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How spike in NHL salary cap will impact Flyers

NHL revenues are skyrocketing. The salary cap will rise, as will the Flyers' ability to purchase talent.

OTTAWA - Like many stranded because of the winter storm that wreaked havoc on the airline system, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren couldn't make it to Monterey, Calif., yesterday for the NHL's Board of Governors meetings.

Instead, Flyers chairman Ed Snider represented the club just fine at Pebble Beach, where the league's top executives convened for annual meetings that wrap up today.

But it would have been helpful for Holmgren to hear the NHL's latest salary-cap projections for next season directly from the source.

Pumped by what is expected to be a record-setting, $4 billion season in revenue this year, the NHL projected the salary cap's upper limit will rise to $71.1 million next season.

That would be a 10 percent increase from the $64.3 million teams are operating under this season. It would also be a record upper limit under the NHL's salary-cap system, instituted in 2005. Amazingly, that $71 million is not yet impacted by the 12-year, $5.2 billion Canadian television rights package, which the Board approved yesterday. That deal begins next season (2014-15) and will bump the 2015-16 salary-cap numbers.

"We thought the TV deal was going to be a home run," Phoenix Coyotes CEO Anthony LeBlanc told the Canadian Press yesterday. "I didn't expect it to be a grand slam."

With payroll capped at $71 million next season, the Flyers won't outspend the estimated $73 million they spent in 2003-04 before the salary cap existed.

What do the new numbers mean for Holmgren? Plenty of money to spend.

For the first time since the introduction of the salary cap, the Flyers will not be strapped by it heading into the offseason if Holmgren keeps the roster close to currently constituted.

Even after Claude Giroux's $66.2 million deal kicks in next season - to the tune of the NHL's fifth-highest cap hit of $8.275 million - the Flyers presently have just $54.3 million committed to the cap for next year. Andrej Meszaros ($4 million) and Kimmo Timonen ($6 million) each have large deals that expire this summer. That $54.3 million number includes Chris Pronger's $4.94 million, which will come off the cap at the beginning of next season thanks to his long-term injury exception.

All told, the Flyers have $49.36 million committed for next season.

That leaves approximately $21.7 million to spend, though a few players need extensions first. Goaltender Steve Mason will be due a big raise once he is eligible to sign an extension on Jan. 1. Steve Downie is set to become an unrestricted free agent and already earns $2.65 million. Brayden Schenn, Michael Raffl and Erik Gustafsson are all restricted. The Flyers also will need to find a deal for Ray Emery or look for a new backup.

Even with those obstacles, it's a particularly comfortable figure (or uncomfortable, depending on how you feel about those players), since Giroux, Matt Read, Sean Couturier, Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds are all locked up to long-term deals already.

In other words, expect Holmgren to be active this offseason, with a few intriguing names - like Thomas Vanek, Matt Moulson, Joe Thornton, Paul Stastny and Alexander Steen - set to become free agents.

As a whole, these Board of Governor meetings are important for all 30 teams. Each franchise will use the numbers presented to project internal spending budgets for next season. The league's governors are expected to receive an estimate on how much each team will be receiving as part of the new Canadian national television rights package.

TSN's Darren Dreger estimated that the deal would be worth an average of $15 million per team per season in new (essentially free) revenue, minus an "invasion fee" paid to the league's seven Canadian clubs. That number will be multiplied by 10 years.

Masked man

When the Flyers took the ice for their morning skate yesterday at Canadian Tire Centre, Ray Emery's pads were on the ice-but Emery wasn't the one using them.

Emery needed to take care of an outstanding passport issue, so he was given permission to skip the skate. Goaltending coach Jeff Reese suited up to take shots in practice using Emery's gear. It was sight to be seen, with the 5-foot-9 Reese using the 6-foot-2 Emery's equipment-especially since Reese, playing in the NHL in a different era, wore markedly smaller stuff.