday that the cap is expected to be stagnant:

The NHL apparently anticipates the cap to remain flat next season, with little if any increase projected over this year’s $73 million ceiling.

 That would mean an increase of a paltry 3.998 percent of the players’ pot since 2012-13, the year before the 50/50 formula went into effect. So the major-market franchises that drive NHL revenue and successful clubs that habitually are cap teams get hammered again in attempting to maintain — or improve — their personnel while the small market clubs go along for the ride.

Well, they don’t exactly “go along for the ride.” They’re like people who walk around and collect plastic bottles for the deposit money. The major market trash is their treasure. Sometimes that means acting as an empty salary cap vessel that allow major market teams to make their salary cap problems disappear – see Coyotes, Arizona – and sometimes that means being a destination for really, really good players that the major market teams can no longer afford. (Which is how you end up with Brandon Saad on the Columbus Blue Jackets for example.)

It’s much more symbiotic than Brooks is willing to admit, but it’s not like he doesn’t see the world through red, white and Blueshirt glasses.

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But his point remains: The Chicago Blackhawks will, again, be screwed. The Tampa Bay Lightning … well, who even knows what the hell they’re going to do. Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Jonathan Drouin go RFA. Even if they delete Ben Bishop and Valtteri Filppula from the cap, they’re still up against it.

Other teams with high salaries are going to feel the pinch, too.

What’s interesting, and nearly sinister, about this cap stagnation is that it proves so advantageous to the NHL. It creates more forced parity, which by now should be as synonymous with the League as ice. But a stagnant cap could also present a path to the players through which they can get what they ultimately want: The end, or a significant lowering, of escrow.

From Craig Custance of ESPN.com, in December:

Bettman came up with a very practical solution for those who want to eliminate escrow.

“If you lowered the cap, you’d have less escrow. It’s that simple,” Bettman said. “The players in the last round of collective bargaining … wanted to change the formula to raise the cap, which raises the escrow.”

Bettman doesn’t typically say things by accident, and my good friend Chris Johnston seemed to pick up on that when he asked Bettman if his preference was for the cap to stay the same or to decline just to address the escrow issue. “The answer to that is one I would prefer to discuss with the players association first,” Bettman answered.

There’s a difference between telling and showing. Consecutive seasons of low cap increases and low escrow withholdings might start building the case for the NHL as, one assumes, it will try and dial back salaries in the next Collective Bargaining war.

We called the cap situation “sinister” earlier, because frankly the owners can fiddle with numbers 10 ways to Sunday to monkey with revenues. It’s something former NHLPA lawyer Richard Rodier is campaigning against, as Elliotte Friedman noted this week.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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