As Chuck Fletcher scrolls through his contact list in the days leading up to March 5, it won't only be March 6 through the end of this season he's thinking about. The same goes for Stevie Yzerman, Peter Chiarelli, Glen Sather, and a host of other GMs kicking around potential trades.
We know the NHL salary cap is set to increase next season, which means a new landscape for NHL contracts, and a new outlook for the impending trade deadline.
Full Deadline Coverage
Full Deadline Coverage
In December, Gary Bettman told the Board of Governors the salary cap will be increasing to $71 million next season. (For reference, the cap is currently at $64.3, but that's down from $70.2 million it was at for the 2012-13 season.) And that was before the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, which by itself generated an estimated an additional $20 million in revenue.
Projections for future league revenue are also on an incline, so it's not too farfetched to think the following seasons could also see cap increases.
All of this, while advantageous to teams pushing the current cap limits or looking to make a splash in free agency, also muddles the picture for the trade deadline.
A number of big-name players have been at the forefront of bigger rumors. Guys like Ryan Callahan, Thomas Vanek or Matt Moulson, who could all contribute to a new club immediately, but are all also due to hit free agency this summer. There's always some trepidation on the part of a GM to take on what could turn out to be a rental for the final two months of the season, and that was when the cap-climate wasn't as cloudy.
Take this into consideration: Callahan's agent has said what he's asking the Rangers for is a discount based off what he could get on the open market. Those numbers have been hovering around the $6-7 million range, reportedly. There's no telling what contract numbers free agents this summer will command, but if Callahan was to get paid $7 million annually on the open market, he'd do so having never recorded a 30-goal season. There are 17 forwards this season making at least $7 million, according to CapGeek, and only two of them have failed to record a 30-goal season: Mikko Koivu, and Callahan's current teammate Brad Richards.
And that will be the question every GM has to ask when considering a trade. How much would it cost a team like the Wild or Blues to re-up a goalie like Miller this summer? If Vanek is turning down an extension in the ballpark of seven years, $50 million, what will it cost to keep him come season's end?
There's also the bottom-feeders to be wary of. While it may not be below a team like Tampa Bay to acquire Callahan with the hopes of re-signing him, there will always be the Sabres and Panthers of the league shooting for the projected $52 million cap basement for next season. There's new elements beings added to the equation leading up to the trade deadline, and each team will employ its own logic when figuring out whether to pull the trigger on a win-now deal, or avoid potentially mortgaging its immediate future.