The NHL salary cap for the 2015-16 season has been set at $71.4 million.
The league and NHLPA today announced that figure today, which represents an increase from $69 million in 2014-15. The increase is roughly what was expected since the league started sharing estimates during mid-season, but the modest increase in the cap ceiling of $2.4 million -- and this is after the NHLPA again triggered the 5 percent escalator clause -- means several teams are in an even tighter cap situation than they would have expected just a year ago.
Last year's increase of $4.7 million was itself seen as a small increase that left teams in a bind. The New York Islanders profited from that last summer by acquiring both Johnny Boychuk from the Boston Bruins and Nick Leddy from the Chicago Blackhawks thanks to both teams needing to offload salary to fit under the 2014-15 cap. The Isles then signed both players to long-term extensions that their previous teams could not afford under the cap.
Officially, and in CBA-ese, the payroll range for 2015-16 is:
a Lower Limit of $52.8 million, an Adjusted Midpoint of $62.1 million and an Upper Limit of $71.4 million.
The drop in value of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. dollar has been widely cited as a reason that revenues -- and thus the cap which is based upon those revenues -- did not grow at the same torrid pace they've seen during most years of the salary cap era, which began in 2005-06.
Although the Islanders again find themselves in a very good cap position for 2015-16, they have several upcoming free agents this summer and next who will require both raises and smart cap navigation. Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Thomas Hickey are key restricted free agents this summer, while Ryan Strome becomes an RFA in 2016, the same summer that Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, Frans Nielsen, Matt Martin and Brian Strait are due for unrestricted free agency.
The Boychuk and Leddy contracts essentially moved them from the "looking to pounce" cap category to "we have to mind our ceiling now too." Combine that with the slowing growth in the cap over the past two seasons, and the Islanders have to remain cap-vigilant or they could end up in the same bind as the teams they previously pounced on.
Even with raises to Lee, Nelson and Hickey, the Isles could afford to add a player with a big salary, but he would have to be with just one or at most two years remaining, and/or be in a trade that sent one of their soon-to-be UFAs out the door.
Okposo's next contract in particular could loom large: He was scoring at a top-line rate the last season and a half when healthy, but his eye injury last winter interrupted his season and clouds how much salary and term he should command. Combined, these situations mean some of the Isles entering the final year of their contracts could be in play on the trade market.