Five teams set to benefit from the rising NHL salary cap

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On June 23rd, 2015, the NHL announced the salary cap will rise for the 2015-16 season from $69-million to $71.4-million. Here are five teams in particular who stand to benefit from the increase and why.

5. Edmonton Oilers

For a team that has four 1st-overall picks locked into their lineup for a minimum of the next 2 years, a rising salary cap is only a good thing. The most expensive contracts on the Oilers’ books are currently Taylor Hall (23), Jordan Eberle (25) and Ryan Nugent Hopkins (22). Heading into the offseason with around $19-million in cap space and not many expiring contracts from their core group, newly minted GM Peter Chiarelli should be laughing. If the Oilers can find a mix of players that work in the next couple of years, they’ll be able to afford to keep that core together for a long time. If the club can’t win in the years to come, it won’t be because of this summers’ salary cap issues.

4.Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins have approximately $31.2-million of cap space tied up into 4 players until the 2019-2020 season (and one of them is Marc Andre Fleury). The club has been unable to really surround their talented core with any type of significant supporting cast in recent years. The team isn’t actually near the salary cap (at $57,731,667) but have a number of contracts expiring at forward and on defence and will need to fill out a number of roster spots this offseason. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin won’t be young forever, so the Penguins will need the salary cap to rise to give them hope of acquiring any player of significance in the offseason to make the team a Stanley Cup contender again. Can an extra $2.4-million of breathing room make a difference?

3. Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning are coming off their best NHL season since they won the Stanley Cup back in 2004. And now they’ll pay for it. The club is heading into the offseason with a salary cap payroll of $68,630,476 but only a couple of notable expiring contracts (Sustr, Morrow). What’s more concerning is that in the coming two seasons, the majority of their current core will be free agents. Stamkos, Killorn, Kucherov, Coburn, Brown and others will be either UFAs or RFAs and Stamkos in particular will demand a significant raise (likely to the contract maximum). A rising salary cap will help the team assess their core in the coming season with a little bit of salary cap room to work with. This can only be a plus for a team with an up-and-coming core.

2. Toronto Maple Leafs

Considering this analysis is context-specific, the Toronto Maple Leafs stand to benefit from a rising salary cap by a considerable amount considering their current position. A team that is in the midst of a rebuild and allegedly looking to shed players like Phil Kessel ($8-million) and Dion Phaneuf ($7-million) to acquire picks and prospects is near impossible during the regular season due, in part, to salary cap considerations. With a rising salary cap, can a contender like the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers or Minnesota Wild re-arrange their payrolls and take the next step? A rising cap will only increase the market for the types of players the Leafs are looking to move because more teams will be in a position to absorb salary. Only time will tell if the Leafs can crystallize on this opportunity.

1. Chicago Blackhawks

The defending Stanley Cup Champions were set to head into the offseason with a salary cap payroll of approximately $64,045,129, leaving them with approximately $7.35-million to fill the holes of numerous expiring contracts (Vermette, Saad, Kruger, Oduya). The club just finished signing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to a pair of $10.5-million contracts last summer and Brent Seabrook is scheduled to become a UFA in 2016. If the club can still manage to move veteran Patrick Sharp and one or two other rich contracts, they may be able to manage their space and retain Seabrook and their Stanley Cup winning core for years to come.