Gary Bettman Talks Salary Cap, Draft Lottery, Playoff Format, More

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Gary Bettman Talks Salary Cap, Draft Lottery, Playoff Format, More

Chicago Blackhawks

On Wednesday morning, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman spoke with the media at the general manager’s meetings and talked about a wide range of topics. Some quick updates and thoughts, beginning with an interesting note on the salary cap for next season.

This could be good and bad for the Blackhawks. The league said early last offseason that the debt accrued by the players during COVID could be paid back by the end of this season, but the league has backpeddled from that during the year because hockey-related revenues (and the value of the Canadian dollar) haven’t been as robust as needed to cover the escrow balance.

The salary cap ceiling going up only $1 million would afford teams that already have a lot of cap space — like the Blackhawks — the opportunity to weaponize their cap space to bring in contracts other teams don’t want/can no longer afford. The Blackhawks already did this, adding a second-round pick from Ottawa in exchange for taking Nikita Zaitsev‘s paper off their books.

However, the cap going up by more than $1 million could lead to players asking for more money on the open market — something they want — and could give a team like the Blackhawks an opportunity to offer the right player a big enough raise to make it worth his while to be part of the next step of the rebuild. I’m looking at you, Michael Bunting.

According to CapFriendly, the Blackhawks currently have roughly $42 million in salary obligations on their NHL books for next season — which could be around half of the new ceiling. That number includes only three forwards — Tyler Johnson, Jason Dickinson and Colin Blackwell — making more than $1 million against the cap.

What could the trade-off be for the owners if the players ask for a more significant increase in the cap ceiling? Probably a bump in the escrow amount players are paying. As Elliotte Friedman noted on Wednesday morning, the players negotiated a six percent cap on escrow in the final three seasons of the current CBA. Will the new leadership of the Players Association be willing to wiggle on that to raise the ceiling more in the coming year(s)?

Draft Lottery

The big news that Blackhawks fans will care about most is the 2023 NHL Draft Lottery will take place on May 8 at 6 PM CT. This might be the most watched non-game event in the history of the league because Connor Bedard is one of the highest-rated prospects ever. We’ve been hearing about Bedard for a couple years, and this night will tell us which team will get him. Of course the rest of the top of the draft could be impacted as well, but the generational talent at No. 1 is the prize.

Playoff Format

Bettman said the league is totally fine with the current playoff format. There has been some conversation about possibly re-seeding the playoffs or even adding teams like the NFL did, but Bettman has been steadfast that the league likes the way the current format plays out.

And, frankly, I like the current format, too. Two wild card teams allows the teams with the best records to get in outside of the divisional top-three automatic bid format; if one division is stronger than the other in either conference, they’ll still be better represented. And putting some value on the standings is still important.

Dates of Importance

The league also officially announced the remainder of the important dates on the calendar for the rest of the 2022-23 league year:

  • April 17 — start of the playoffs
  • May 8 — 2023 NHL Draft Lottery
  • June 4-10 — 2023 NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo
  • June 26 — 2023 NHL Awards from Nashville
  • June 28-29 — 2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft

Author: Tab Bamford

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab