With the NHL general managers meeting in luxury this week in Florida, lots of updates are coming out about some major issues affecting the direction of roster management for each team, ranging from the salary cap next season to which players GMs need to think about losing in a potential expansion draft.
NHL Salary Cap: Flat, unless NHLPA Escalates
Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the salary cap will remain flat (that's $71.4 million) or will increase to $74 million if the NHLPA exercises the "escalator" clause in full. That comes from Frank Seravalli, among others reporting from the meetings.
The escalator is a complex mechanism, but suffice to say it allows current players to increase the cap for the coming season in the expectation that hockey-related revenues, and thus the size of their share of the pie, will increase. The NHLPA almost always exercises this, however news of the flat salary cap is a sign that they may not want to this year.
If they increase the cap without increasing revenue, than they end up diverting more of their paycheck to escrow to make sure the league/union split of revenues is "whole" at the end of the year. Players hate escrow because math is hard and long-term planning is difficult for North Americans to concentrate on when--OH LOOK A KARDASHIAN.
Islanders Impact: The Islanders are in good shape, cap-wise, because Garth Snow is nothing if not judicious about fitting players in on a budget. They have 16 roster players signed (28 contracts total) for next season per NHL Fanager and lots of wiggle room. However, key unrestricted free agents include Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo.
Okposo is widely expected to test the market, but it will be interesting if his demands or expectations will have to come down if the cap is flat. Will that make him a more affordable fit for the Isles?
NHL Expansion: You know, maybe (Vegas)
Speaking of one of the things denting league revenue growth...the Canadian dollar remains at move-your-teams-to-Denver-and-Phoenix lows, which is probably a big reason the expansion bid in Quebec is viewed with more suspicion than local enthusiasm would seem to warrant.
The next NHL expansion has been long rumored, long hemmed and hawed, and is still long in coming. Las Vegas seems a strong bet, but it's unknown whether the league would want to take on adding just one team. Still, Daly said they'd know before this June's draft what the direction is. Darren Dreger and Bob McKenzie each think most GMs are expecting to hear the league will expand by one team, in Vegas. That has been where the arrows have pointed lately, but there is still time. And it's still up to the executive committee.
Regardless, general managers have been wanting to know -- because they're a little better at long-term planning than your average citizen -- whether they need to start moving their chess pieces to ensure they lose their worst players in an expansion draft.
Islanders Impact: No one's getting our team. Sorry, Quebec.
Expansion Draft: Pretty Freaking Stingy, However...
So how would an expansion draft work? They shared "potential" scenarios, though these are not finalized rules. It looks terrifying, but becomes less so once you understand all the wrinkles.
- Teams can protect either 3 defensemen, 7 forwards and 1 goalie, or 8 skaters and 1 goalie, per Darren Dreger.
- However: Teams can only lose one player per expansion team. (So if there's only one team, you only lose one player).
- Prospects and "first- and second-year pros" are exempt and don't need to be protected.
Bottom line on expansion draft as a few GMs said: each team has potential to lose either a No. 4 or No. 5 D, or a No. 6 or No. 7 F or a G— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) March 16, 2016
Islanders Impact: Well, it's a long way to go from here to expansion -- there won't be a team next season, for example -- so Garth Snow would have another year to plan, and several players will be free agents by any expansion draft. But every player on the NHL roster right now would be eligible for the expansion draft, so that gives you an idea of what you're dealing with.
For example, Jaroslav Halak is the only goalie signed through 2017-18, but that's the last year of his contract and if the Isles have another successor signed -- or a Thomas Greiss type, say -- they might very well want to protect the successor and leave Halak exposed.
Or on defense, if you wanted to guarantee you kept Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Calvin de Haan and Travis Hamonic (he's probably traded by any expansion draft, but this is the exercise), then you would only be able to protect four other skaters. Remove one of those defensemen from the protected list and suddenly you get to protect seven forwards. That's a big difference.
Forward names that would still be relevant and important next summer include John Tavares, Anders Lee, Ryan Strome, Brock Nelson...Nielsen if he's re-signed (ditto for Okposo). Others may be vets at the end of contracts that you might be willing to dangle, especially with prospects like Mathew Barzal and Michael Dal Colle in the wings. Point is, there could be an argument for protecting four defensemen if you think the difference between forwards five through eight is marginal.
Draft Lottery: Status Quo
The NHL has already messed with the draft lottery in a two-year phased-in alteration that adjusted the odds and opened the top three spots (not just the top spot) to all non-playoff teams by this summer. But the sight of the Edmonton Oilers down in prime #1-overall lottery land yet again got some GMs thinking it needs more changes. But it's not happening, not this year.
Islanders Impact: The Isles aren't winning the lottery, no matter how you make the rules.