Despite lockout, NHL teams spending freely during free agency
Financial issues fueled the NHL lockout that left arenas in the dark for nearly four months last season.
The first few days of the league's free-agency period are proof that the millions lost during the lockout have not crippled spending.
If anything, spending has been triggered.
NHL general managers spent more than $350 million in guaranteed contracts before the free-agency period was 10 hours old July 5.
This marked the biggest spending spree on Day 1 of free agency since July 1, 2009. Many around the league were surprised by the financial aggressiveness on display.
Right wing Craig Adams, the Penguins NHL players' association representative, was encouraged.
“It's a really good thing to see,” said Adams, who signed a two-year contract worth $700,000 annually to return to the Penguins.
“It's free agency. It's the way that the system is supposed to work. It's nice to see guys getting rewarded like this around the league. A lot of guys have done really well for themselves so far.”
The salary cap has dropped to $64.3 million for the 2013-14 season after exceeding the $70 million mark for the recently finished campaign. However, many in the Penguins' organization and around the league expect the salary cap to spike above the $70 million mark by the 2015-16 season, and believe it could even hit that level for the 2014-15 season.
Instead of bracing for the lower cap this season, teams instead are preparing for down the road when their spending target figures to rise. Even the Penguins, who usually leave around $1.5 million under the salary cap in the summer because of possible in-season moves, have spent to the limit. In fact, they figure to exceed the cap this summer once all of their moves are complete, and they likely will be required to trade a player to sneak under the cap.
Teams are permitted to spend 10 percent over the salary cap in the summer so long as they are under the cap when the season begins in October.
“The good thing,” Penguins general manager Ray Shero said, “is that we have some time. We're going to take our time and see what happens.”
Few general managers were taking their time when the free-agency period opened. For NHL players, who were told during the lockout that many NHL teams were in trouble financially because of large contracts that had become the norm, this is a satisfying period.
“I'm really happy for all the guys around the league who are doing so well for themselves right now,” Adams said. “Good for them. Good for all of them. It's a positive thing for us to see.”
Of the NHL's 30 teams, 20 are already within $8.5 million of exceeding the salary cap. Philadelphia is already over the cap, while San Jose and the Penguins are close to joining them.
Some teams are merely close to the cap ceiling because it lowers dramatically this season. This reality, though, clearly isn't stopping spending in huge numbers.
“It's been a very busy couple of days for teams,” Adams said. “It's good.”