The impact of the rising salary cap

The rising salary cap will help Chicago keep Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews together. Jonathan Kozub/NHLI/Getty Images

MONTEREY, Calif. -- Since the end of the lockout, Penguins general manager Ray Shero has been one of the NHL's busiest GMs in locking up his key players to long-term contracts. And he did it in an environment that wasn't exactly ideal -- a dropping salary cap this season, along with complete uncertainty as to what next season would look like.

Internally, he said the Penguins worked with three different scenarios in trying to project where the cap would grow from the $64.3 million mark this season while determining the raises that kick in next year for Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin.

"You play with those numbers and realize you'll still probably have holes in your lineup," Shero joked, following day one of the NHL's board of governors meeting. "We have a number of long-term contracts out there like most teams do, it seems. Sometimes that's good, sometimes that's not."

And the news that emerged from Monday's meeting that next year's salary cap will be around $71 million is about as good as the news could have been for teams that spend to the cap and tied into long-term deals.

For the Penguins, who have 15 players signed for a total of $55.9 million next season, according to CapGeek.com, it means Shero has flexibility moving forward to deal with potential unrestricted free agent Brooks Orpik. Orpik is the only member of the Penguins' top four on defense who isn't signed at least through the 2014-15 season.

"We'll see," Shero said, when asked about what that means for a potential Orpik deal. "We'll sit down and talk about it internally and see where we are. Who knows? Players might see where the cap might be, [and say] 'I might just wait it out and see what happens.'"

With a clearer picture in place for next year, teams that were waiting to sign their own potential free agents have eliminated one more hurdle to getting a deal done.

"It's going to loosen up talks for the higher-end players," one agent said. "It's going to expand opportunities for players to start signing contracts now. Most GMs I've spoken with have been reluctant to move forward on contract talks until they have some kind of idea."

They have that now.