After another year of financial growth, NHL teams will have more spending money this summer.
The NHL on Thursday said that the 2018-19 salary cap will increase to $79.5 million. It's the seventh straight season the cap has grown since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
With the $4.5 million jump, it’s the largest climb since 2013-14 to 2014-15, when it rose $4.7 million from $64.3 million to $69 million. Last season, the cap was $75 million.
So what does the cap increase mean for the Flyers and where do they stand now?
Projected cap space
Before the increase, the Flyers had about $17.2 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly.com. With the boost, that figure jumps up to $21.7 million.
The Flyers currently have roughly $57.8 million in projected cap hits, which includes 17 players.
Heading into the summer, the Flyers have 16 free agents — nine restricted — after re-signing Colin McDonald to an AHL contract. Their RFAs are Robert Hagg, Samuel Morin, Taylor Leier, Alex Lyon, Anthony Stolarz, Reece Willcox, Danick Martel and Petr Mrazek.
The UFAs are Matt Read, Brandon Manning, Valtteri Filppula, Johnny Oduya, Dustin Tokarski, John Muse and Will O’Neill. The Flyers haven’t shut the door on Filppula returning but it would come at a significant pay decrease. The rest likely aren’t returning.
Ilya Bryzgalov’s compliance buyout remains on the books through 2026-27 but doesn’t count toward the cap. R.J. Umberger’s buyout finally comes off the books this summer.
Since taking over as general manager in 2014-15, Ron Hextall has prioritized operating responsibility. It was a complete shift in philosophy from the previous front office.
The Flyers began the 2017-18 season with $2.4 million in cap space and finished with $1.3 million. They didn’t use long-term injured reserve, meaning they had no LTIR relief.
Hextall has dug the Flyers out of salary cap purgatory and 2017-18 was the first in a while the team did not have to worry about being cap compliant at any point of the season.
It’s safe to say that whatever unfolds over the next few months, Hextall will want to carry at least a $2 million cushion into the Flyers’ opener vs. the Golden Knights in Vegas on Oct. 4.
How it affects free agency
This is an important note to remember as we progress through the offseason: just because the salary cap officially increased, it doesn’t mean it’s going to change Hextall’s philosophy.
It’s an odd time for the Flyers as they look to take the next step without abandoning the plan Hextall laid out five summers ago. They are going to change, but just how much?
After his pre-draft news conference last week, Hextall said that he’s had no conversation with Ilya Kovalchuk, who’s returning to the NHL after five seasons in the KHL. Not a shocker.
What did give us insight into Hextall’s plan approaching free agency was him closing the door on the Flyers making long-term commitments. He left the door open for the Flyers to dip into the market but ultimately shut down the possibility of them chasing a John Tavares type.
“We’d like to get better,” Hextall told reporters, “but we’re not going to do something stupid long term to try to get better [for] one or two years. We have money to spend short term. We can do something short term in the sense that it doesn’t bottle us up in three or four years.”
Reading between the lines, Hextall knows what’s coming down the road. Entry-level contracts expiring and kids coming up through the ranks. That means contract extensions and raises.
It’s not just a salary cap problem anymore; it’s more about roster spots. Hextall doesn’t want to block prospects by bringing in Band-Aids that will only create issues down the line.
The cap does come into play, of course. But it’s not the only factor. At least not anymore.
How they could spend
Hextall said last week he desires righty defensemen and would like to add another veteran. With Filppula’s contract expiring, the Flyers have a hole to fill on the third line. Some may argue, with valid evidence, the Flyers could benefit from bringing in another top-sixer.
The problem is, this summer’s free-agent market doesn’t have many big fish. Outside of Tavares, the forwards don’t scream “come to get me.” There are a few veteran options that could make sense — Paul Stastny or Riley Nash, for example. If we look at right-handed D-men, John Carlson and Mike Green head the list of UFAs but cross Carlson off the wish list.
With $21.7 million in cap space, the Flyers have enough wiggle room to check off their internal checklist and bring in one or two pieces via free agency.
But don’t let the cap increase fool you, it won’t change how Hextall attacks this summer.
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