The NHL Board of Governors meetings are taking place this week in Florida, and one of the most important topics being discussed is the projected salary cap for the 2023-24 season.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Tuesday that the cap is projected to increase by only $1 million to a ceiling of $83.5 million, although that could change depending on how much revenue the league generates between now and the end of the season.
The likelihood of a small increase is bad news for teams tight against the cap, including the Boston Bruins.
The Bruins currently have about $51,000 in cap space, per CapFriendly. That's a miniscule amount and doesn't give general manager Don Sweeney much flexibility for the March 3 trade deadline.
But the real issue for the Bruins could come next summer.
Boston has eight players eligible for unrestricted free agency and two players eligible for restricted free agency in July (based on its current NHL roster). In total, those 10 players account for around $25.3 million in cap space coming off the books. This figure sounds like a lot, but then you have to consider that the Bruins will want to re-sign some of those players. The players in that group that aren't re-signed will have to be replaced, and that will take up cap space as well.
Bruins' trade for Zacha has been one of NHL's best offseason moves so far
David Pastrnak also needs a new contract extension. His $6.67 million cap hit is among the most team-friendly numbers in the league, but his next deal could see that figure rise into the $10-11 million range. Backup goaltender Jeremy Swayman will need a nice raise, too, as a restricted free agent.
And finally, the one-year deals that Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci signed for this season have easy-to-hit performance bonuses that likely would push $4.5 million onto the team's 2023-24 cap. Bergeron already hit his $2.5 million bonus (10 games played), while Krejci has hit his games played bonus ($1.5 million worth) and almost certainly will receive his last remaining bonus for playoff qualification ($500K).
Here's how performance bonuses work in regards to the cap, per CapFriendly:
"Performance bonuses do not count against the team's salary cap unless they are earned. If the team does not have enough cap space at the end of the season to cover the earned bonuses, the difference is applied the following season as a bonus overage penalty."
The chances the Bruins have $4.5 million in cap space at the end of the season to cover these bonuses and prevent them from being applied toward next season's cap number seem pretty low.
The best-case scenario for the Bruins is the salary cap going up by more than $1 million next season, and one of the most effective ways for that to happen is high-revenue teams (Bruins, Rangers, Leafs, Kings, Oilers, etc.) making deep playoff runs this spring.
This whole salary cap situation is yet another example of why it's so important for the Bruins to win this season because keeping this roster intact for another year or two could be pretty challenging from a financial perspective.