by PuckStopsHere on 11/06/08 at 08:44 PM ET
Hockey is a rough game. Anyone who plays regularly for many years will have a sore shoulder, knee, back or some other body part. This would be a recurring injury or a degenerative condition. This is especially true at the NHL level.
In the current CBA, teams can buyout players during a period in the summer. Generally, underperforming players get their contracts bought out. Teams save money in this process. They pay out 2/3 of the remaining money on the contract to a player over a time period of two times the remaining time on the contract. This reduces the annual salary cap hit to 1/3 of what it otherwise would have been and allows teams (with this salary cap penalty) to use the remaining salary cap room to pay for other players. Problems can come in this arrangement when players are injured. Injured players cannot be bought out - although they can be placed on long term injury exemption lists to free up salary cap space. The problem is most players who have had lengthy careers will have recurring or degenerative injury conditions and can use these to claim that they are injured and cannot be bought out, if they believe they will not get another NHL contract.
A player who will sign another NHL contract with a new team may wind up with a pay raise when their buyout and their new contract money are taken into account. These players are not advised to play up an existing injury to prevent a buyout. It is the players who are likely at the end of their NHL careers who should do this.
Generally, these players fall into a grey area where any doctor’s exam would show a legitimate medical condition that affects their playing, but it may not be sufficient to end their career. Nevertheless, it is hard for a doctor to ignore this legitimate condition and pronounce the player healthy—and thus possibly submit himself to lawsuits in the future.
There have been several cases of this principle since buyouts have been added to the CBA. They seem to be becoming more and more frequent.
Dan Cloutier of the Los Angeles Kings was bought out this summer. He has suffered a hip injury in the 2006/07 season and had not been an effective goalie since. Cloutier challenged the buyout.
David Tanabe of the Carolina Hurricanes was bought out, but he was suffering from a concussion and had not played in more than half a season. He also challenged his buyout.
The most recent buyout challenge is Glen Murray of the Boston Bruins. He is having surgery on his ankle. This is a second surgery. He maintains he was injured while under contract and thus cannot be bought out.
These players all have legitimate sounding injuries. They also have limited possibility to catch on with other NHL teams. Therefore, they have played up their injuries to maximize their salary by challenging the buyout. If they had a good chance of staying in the NHL with another team, they would accept the buyout and sign with another team. This is the situation buyouts have created in the NHL. Most longtime NHL players have an injury of some sort they sustained while playing. Though they would rather play with the injury, they are injured and could easily get a doctor to verify that. Therefore the legality of their buyout can be challenged. There will be more and more of these challenges. Buyouts in the NHL will invite legal challenges more and more frequently.
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