The NHL salary cap is going up — what will the Canucks do?


The NHL’s salary cap is up to $88 million for the 2024-25 season, a jump of $4.5 million from last season, the biggest jump in a decade.

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As Jim Rutherford points out, June is always a busy time of year.

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And the fact the Vancouver Canucks are facing a whole stack of free agents isn’t especially stressing him out.

There are high-profile names like Nikita Zadorov and Elias Lindholm and mid-tier names like Dakota Joshua, Teddy Blueger and Tyler Myers. And then there’s more.

The Canucks have been looking cautiously towards this summer’s free-agency window. There are lots of decisions to be made, some harder than others.

Player performance projections are a big part of those choices.

So is the growth of the salary cap. After four years of stagnation due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s affect on the economy, the NHL confirmed Saturday that the salary cap is going to leap ahead to $88 million next season, a full $4.5 million above last season’s limit.

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It’s the biggest surge in a decade, coming off the heels of the players finally paying off their portion of escrow debt incurred because of the revenue collapse in 2020. As part of that summer’s memorandum of understanding, which extended the collective bargaining agreement from 2012-13 all the way to 2026, the players agreed to have a larger portion of their salaries held back in escrow so that the salary cap wouldn’t be decreased, either through salary rollbacks or other measures the owners might have been contemplating.

In 2019-20 and then in 2020-21, the players gave back 20 per cent of their wages, more than twice what they’d conceded in any season over the previous decade. In subsequent seasons, the players agreed to a decreasing schedule of escrow payments, with the 2023-24 season, plus the two remaining seasons, 2024-25 and 2025-26, of the current CBA set at just six per cent.

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The NHL’s economics are apparently so strong that the league is feeling very confident about future growth. (Presumably, shifting from money-losing Arizona to a likely big payday — at least in the short term — in Utah helps a lot.)

As The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun noted Saturday — and you’ve got to think he’s pondering what he’s hearing on this — if the NHL continues to hit its revenue projections over the next two seasons, the cap could increase five per cent before each of the final two seasons of the current CBA and end up at around $97 million.

We’re surely going to see some big contracts rolling out again, starting this summer.

And that brings us back to Rutherford and the Canucks. The Canucks are one of 11 teams below the salary cap floor of $65 million for next season.

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They still have Tucker Poolman’s $2.5 million cap hit on the books for another year, so it’s more than likely they’ll be capped out again this season. But they’ve got lots of space to work with and five or six roster spots to fill.

Asked Friday whether he expected his general manager, Patrik Allvin, would have any signings to announce over the coming weeks, either before the June 28 draft or the opening of free agency on July 1, Rutherford answered cautiously.

“I don’t know,” he said. “There’s communication with some of these guys. It’s hard to read the situation.”

You can understand why he’d want to keep his club’s cards close to the vest. They certainly know that Zadorov, Lindholm and probably Joshua have a good case on the market. They’ll like see offers that would top the Canucks. Why wouldn’t those players take a look out the door to see what’s out there?

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Zadorov, for instance, has said openly how much he likes it here. The Canucks, of course, are leaning on that. But players like Zadorov, naturally, aren’t saying the entire sentence out loud: “I love it here … as long as I get paid what I think I’m worth!”

And, really, fair enough.

pjohnston@postmedia.com

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