As reports say that both the NHL and the NHLPA are ironing the final details, everything seems to be pointing towards an imminent announcement of the dates and format for the 2021 season. More and more hockey reporters are starting to talk hockey instead of politics or football, and fans are slowly returning to their Twitter accounts to follow anything that has to do with their favourite team. The excitement is building as fans are desperate to watch the best hockey calibre in the world.
Before the puck drops for the first game of the season, there is work to do. Of course, the agreement between the league and its players has to be ratified, but teams also have to get ready. In this unusual pandemic time, players are working out at home for the most part. Some have rented ice time in their home towns in order to get some skating done.
General Managers are faced with another dilemma: a flat cap ceiling. As we have discussed many times, the salary cap has been announced to remain at $81.5 million, the same as it was for the 2019-2020 season. This announcement has left some teams scrambling to stay under the cap limit as teams cannot go over the ceiling by more than 20% over during the off-season. And some teams have taken advantage of this feature, perhaps more than ever before.
As the NHL will be trying to squeeze in more games in a short period of time, it’s not too farfetched to think that they will allow teams to go with an expanded roster, as they do after trade deadline. In normal times, teams cannot carry more than 23 players on their roster during regular season’s activities. After trade deadline, they have an unlimited roster, as long as they stay under the cap ceiling.
My most educated guess is that the league will have an expanded roster, going from 23 to whatever number they choose. However, it is very unlikely that teams and the NHLPA will want the cap to stay at its current limit. Therefore, I’m expecting them to have a roster of 25-26 players, but raise the cap limit by about a million dollars per additional player allowed. So for example: if the NHL was to allow a 25 players limit, the “temporary 2021 cap limit” would go up to $83.5 million. Two players more, two millions on top of the existing cap limit. It is important to note that in normal times, teams don’t have to fill their roster to the 23 players limit. The minimum they can carry at any given time is 20 players.
Looking at the cap situation, there are 14 NHL teams either over the cap limits or within around a million dollars or less from the $81.5 million ceiling. Off those teams, six (out of seven) are located in Canada. The Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers are over the ceiling, while the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames are within close proximity.
So because of the likeliness of an expanded roster, being over the cap at this point in time may not be as big of a deal as it normally would be. Technically, in order to stay cap compliant, teams can carry a minimum number of players (20) for a period of time while remaining under the special cap limits for the 2021 season. Still, teams finding themselves tight to the cap will have to be creative. For that reason, teams like the Habs having their farm team in the same country (Laval) might see players back and forth between them and the Rocket.
As we await an official announcement, NHL Insiders have been providing us with key information. The excitement on social media is palpable as fans and media are hitching to finally see NHL activities get back to business. And few other fanbases are more excited than Habs’ fans as the team has given them many reasons to be optimistic. Go Habs Go!