The NHL’s board of governors will meet in Pebble Beach, Calif., beginning Monday, for two days of fun in the sun, a get-together that mostly will deal with housekeeping matters rather than anything explosive or sexy.
The new Canadian television deal, which will bring in $5.2-billion from Rogers Communications starting next year, will be ratified the first day and is the single biggest item on the agenda because of how it will reshape the NHL’s financial landscape in the years ahead.
The deal likely won’t get any opposition and it isn’t even clear if anybody will ask commissioner Gary Bettman to outline the process, which saw TSN shut out of the national cable picture and Hockey Night In Canada effectively emasculated, even though it will continue to air games on Saturday nights for the next four years, with Rogers calling the programming shots.
But the massive increase in Canadian rights fees only kicks in at the start of next season, meaning that it won’t have any salary cap implications until two years down the road, which is why there’s so much uncertainty about next year’s number.
Generally, Bettman likes to use this December gathering to give the 30 NHL teams a sense of what next year’s cap will look like, on the grounds that general managers need some basic parameters if they want to ramp up contract negotiations.
The question isn’t if the cap is going up from the current $64.3-million level - it is - but by how much. Estimates from a handful of NHL decision-makers vary.
Those with a conservative view think it could be as little as $68-million. A greater number suggest it could return to the psychologically significant $70-million plateau, which would leave it roughly where it was pre-lockout ($70.2-million).
Many NHL GMs anticipate the big bump will come in 2015, when the cap could go to $75-million or higher, because of the Canadian TV deal and a few other irons the NHL has in the fire, particularly relating to opportunities in Europe. If they can get an agreement for a World Cup of hockey in place, which likely won’t be played until 2016, the cap could approach $80-million.
Still, some, such as the Chicago Blackhawks’ general manager Stan Bowman, are cautious and want it to hear the number definitively before they start doing business, which in Bowman’s case, will be negotiating expensive extensions for both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane after next season.
“I don’t know if I’m in the minority, but I’m hesitant; there’s no accountability for these random people making these predictions the cap is going to be $80-million,” Bowman told ESPNChicago.com. “I might be wrong. I think there’s folly. There are so many factors that go into the salary cap.
“Because there’s a new television deal, I’m not going to assume it’s going to be $80-million. I don’t operate that way. If you base your assumptions on predictions and you’re wrong, I can’t say, ‘They said it was going to be $80-million.’ I’m going to wait to see where it goes. I think it’s safe to say it’s going to go up. It’s think it’s a little bit irresponsible to say where it’s going to be unless you have intricate knowledge of the cap.”
THE SHARK WATCH: The salary-cap guidelines are significant for every team, but they will be particularly important to the San Jose Sharks, the No. 1 team in the Western Conference and a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, their slide of the past few days notwithstanding. San Jose has three of its top players – captain Joe Thornton, former captain Patrick Marleau and defensive leader Dan Boyle – all on expiring contracts, with Thornton earning $7-million, Marleau $6.9-million and Boyle $6.66-million.
All three have shown loyalty to the Sharks and the Bay Area in the past by taking hometown discounts, but the problem for general manager Doug Wilson is that two of his other key players – Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski – are already signed to long-term contract extensions that kick in next year. Couture jumps from $2.875-million to $6-million; Pavelski from $4- to $6-million. So that effectively burns up the first $5.15-million bump, before you open up a single fresh negotiation. If Thornton, Marleau and Boyle are all willing to play for roughly the same amount of money, or small raises, then the Sharks should be able to manage it. If not, then they could have a problem.
Of course, the most practical solution for the Sharks might be to buy out the final year of Martin Havlat’s contract, worth $5-million. A succession of injuries has made Havlat, once a great player, a shadow of his former self. In his first 16 games this season, Havlat has just two goals and three assists, despite playing more than 15 minutes per night.