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One Big Thing: Flat Cap
What’s Happening: Because of the coronavirus pandemic’s timing, many NHL teams are in a tricky financial situation. The teams who made trades in 2019 and 2020 expected the flat salary cap of $81.5 million to go up this season, but the league and the player’s association decided to freeze the salary cap. So, everyone had to get a little crafty to stay cap-compliant before opening night.
Time for a Close Up: “This is the hardest year to manage a flat cap,” Doug Armstrong, general manager for the St. Louis Blues, told USA Today earlier this week. The Blues are sitting uncomfortably close to the salary cap, with around $300,000 of wiggle room as they wait for Vladimir Tarasenko to recover from shoulder surgery. The Tampa Bay Lightning is even closer to the cap — the team’s payroll is a mere $334 less than $81.5 million.
Zoom Out: The salary cap is non-negotiable, as we wrote in our subscribers-only “Shopping Spree” newsletter about a month ago. A team that has agreed to multiple costly player contracts would need to put less than the standard 18 players on the ice to stay compliant with the cap. That has happened more than once in the past two decades.
It’s usually tricky for GMs to figure out how to stay under the salary cap. This year, though, everyone is having a harder-than-usual time. A majority of NHL teams at the start of the season were either over the cap and using the long-term injured reserve exemption to skate by, or they were below the cap by less than $2 million.
Using the Taxi: One way teams work around the salary cap: taxi squads. The Montreal Canadiens are getting through the season by using taxi squads to save space below the salary cap. Young talent is sitting on taxi squads, paid minor league salaries for days when they practice while they wait to play.
Looking on the Bright Side: We have to take our wins where we can in the COVID-era, and for many teams, taxi squads are actually a boon, not a bust. If they look on the bright side, teams could see that thinking creatively with taxi squads could give goalies a rest while also allowing for more technique-refining time. This weird, truncated season could turn alright after all.
Insider Updates & Analysis
Breaking: The NHL fined the Capitals $100,000 for “breaking COVID protocol.”
Update: Less than two weeks into the season, the NHL is pulling its fancy pucks with tracking technology, after several teams reported having issues with the pucks. Here’s a refresher on the new, albeit faulty puck technology.
Update: Canadian teams in the North Division will fly one-third few miles this year due to the pandemic-prompted realignment.
Rumor: Iron Man Keith Yandle could be on his way to Boston soon. Keep reading.
Update: Two games between the Hurricanes and the Panthers have been postponed due to COVID-19. The Panthers are one of three teams allowing fans inside its arena.
A Question for the Peanut Gallery
Which St. Louis Blues player will Armstrong look to trade this season?