by PuckStopsHere on 01/23/09 at 03:47 AM ET
The Philadelphia Flyers found themselves in a situation where they would be forced to make some moves to fit under the salary cap. Their highest paid player Daniel Briere was about to return from the long term injured reserve and this would put the Flyers well above the salary cap. Although a trade to reduce salary might have been the best move, the Flyers could have been under the salary cap with a series of internal moves. Josh Gratton and Jon Kalinski have both been placed on long term injury reserve. Lasse Kukkonen would be waived and sent to the minors, one of Darroll Powe or Claude Giroux would be sent to the minors and Luca Sbisa would be returned to junior. This would leave the Flyers with a 21 man NHL roster that is salary cap compliant - at least until another of the long term injury players return.
That move has been put on hold when Daniel Briere re-injured his groin. He did so after a three game conditioning stint in the AHL (where he scored five points). He was about to re-join the Flyers (as soon as the salary cap problem was fixed) and he was pulled from the lineup. Briere will now have further surgery and miss at least a month.
The timing of this is convenient to the Flyers. It prevents them from being forced to make any moves to be salary cap compliant (at least for now). I would not imagine that Briere’s surgery is entirely unnecessary, but the timing is suspicious. He certainly looked ready for NHL play in his AHL conditioning stint. There probably is a risk of his groin becoming a recurring injury threat without further surgery, but without a salary cap I bet that further surgery would have been delayed until the off-season.
Currently, the Flyers have Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje making significant money and holding down spots on the long term injury list. It is believed that neither of the two will ever play an NHL game again.
Rathje and his $3.5 million salary cap hit have been on the injured reserve for a long time. He last played 18 games in 2006/07 before hip problems (and the salary cap) forced him out of the lineup. Most teams would buyout a player like this, but not the Flyers. The Flyers can afford to exceed the salary cap and would rather do so paying Rathje his full salary (minus any part insurance might pay) than to take the salary cap hit of a buyout. As long as Rathje is injured, he does not count against the salary cap. A buyout, though it would save money, reduces the total money the Flyers have to pay for the team payroll. Rathje would likely challenge the buyout as he is injured, but the few examples of this in the past show that a settlement would likely be reached where Rathje is paid less than the full sum of his contract.
Derian Hatcher is a similar story. He too has a $3.5 million contract. Unlike Rathje, it expires at the end of the season (Rathje has another season on his contract). Like Rathje, the Flyers chose not to buyout Hatcher’s contract and take the salary cap hit from that. Hatcher is on long term injury due to his knee problems.
Most players who have had long NHL careers have chronic and recurring injury problems. The Flyers have used their salary cap situation as a guide to when the problem is too serious to keep the player in the lineup and claim him as long term injured. The timing of Rathje, Hatcher and Briere’s injury problems have all been terribly convenient for the team. It’s too convenient to be mere coincidence.
The Flyers will have some salary troubles in the future. They currently have a salary cap hit of over $45 million next for fourteen roster players (and none of them are goalies). They will have to sign some more players relatively cheaply to make the - likely dropping - salary cap. Will their solution be a convenient long term injury? Judging by their track record, I would not be too surprised if they find one to help solve the problem.
The Philadelphia Flyers are one of the richer teams in the NHL. They are capable of paying more than the salary cap allows them to do. In order to flex their financial muscle they have very liberally used the long term injury exemption status of players. Is this a problem? It is if the NHL really wants to claim that the salary cap levels the playing field. Financial imbalances will always exist in a professional sports league. Is it worth the complexity of trying to stifle them? Would the NHL have been better served by allowing teams that wanted larger payrolls to spend as they see fit?
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