About a month ago, the NHL announced that the salary cap would increase significantly from this season’s $81.5 million USD. For the 2020-21 season, the cap was estimated to be $84 million to $88.2 million, depending on a few factors.
That has changed.
The suspension caused by COVID-19 and the uncertain future of the 2019-20 season leaves next season’s salary cap in serious jeopardy.
That’s because the cap is tied to league revenues. There’s meant to be a 50/50 split in revenues between the owners and the players. If there’s a drop in revenue for the owners — from a loss of gate revenue for unplayed or unattended games, unplayed playoff games, or a crashing Canadian dollar — then the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement leads to less money for the players the following season in the form of a reduced salary cap.
A significant increase in the salary cap would have been a major relief for a team close to the cap like the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks were set to have a tough time navigating the cap next season, thanks to the combination of a few highly-paid veterans, performance bonuses for young stars rolling over from this current season, Roberto Luongo’s cap recapture penalty, and several restricted and unrestricted free agents they need to re-sign.
If the salary cap went up, it’s possible the Canucks wouldn’t have to choose between UFAs Jacob Markstrom, Tyler Toffoli and Chris Tanev, but could re-sign all three. A flat cap — one that stayed at $81.5 million — would force the Canucks to choose two and possibly lose another player like Troy Stecher or Josh Leivo.
If the cap goes down? Then the Canucks are in some serious trouble, with difficult decisions to make that will undoubtedly make the team worse for next season. And they’re not the only ones: plenty of other teams would feel the cap crunch from this unprecedented situation.
Potential solutions could include an artificially inflated cap, but one option that has come up in NHL circles is compliance buyouts, with Brian Burke discussing it recently on Oilers Now, a radio program with Global News.
“I’ve heard discussion of compliance buyouts to help teams get to this new cap, to solve some of their problems,” said Burke. “In the last CBA, each team got two cap-compliance buyouts which were exempt from the cap.”
A compliance buyout would differ from a regular buyout in that it wouldn’t cost money against the salary cap. For instance, the Canucks will still have a little over $1 million against next season’s cap from buying out Ryan Spooner, but the Canucks bought out Keith Ballard and David Booth in 2013 and 2014 at no cost to their cap as compliance buyouts after the 2012-13 lockout.
If teams do get a compliance buyout, it seems obvious who the Canucks would use it on. Loui Eriksson has a $6 million cap hit for two more seasons following this one and has found himself in an increasingly-diminished role, playing primarily as a shutdown, defensive forward, with little-to-no contributions offensively.
The Canucks do have other options, however. Brandon Sutter has lost several steps and has a $4.375 million cap hit next season. They could be proactive and buy out Tyler Myers’ $6 million contract for the next four seasons before his play starts to decline. Cutting their losses on Micheal Ferland’s $3.5 million cap hit for the next three seasons might be smart. They might even be tempted to buy out Sben Baertschi’s $3.37 million contract with him buried in the AHL.
Do any of those supersede Eriksson? Probably not. Where it gets interesting is if teams get two buyouts, as they did in 2013 and 2014. Buying out Eriksson would be a given, then, but who would be the second buyout? Sutter has just one year left on his contract, Ferland’s cap hit isn’t overly onerous, and Tyler Myers is still a good, useful player.
One compliance buyout would make it far easier for the Canucks to re-sign Markstrom and Tanev. Two might mean re-signing Toffoli as well.
Stick-taps and Glove-drops
A tap of the stick to Eddie Lackas he announced his retirement from professional hockey on Monday. The former Canuck said the “best time in my career” was in Vancouver and thanked the fans sincerely.
A big stick-tap to Bauer. The hockey equipment manufacturer has modified its production line to produce protective visors for healthcare workers, with Quebec already ordering 300,000 visors for their doctors, nurses, and first responders.
89 In four seasons with the Canucks, Loui Eriksson has a total of 38 goals and 89 points. He had 30 goals and 63 points in just one season with the Boston Bruins prior to signing with the Canucks.
4 So far, four NHL players have tested positive for COVID-19: two from the Ottawa Senators and two from the Colorado Avalanche. The Senators’ radio colour commentator, Gord Wilson, has also tested positive, as has St. Louis Blues’ play-by-play announcer John Kelly.