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2014 NHL Salary Cap Set at $69 Million; Low Figure a Mixed Bag for Spendy Penguins

A falling tide strands all boats.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency just got a little less fun.

The NHL announced Friday that the salary cap ceiling for the 2014-15 season will be set at $69 million, the highest-ever full-season salary cap but one that still falls short of what could have been.

From the NHL press release,

The salary cap for the 2014-'15 NHL season has been set at US$69 million, lower than many big-budget teams had hoped.

The league and Players' Association announced the upper limit and $51-million floor Friday, a little over two hours before the start of the draft.

Original projections at December's board of governors meeting were in the neighbourhood of $71 million. But the value of the Canadian dollar was believed to lower that.

The 2013-'14 cap was $64.3 million and the floor was $44 million.

Mostly, the number falls short of the needs of a few cap-crushed teams.

Pittsburgh is one of those clubs. Given the number and the team's propensity to spend to the cap, they are currently left with just over $14 million in cap space and $54 million committed to 14 players. Of the nine teams with greater payroll commitments than the Penguins, none has fewer than 16 players signed.

Not counted against that figure are the team's restricted free agents. Four of them (Simon Despres, Brandon Sutter, Jayson Megna and Philip Samuelsson) have been tendered qualifying offers, but none have yet accepted, keeping them off the cap number as of now.

While the figure is going to make it tough for the Penguins to rebuild their top-heavy forward group, one which cost them a chance to advance to a Bruins-less Conference Finals and which has almost no help coming from the AHL, the falling cap is going to affect Pittsburgh's main competitors in the Eastern Conference even more harshly -- namely, the Bruins, Rangers and Flyers.

Philadelphia, as of now, is presently spending over the salary cap limit by some $230,000. Boston is close to doing so as well, and has less than $2 million available with 18 players signed.

Bonus overages are also affecting these clubs, as Boston ($4.75 million) Detroit ($3.0175 million) and New Jersey ($2.25 million) will be forced to add the hits of performance bonuses to their upcoming salary figures.

Pittsburgh is unlikely to have any bonus overage payments to account for.

When something as big as the salary cap changes significantly, the shock is felt by all teams. Pittsburgh is going to be pressured to make the kinds of deals they would like to make, but they aren't in immediate jeopardy like many of the teams who figure to contend for division and conference supremacy this fall.

So, with the cap picture growing dark for most teams of contender status, how do the Penguins really fare?

The big draft day trade of James Neal to Nashville is basically a wash, as the cap is concerned. Patric Hornqvist, who is essentially replacing Neal, carries a hit of $4.5 million (compared to Neal's $5 million). Nick Spaling is also a restricted free agent, whose previous deal paid $1.5 million on a one-year deal. The Pens have three days to tender him a qualifying offer or let him hit free agency.

Keeping Spaling means the deal becomes a negative cap move, but does add another player to the roster.

The Penguins could be in the mix for more trades before the beginning of free agency on July 1, so their cap situation could change. However, the Penguins still need to replace their outgoing bottom-six forwards, find out how their tendered RFA's will or will not play into the equation and still answer a few significant needs (another skilled winger for Malkin).

Most importantly, the team should like to leave itself at least a little money sitting around by the time the roster is finished.

Injuries and long-term injured reserve dollars were all that kept them compliant with the cap a year ago, and this lower-than-expected number means the team's big plan -- to sign its core players to big contracts which would increase in affordability as the cap continued to grow -- isn't going to reap savings any time soon.

Which is all the more pressure on the new management team to navigate this offseason properly.

All these fancy numbers courtesy of CapGeek