The NHL season is back underway and that means Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts column on Sportsnet is back in action as well. While it is always filled with interesting tidbits about the game, one bullet was especially noteworthy today. Friedman reports that the NHL provided a salary cap ceiling estimate at the Board of Governors meeting earlier this month, ranging between $81.4MM and $85.4MM depending on the NHLPA inflator. Even the low end of that range represents an almost $2MM increase over the current $79.5MM ceiling, and would provide the league’s richest teams with even more room to pay their star players.
Nothing is certain at this point, but early estimates are rarely that far off from the final numbers for the NHL. The NHLPA used just a 1.15% inflator for the 2018-19 campaign, but if they were to increase that at all there would suddenly be a huge pool of cap space available for free agents. The “superclass” that was expected for the 2019 offseason is quickly dwindling, but still names like Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Erik Karlsson remain scheduled for unrestricted free agency. Those names, plus key restricted free agents like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Patrik Laine would all be able to push just a little bit harder in contract negotiations knowing the ceiling is creeping higher.
For Matthews in particular, another increase next offseason could mean he becomes the league’s highest paid player in 2019-20. Connor McDavid’s $12.5MM cap hit was 16.6% of the ceiling when it was signed, meaning an equal percent for Matthews would be just over $13.5 per season. While it’s hard to argue that Matthews is deserving of a McDavid contract just yet, he’s off to an incredible start and is leading the league in both goals and points. Should that continue all season, there’s no reason to think his camp wouldn’t try to make him the new benchmark.