It should not surprise anyone that NHL teams across the league are hurting financially. A shortened regular season, a postseason without any ticket revenue, and no idea when fans may be able to return to games has every franchise scrambling to cut costs wherever possible. For some, that has included asking coaches and staff members to take pay cuts or forego bonuses. For others, it means reduced spending on player salaries this coming season – an internal salary cap. As TSN’s Frank Seravalli writes, these difficult decisions do not lie only with the NHL’s small or non-traditional markets either. The Pittsburgh Penguins are reportedly considering a lower internal salary cap for 2020-21, while the Jack Adams-winning head coach of the Boston Bruins, Bruce Cassidy, and his staff declined playoff bonuses. In total, Seravalli reports that 17 teams have made some sort of meaningful pay cut to their coaching or front office staffs, while several others will be forced to cut player salaries this off-season.
However, a team can only ask so much and now the Buffalo Sabres and owners Terry and Kim Pegula are getting push-back from key members of their club. The Pegulas did not pull any punches when it came to cost cutting earlier this summer. The team fired 22 hockey operations staffers back in June, including then-GM Jason Botterill, and reduced their front office staff to a skeleton crew. Yet, even before that they had cut the pay of head coach Ralph Krueger and his staff by 20% from April 1 to July 13. Seravalli reports that at the end of that period, the team requested that the coaches take a 25% pay reduction for another extended period of time; they declined. While most coaching staffs have been willing to take a pay cut to prevent other personnel losses in the front office, Krueger and company sat and watched as their hockey operations staff was decimated even as they sacrificed a significant portion of their pay. As a result, they refused to do it a second time, perhaps knowing there were no more hockey jobs left for the Pegulas to cut. Seravalli notes that this is the first reported instance of a coaching staff rejecting a voluntary pay cut.
While the Buffalo coaches and front office may be safe, the need for further budget cuts is likely to affect how much talent they have to work with next season. Seravalli reports that the team is now planning to enforce an internal salary cap in the low $70MM range, potentially putting payroll $10MM under the $81.5MM salary cap ceiling. On paper, this may not seem too bad for the Sabres, who have just over $48MM committed to their 2020-21 roster. However, that amount covers just ten players, as Buffalo counts seven unrestricted free agents and six restricted free agents among their regulars from this past season. The team is looking at as little as $22MM or so on their internal salary cap to fill 13 roster spots, and new contracts for RFA’s Sam Reinhart, Victor Olofsson, Brandon Montour, and Linus Ullmark are bound to eat up the vast majority of that space. While every team in the NHL is struggling due to the impact of COVID-19, the Sabres had already been struggling for a lot longer than most and there does not appear to be an end in sight.