Abel to Yzerman
by George Malik on 09/27/10 at 10:18 PM ET
New York Rangers defenseman Wade Redden cleared waivers today and finds himself heading to Hartford to play for the Wolf Pack (as of February, the Connecticut Whale) of the AHL, and as the Hockey News’s Ken Campbell has his predictable, “It violates the spirit of the CBA!” hissy fit and the CBC’s Elliotte Friedman and Yahoo Sports’ Greg “Puck Daddy” Wyshynski weigh in on the situation with less schadenfreude, no one seems to mention that when players on one-way contracts are waived and sent to the AHL (or, in Cristobal Huet’s case, Switzerland) to “bury” the player’s salary cap hits, it’s not the NHL teams who end up having to pay the cap hit.
That money still counts against a team’s payroll, but once it disappears from the cap, who gets stuck with the eventual bill? Why, the NHLPA’s members, of course, because one-way contractual money counts against “the players’ share” of revenues, as do salaries paid to injury replacements once teams exceed the cap via the Long-Term Injured Reserve exemption. Are the CBA “hawks” like Campbell or the more moderate members of the media wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth about the concept that players both pay for general managers’ “mistakes” and, to some extent, have to pay the players who step up for their injured teammates?
Of course not.
During the Ilya Kovalchuk mess, I stuck with my guns and suggested that if nothing the Devils did violated the letter of the CBA’s law, it was and remains my opinion that the Devils didn’t do anything “wrong” by offering Kovalchuk a 17-year, $102 million contract because nothing in the CBA expressly prohibits any sort of term limit on contracts—unless you’re interpreting the “spirit of the CBA” as Richard Bloch chose to—and I’m not about to go back on my opinion and suggest that teams are doing anything “wrong” by clearing salary cap space via waiving players and sending them to the AHL.
Nothing in the CBA prohibits this, and if teams want to utilize this option to help alleviate a cap crunch, that’s fine by me. The rules the NHL and NHLPA agreed to play are nothing more and nothing less than, to use deputy commissioner Bill Daly’s term, not-so-“bright lines” that can be manipulated and to some extent exploited by NHL teams, and the same is true of the LTIR exemption. If either party has a problem with the “spirit” of the CBA as applied in terms of the teams who may or may not utilize the tools available to them for the sake of establishing a competitive advantage, they should address these issues by collective bargaining and not the whims of arbitrators or members of the media crying foul.
At the same time, it must be underlined that it’s not the NHL that takes the financial hit in either situation. Money NHL teams spend on one-way contracts which no longer count against a team’s salary cap figure still count against the players’ share, and as we all know, when teams exceed the 56-and-change-percentage of revenues which they’re required to spend on players’ salaries, the overage is paid back to the league by its players via escrow withholdings.
When I mentioned this repeatedly this past summer, I found it hilariously ironic that no member of the NHL’s media corps, the passive-aggressive late-night Twitterer included, were willing to so much as utter a snappy comeback when their laments about players having to pay the brunt of the similarly-buried money hidden in the average value of lifetime contract-holding players’ salary cap hits were answered with this: “Sure, the players take a collective hit for the $15-20 million in funds that count against the players’ share instead of a team’s salary cap number, but it’s clearly met and exceeded by the salaries of players on one-way contracts who are sent to the AHL, never mind the players whose salaries are paid for by their peers thanks to the LTIR exemption”—and that’s the truth of the matter, and it comes as no surprise that the NHL-friendly media chooses to conveniently ignore this part of the equation.
The players’ escrow withholdings are largely drawn from AHL demotions, from both the Redden/Huet-range as well as the players who earn more meager salaries but find themselves ticketed for bus-riding, and the salaries of injury replacements accounted for by the LTIR exemption. The similarly-buried dollar amounts which lifetime contracts account for are exceeded by a substantial margin by AHL demotions and LTIR exemptions. That’s just how it works.
There’s nothing illegal going on in terms of violating CBA rules when GM’s pile as much of their cap management “mistakes” and injured players’ salaries onto the players’ share instead of engaging in player-purging gymnastics for the sake of the CBA’s supposed goal of competitive balance. There’s nothing “wrong” with it, either. The rules are the rules, and the players agreed to abide by them, too. It simply merits highlighting, with a “bright line”-marking highlighter, that it’s not the NHL’s teams or owners who are fitting the bill in these sometimes incredibly expensive instances, especially on a cumulative basis.
If we’re going to be talking about these issues ahead of the next round of CBA negotiations, we might as well tell the whole story instead of the part that’s convenient to furthering our respective points, and when we’re taking about contentious CBA issues, we should take players’ bones of contention into account as well.
Of non-NHLPA-related note: The Malik Report will launch sooner than later, so fear not: regular Red Wings coverage and long-winded commentary should resume shortly.
Update/edit 10:47 AM Tuesday: I’m sure someone has mentioned the fact that teams have to clear cap space for players who return from the LTIR, but I’m speaking very specifically about the many instances of season-ending player injuries, where teams can exceed the cap and don’t need to clear cap space to cover their cap-exceeding overage.
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