In December, commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the NHL salary cap would rise $3.5 million for the 2019–20 season, to $83 million. In the last couple of days, there have been rumblings that Bettman’s figure was optimistic, and that the figure—which is negotiated by the league and the players’ union—will actually come in around south of $82 million. This is not the problem, or at least not the big problem. This is:
Ah. The problem there is that the NHL Draft begins on Friday and continues through Saturday. Teams are not going to know until some time in the middle of the draft what the salary cap and salary floor will even be for the upcoming season they’re drafting for. This is less than ideal!
Front offices still do not know what their cap situation will look like. Trade season is already open, and extension season, and buyout season, and free agency officially begins in a few days but has functionally already started, and all these teams are building rosters and negotiating deals without knowing how much they actually have to spend. (Or have to shed. The Golden Knights are already carrying $83.1 million in salary on next year’s projected roster.) Draft-day trades? Only in the later rounds will teams be able to make them with full knowledge of their financial situation.
This isn’t good for front offices and it isn’t good for players, and it’s entirely self-inflicted—there’s no set date to finalize the cap figures, and so no reason, or at least no good one, that it shouldn’t be done before the draft begins. (Last year the agreement came on June 21, the day before the start of the draft.) It’s an entirely unnecessarily complication for the NHL, and more to the point, it’s a perfect example of the sort of mickey-mouse shit this league excels at being unable to stop doing.
As for why the cap is going to be lower than expected, Elliotte Friedman has a good primer, and the upshot is that keeping the cap lower over the next two years is a way to maintain labor peace, which both sides want, ahead of an influx of money with the next U.S. TV deal. It’s all as boring as it is complicated, but every other big-time league manages to keep these things from spilling over into practical farce. Why can’t the NHL?