NHL Players on track to potentially receive back all six percent of escrow withheld in 2023-24 (2024)

SUNRISE, Fla. — NHL players are on track to have nearly all six percent of their salary withheld by escrow this season returned to them in the fall, NHL Players’ Association executive director Marty Walsh said on Saturday.

“I think right now we’re close,” Walsh said before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. “I mean, I’m not sure because we don’t have the final numbers obviously, but you know, it certainly looks very good, very promising – compared to where the players have had to pay for the last 10 years, it’s been a lot. We’re nowhere near that situation.”

In fact, it’s possible that, when the final dollars and loonies are counted, NHL players will actually receive a “top up” or payment in addition to 100 percent of their published salaries because the 50-50 revenue split will have tilted slightly toward owners.

That also lends itself to a fair question to as to whether the two sides should have negotiated a higher salary cap for this season, which would have benefitted both teams and the union for more jobs on the roster, since some teams kept a daily roster size closer to the minimum of 20 as opposed to the maximum of 23 for a lack of cap space.

If players do receive a “top up” payment, this season would mark the first time that’s happened since 2011-12. The more games played in the Stanley Cup Final, the better chance that is, particularly after the Edmonton Oilers set a new NHL playoff record for single-game merchandise sales within the first three rounds. (The fact that it was in Canadian currency makes that mark all the more impressive.)

To that end, the NHL and NHLPA set the 2024-25 season salary cap upper limit at $88 million on Saturday, the first meaningful increase in nearly five years as a result of the pandemic. The salary floor, or minimum that each team must spend, is $65 million.

That represents a slight uptick from the projected $87.67 million upper limit, which was a formulaic five percent increase as called for by the Memorandum of Understanding.

Sources said the NHLPA requested the slightly higher salary cap of $88 million and the NHL did not balk or counter, making for a clean and easy path forward, and the announcement of salary cap well ahead of Draft weekend – a not unimportant development amid a compressed June calendar.

“I predict it will continue to go up,” Bettman said on Saturday at his annual State of the League address ahead of the Final. “Obviously, the number of years we had with flat and modest increases was necessary to recapture how much was overpaid and how much the escrow built up during COVID. I believe we’re going to continue to see robust growth in the cap.”

Outside of negotiating a higher number, as the NHL and NHLPA did this season, we can now continue to project out the final season (2025-26) of this Collective Bargaining Agreement at $92.4 million – which is the same formulaic five percent increase called for in the agreement.

“It’s great to see,” Bettman said. “I know the general managers and the teams are excited to have more flexibility.”

LTIR Changes Coming Eventually?

At the annual General Managers meeting in Florida in March, managers signaled to the league their interest in conducting a wide-ranging survey on how the league’s long-term injury exception is managed with the regular season compared to the playoffs.

In other words: There was no shortage of GMs unhappy with the continued aggressive approach of the Vegas Golden Knights, who for three seasons in a row used the $9.5 million of injured player Mark Stone’s cap hit to beef up their roster at the deadline. There is no salary cap in the playoffs, so Stone returned to practice one week before the postseason, only to be ready for the start – without any consequences.

By the way, the NHL has reviewed detailed medical records in each circ*mstance, and the league was satisfied with Stone’s status.

But NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly has gathered that feedback from GMs and executives and they’d like to see something different.

“I think the results came back what I kind of anticipated they might,” Daly said. “I think the majority of the people I’ve heard from would suggest in a perfect world we should try to address it in some way differently than we’re addressing it. None of them thought it was a major competitive issue in the short-term.”

Even if the NHL wanted to make a change, this is a collectively bargained issue, and Daly signaled it might not even be something they attempt to address as soon as this summer. Ostensibly, the NHLPA might not have a strong opinion about the issue either way, but that is also the nature of bargaining – if one side asks for something, it might come at a cost.

“It’s something ultimately that we’re going to have to negotiate with the Players’ Association,” Daly said. “So whether that can happen with two years left on the Collective Bargaining Agreement, I’m not making any promises. Whether it’s going to be something we address in a broader collective bargaining negotiation? Quite possibly.”

Inching Closer to Expansion?

With the Arizona Coyotes now settled in Salt Lake City, Utah, the belief is that the NHL will turn its attention to future league expansion. The Coyotes were part of a $1 billion relocation/sale package – which could set an expansion price at $1.5 or even $2 billion, a staggering amount of money that might be too many zeros to pass up.

But the night of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final certainly isn’t the time or place to engage in that conversation.

Not surprisingly, Bettman poured lukewarm water on the idea, not saying ‘no’ but more so ‘not right now.’

“There’s nothing new to update in that regard,” Bettman said. “We continue to deal with expressions of interest. We’re not going to, at least at this point, unveil a formal expansion process. We are gratified by the fact that at least a half dozen places continue to have interest in us.”

Silver Linings

The schedule is set for the 4 Nations Face-Off in February, the international tournament taking place over a typical All-Star break. The premier round-robin matchup: Team USA at Team Canada on Sat. Feb. 15, 2025 at 8pm in Bell Centre in Montréal – the first best-on-best game between American and Canadian players since 2014. The championship game is set for Thurs. Feb. 20, 2025 at TD Garden in Boston … The first six roster selections for each of the four countries will be named on June 28 … Bettman said both Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman remain ineligible to work in the NHL as a result of their inaction relating to the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2010 sexual assault scandal, but that both have asked for reinstatement and Bettman said he will “have to make a decision.”


NHL Players on track to potentially receive back all six percent of escrow withheld in 2023-24 (1)

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NHL Players on track to potentially receive back all six percent of escrow withheld in 2023-24 (2024)
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