The Florida Panthers are among a handful of team who are struggling under a stagnant salary cap — but relief may be on the way.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told ESPN on Tuesday that the league’s $82.5 million salary cap could rise by over $4 million depending on the league’s revenue for the 2022-23 season.
The league’s salary cap has only gone up $1 million since the 2020-21 season due to the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Players owed the league an estimated $1 billion in revenue lost during the pandemic and the NHL would remain with a “flat cap” until the debt was paid off.
After the league made an estimated $5.4 billion in hockey-related revenue following a new TV deal with ESPN and TNT, Bettman believes that there is a “good probability” that the players’ debt will be paid off by the end of the season.
If it is not paid off, the salary cap will only increase by $1 million to an upper limit of $83.5 million.
So, the league making enough revenue to pay off the escrow owed by the players means the Panthers could get themselves out of a pretty big jam.
As it stands right now, Florida are at the cap limit and cannot add any more roster players aside for the 20 they dress on gameday — without adding any more players to long-term injury reserve, that is.
With $5.3 million in buyout money and six NHL regulars’ contracts coming off the books in the offseason, Florida would stand with $11.4 million if the league’s salary cap was to go up to the projected $83.5 million upper limit.
If the league makes enough revenue to pay off the debt, the Panthers could have over $15.4 million to work with to patch some of the holes created by the 2022 offseason.
The biggest of those holes is its defense following the departure of MacKenzie Weegar.
That extra $4 million opens Florida up to numerous free agents who could be on the market next July, including John Klingberg, Matt Dumba, Dmitry Orlov and South Florida native Shayne Gostisbehere.
If the Panthers are looking to reload up front following the departures of Claude Giroux and Mason Marchment, there could be plenty of potential free agents including Patrick Kane, David Pastrnak, Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly.
A raise in the league’s salary cap would give the Panthers a lot more flexibility in reloading its roster than it had this past offseason when it brought in Colin White, Marc Staal, Rudolfs Balcers and Nick Cousins on cheap, short-term deals.
All of them, save for Cousins, are on one-year deals that will expire in the offseason. If the Panthers decide they are not a good fit, they will have more than enough flexibility to pursue more lucrative options to fill their roles next season.
Patric Hornqvist and Radko Gudas will be the only players returning from Florida’s 2021-22 Presidents’ Trophy-winning campaign who will be free agents in July.
While it is likely that one or both of them could be brought back on a cheaper deal than their current cap hits, the door is wide open for Panthers general manager Bill Zito to bring in a younger replacement for the two veterans.
No matter what direction Zito chooses to go in, the Panthers could very well be a much deeper team if the NHL’s salary cap makes this proposed $4 million jump.
PANTHERS ON DECK
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
- TV: TNT
- Radio: WKIS 99.9-FM 2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Philadelphia leads 55-36-6, 7 ties