As part of the media availability last week announcing the landmark TV deal between the NHL and ESPN, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made an interesting note in the press conference regarding the salary cap moving forward. The cap will remain flat or increase only a little over the next few years despite the $400 million payment coming in from Disney each season for the TV rights.
The salary cap is $81.5 million this season, and it will hover around there for the next few years thanks to the buildup of escrow.
This is not an ideal situation for the Minnesota Wild. They already have $58.64 million in cap space used up by 13 players heading into next season, leaving them with just over $22.85 million in available cap space. They have five unrestricted free agents (UFA), three restricted free agents (RFA), and one 10.2(c) player following the season. Retaining them will not be easy, considering the RFAs and 10.2(c) player are all very key pieces (Kevin Fiala, Joel Eriksson Ek, Ryan Hartman, and Kirill Kaprizov) on the team this season.
Just take Fiala and Kaprizov and try to project their cap hits on new contracts while factoring in available space for 2021-22. Say, for instance, that Fiala gets a contract in the $5-6 million AAV range and Kaprizov gets one in the $7-8 million AAV range. That’s $12-14 million now put on the cap, leaving the Wild with just over $8-10 million in available space. Eriksson Ek’s season will get him a hefty raise, too, so that available space is going to shrink considerably.
So how do you fix the issue?
Buying out Victor Rask would only provide some relief for the 2021-22 season before putting a cap hit on the 2022-23 season. Besides Rask, no one else tied on a long-term contract would enter into the discussion of a buyout. Not even Mats Zuccarello, who is enjoying a return to success this season after a subpar 2019-20 year. Zuccarello also carries a no-move clause, so trading him is very unlikely.
However, the Wild might get the cap relief they need through the Seattle expansion because they will lose someone off the books for the following year. Do you just take the plunge and expose Jonas Brodin or Matt Dumba, both of whom will carry a $6 million cap hit next season? A trade to offload one might be more likely, but with a good portion of the league up against the cap as well, moving one will be easier said than done. However, Brodin has a no-move clause in his contracts (both this year and the new one that starts next year), which would make Dumba a likelier option for a trade.
Trading Zach Parise and the remaining four years of his contract that carries a $7.5 million cap is unlikely, and the Wild would have to take back a high cap hit as well. No team is just going to take on a soon-to-be 37-year-old with that much term and AAV for nothing.
The flat cap could not have come at a worse time for the Wild. Now more than ever, they will need to rely on players on entry-level contracts and those bottom-six players who will take a deal in the six-figure AAV category. Maneuvering around this situation will not be easy and something that general manager Bill Guerin will have to keep in mind when trying to acquire and offload players.
All salary cap figures courtesy of CapFriendly.com