The salary cap in professional sports is always a fickle thing. Sometimes leagues project large increases which come true; other times those projections fall short and the increase is minimal. In rare cases, the cap could even fall based off of league revenues and the value of national currencies. That last situation is one that all NHL teams, including our New Jersey Devils, could be facing for 2020-21.
TSN published an article yesterday about how the current national crisis of COVID-19 could potentially lower the NHL salary cap for next season. The COVID-19 situation is tragic, with the number of infected and loss of lives being paramount in this situation. Sports is certainly one of the pieces falling to the back of people’s minds right now (as it should), however the fact that leagues such as the NBA have already suspended their seasons right now has made one other aspect clear: this is now serious enough that it is affecting routine and semi-routine activities, such as attending sporting events.
I do personally believe that the NHL is trying to and will look to protect as many people as they can, both fans and employees. There is a statement coming later today; we could see the entire NHL shift to only having required personnel at games. For all we know right now, the NHL could choose to suspend the 2019-20 campaign as well. With so much uncertainty surrounding if the season is truncated (and even if it’s not) the impact from having less fans in arenas, and as such less revenue, could see the cap fall for the first time in recent memory, if not ever.
Every team would be in a much different situation with a falling cap rather than a rising cap, no matter how it is caused. If the cap drops, it suddenly can affect a variety of roster situations for every team. For the New Jersey Devils, while they have cap space to play with, things could go really well or really poorly.
First, the topic of buying out Cory Schneider has come up after each season since his play began to fall off of a cliff in 2016-17. Normally, I would suggest that the Devils simply bite the bullet: they aren’t going to be a serious challenger for the Stanley Cup next season, and they could have Schneider mentor in Binghamton even with his high cap hit. If the cap goes down, however, it’s worth reevaluating, as according to CapFriendly, a buyout would count for $2 million against the salary cap each of the next four seasons, rather than a $6 million hit for the next two. By the last couple of seasons in a buyout scenario, the cap may have risen enough again to mitigate the Schneider cost.
Next would be basic roster decisions with or without Schneider; while the team would still have an estimated $25 million (again, give or take based on Cory’s contract and if the cap goes down) to spend, they only have 14-15 players under contract for next season. That number does not include restricted free agents MacKenzie Blackwood and Jesper Bratt, who would take up a chunk of that money just between the pair of them, leaving less for the Devils to pursue players in free agency. As they’re not slated to be a true competitor next season barring an injection of high-impact rookies and some other roster changes, it might be wise for the Devils to simply not sign any big free agents.
Another decision/possibility would be a Kyle Palmieri-esque acquisition from a cap-strapped team. Some other clubs are already pushing up against the limit of the current cap, and if it decreases, the Devils could find themselves parting with some lesser assets (mid to late round draft picks) to obtain a player who could help the team sooner rather than later. While one move would more than likely not launch the Devils back into relevance for next season, it could aid the roster in improving going forward.
As I conclude here for today, I’d like to restate that I don’t want anyone to misconstrue the purpose of this article or interpret this as downplaying the severity of a national issue; the COVID-19 situation is paramount above any changes to the salary cap. The cap has the ability to rise and fall based on a variety of factors; it could fall even if the league stays status quo and completes the season as originally scheduled. The purpose here is to simply mention what the Devils may or may not do with a lower salary cap, reason notwithstanding. My heart goes out to those affected by this tragedy; this is something much bigger than hockey, and hopefully all affected countries find a way to minimize the spread to combat this terrible situation and protect their citizens.
Thank you all as always for reading!