by PuckStopsHere on 11/23/09 at 01:05 PM ET
Mike Rathje has not played an NHL game since early in the 2006/07 season, yet he is an important part of the Philadelphia Flyers salary cap strategy. At the conclusion of the lockout (in 2005), Rathje signed a $17.5 million five year contract with the Flyers. This deal turned out to be one that the Flyers soon regretted. They found a solution which has allowed them to have a payroll exceeding the cap in the many years that Rathje has been hurt. The Flyers placed him on long term injured reserve with back and hip problems in 2006 and have left him there ever since. Rathje last attempted to play in the 2007 training camp, but when he couldn’t make the team he stayed on the LTIR.
The CBA rules allow team to exceed to salary cap by the salaries of LTIR players if this is needed to pay for the replacements for those players. This means that the Flyers can have up to $3.5 million in extra salary cap room by leaving Rathje on LTIR (assuming they are at the cap when his salary hit is taken each year). This is a preferable situation to buying out his contract. If they buy out his contract (although they pay him less), their salary cap room is reduced by the amount of the buyout.
It is clear that Mike Rathje has no intention of playing again. His wikipedia page lists him as retired, which is essentially correct. What else would you call somebody who hasn’t played a hockey game in three years? He is only active because of his contract. His contract has been kept alive because it gives the Philadelphia Flyers more salary cap space.
This situation shows one unpublicized salary cap loophole. There needs to be a limit to long time injury reserve. When a player spends the last 3.5 years of a five year contract on the LTIR and never plays again, he isn’t injured. He is retired. A larger market team that can easily afford to spend in excess of the salary cap can use this as an advantage. With the very long term contracts that the NHL is seeing, it is just a matter of time before a player in one of those contracts suffers a career ending injury (assuming Rick DiPietro has not done it already). Will that contract be used to allow a team to exceed the salary cap for many years as the player sits on the LTIR with no intention of ever playing again? At this point, Mike Rathje is an isolated case, but it is a loophole that other teams may use in the future. Will anything be done to prevent this?
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