Lower cap could cut key players loose

Updated: September 28, 2012, 11:45 AM ET
By Craig Custance

While the NHL and NHLPA struggle to decide how to split up hockey-related revenue and find a number that works for both sides, there's a number many in the game are much more interested in: next season's salary cap.

Ask an NHL general manager to guess what the cap will be next year, and the answers vary.

"If the cap is $70 [million] or the cap is $60 [million], it's going to have a major effect on some of these teams," one Western Conference GM said.

"You can bring the cap down to $45 million as long as I have a mechanism to get under it," another said.

And then there's just the plain honest truth on projecting the next salary-cap number.

"I have no idea," one general manager said. "I don't have a clue. I don't have a feel for it."

Whatever it is, it has the potential to reshape rosters once a CBA is agreed upon, depending on how much flexibility the transition rules given to general managers to help them get under the cap turn out to be.

Right now, it's easy for all of the franchises to stay united when commissioner Gary Bettman is trying to get the owners a bigger share of revenues. Things might get interesting behind closed doors, when talks turn to transition rules, revenue sharing and how salaries are counted against the cap. Consensus among owners and governors will be much harder to come by because so many teams will be affected in different ways.

During the previous lockout, it was the division of the players from the top down that ultimately led to what was believed to be a big win for the owners. This time around, NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr has to drive a wedge among the owners, with revenue sharing, salary rollbacks and transition rules one road that might accomplish a division. Those are issues where there may not be a consensus among owners.

"The issue to me is not what the cap number is," an NHL source said. "Whatever it is, it's how are [teams] going to get there?"

And that's the key question in terms of reshaping rosters league-wide. Which players could become cap casualties?