The NHL could be in for figurative bloodshed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In addition to the debates and wonder if the 2019-20 NHL season will resume, the subset to that business necessity is the effect of a season cancellation on the 2020-21 NHL salary cap. By some estimates, wiping the current season could decimate the NHL and Penguins salary cap structure next season.
NHL analyst Pierre McGuire was on 93-7 the Fan with afternoon hosts Andrew Filipponi and Chris Mueller. McGuire acknowledged the NHL season might not resume because of the hotbed of coronavirus cases in New York and New Jersey.
“It’s not going to be easy. Not going to be easy at all,” McGuire said. “…I don’t know how they’re going to start having practices with all of the teams around (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut).”
“It’s going to be a big ask to (return to play), I can tell you that.”
However, when talk turned to the effect on the salary cap, McGuire dropped a dire prediction on the Fan radio audience.
“It’s something people aren’t paying enough attention to. (A salary cap drop) could be a major problem,” McGuire said. “The cap could drop anywhere from 25 to 40%. That’s significant.”
The current NHL salary cap is $81.3 million. A 25% drop in the Penguins salary cap due to the coronavirus pause or season-cancellation would reduce the amount they can spend on players to about $61 million. That amount would put many teams over the cap due to current salaries. The Pittsburgh Penguins currently have $69 million committed to 15 players for next season.
A 40% drop would be disastrous for all involved as that would take the cap down to about $49 million.
For context, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang took discounted contracts and still account for about $25 million. Under McGuire’s worst-case scenario, very few teams would be able to limbo under the salary cap without significant CBA restructuring and compliance buyouts.
“(The NHL and NHLPA) are going to have to come up with some creative ideas. The one really positive thing–and this is extremely positive long term for the league–The NHL and the NHLPA, I’ve never seen them have better and more open lines of communication,” McGuire said.
McGuire called the current cooperation the best he’s seen in his 31-year hockey career. The analyst, however, demurred regarding his opinion on how or when the NHL could institute return-to-play scenarios.
He did reiterate the NHL is willing to delay the start of the 2020-21 season until November to finish the current season.
The full interview with McGuire began just after 4 p.m. on 93-7 the Fan. You can hear the entire segment here.