While the Canadian dollar continues to struggle, NHL revenues are up enough that the salary cap could increase by as much as US$3 million for next season.
The Canadian dollar is currently worth 74 cents U.S., something that hurts the league when some of its most lucrative markets are Canadian. But commissioner Gary Bettman said speculation and commentary about the declining Canadian dollar is "a little off the mark" as business is still going well.
Board members said the early projection for the 2016-17 salary cap was about $74.5 million, up from $71.4 million. But that depends on several factors, including the Canadian dollar and the Players' Association using its five per cent escalator.
"When I give a number, they're all soft this time of year, so I don't want to pinpoint any number," Bettman said. "Don't take that to the bank yet because it's early. It's only December, we still have a lot more of the season to play and a lot more revenues to collect."
A year ago the board was given a rough projection of $73 million, but that was contingent on the Canadian dollar being worth 88 cents. It continued to fall.
"It's not set in stone or concrete so you have to tread carefully," New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero said. "It's good news for the league when it goes up, good news for the players."
It may not be good news for budget teams, but it'd be welcome for those who spend to the ceiling. Think about the Tampa Bay Lightning with captain Steven Stamkos still unsigned or the Los Angeles Kings, who are working to get a deal done with centre Anze Kopitar.
"The league has been pretty accurate in their estimation of the cap in the coming year," Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said. "So it does help you plan a little bit and you have a better idea. From the manager's perspective, the cap going up gives you a little more flexibility to do what you need to do."
Kings president of business operations Luc Robitaille doesn't lose sleep over the salary cap.
"You just have to manage within the cap and figure it out," Robitaille said. "It gives an opportunity to everyone. At the same time, if you believe in your team, you push it and try to go there. When you have a good team, you have a lot of good players who deserve a good salary."
The Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks could have used more room last summer when they traded Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad and Johnny Oduya and let Brad Richards leave in free agency.
Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was with the Blackhawks in 2010 when they had to tear things down the first time. Cheveldayoff could use as high a cap as reasonably possible with captain Andrew Ladd and all-star defenceman Dustin Byfuglien impending free agents.
"It's such a soft, fluctuating number," Cheveldayoff said of the cap projection. "Who knows how different it might be six months from now?"
Don Waddell said the cap didn't mean so much to his Carolina Hurricanes because they're on their own budget, but he knows a higher cap isn't a bad thing.
"The cap going up is good because it means the league revenues are going up," Waddell said. "Any time the cap increases it's good for everybody because that means revenues are going up."