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NHL salary cap gets big bump

The NHL salary cap is slated to increase significantly for the upcoming season, which could boost the Penguins' chances to attract unrestricted free agents on July 1.

Ownership is thought to have informed general manager Ray Shero that he can spend to the salary cap for the upcoming season.

The NHL and its Players' Association announced Thursday a $56.7 upper limit for the 2008-09 team payroll range. That is a 12.7 percent increase on the $50.3 million upper limit from this past season.

Previously, league commissioner Gary Bettman predicted a $3 million bump.

A fourth consecutive record-setting season in terms of overall attendance, which drives the majority of league revenue, is one reason for the dramatic increase, according to several NHL officials.

Most player agents also believe the strength of the Canadian dollar has considerably aided the upper-limit spike.

The team payroll range lower limit is set at $40.7 million. All teams must spend at least that amount on player salaries.

The upcoming season is the NHL's fourth since the 2004-05 season was cancelled due to a labor dispute. The upper limit for the team payroll range upon the NHL's return in 2005-06 was $39 million.

The Penguins are committed to about $34.5 million in payroll next season - including $8.7 million for superstar center Sidney Crosby, who enters the first of his five-year extension worth $43.5 million.

Crosby signed that extension last summer, forsaking his option to become a restricted free agent on July 1, 2008.

His decision will save the Penguins about $2.6 million in cap space, as the individual salary allowance for this season stands at $11.34 million.

No player can earn more than 20 percent of the upper limit, according to the league's collective bargaining agreement, and a team could have offered Crosby the 2008-09 allowable individual maximum this summer had he opted to become a restricted free agent.

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