by PuckStopsHere on 05/05/09 at 03:26 AM ET
The New York Rangers are in a bit of a jam due to the salary cap. As the 2008/09 season ended they had five forwards, four defencemen and a goalie signed for a total salary cap hit of about $42 million. They have to fill half their roster with the remaining money under the salary cap. If we assume that the salary cap remains constant or falls slightly (due to economic recession) this leaves about a $1 million salary cap hit on average for the players to be signed. You can be pretty certain that restricted free agents Nikolai Zherdev and Brandon Dubinsky will take larger than the average salaries. It will be hard to field a competitive team under those conditions.
The Rangers have had a bit of luck. Markus Naslund is retiring. He signed a front-loaded $8 million two year contract with the team last summer. He is passing up the second year (and $3 million) to retire. He could have waited and had his contract bought out and made $2 million over two years for doing nothing. Both of those scenarios would have given the Rangers a salary cap hit from Naslund. Naslund retiring frees up $4 million that can be spent on next season’s salaries.
Markus Naslund retiring is not a big surprise. His 24 goals this season were the most anybody scored in a Ranger uniform this year(Nik Antropov had more total goals this season but began the year in Toronto and scored most of his goals there), but he has clearly lost a step or two since his all star days in Vancouver.
The problem is that Naslund was paid $5 million this year for his one year of service with the Rangers and assessed a $4 million salary cap hit for his front-loaded two year contract he never completed. This will be an even more significant problem as some of the front-loaded very long-term contracts on the NHL books start to mature.
If the purpose of the salary cap is to remove financial advantages of some markets, thus allowing all markets to compete, then circumventing it with long term contracts where extra years are tacked onto the end for the purpose of lowering the average salary is cheating the salary cap. These years are not expected to be played by the player. The player is expected to retire.
There may be problems when the player reaches that age and still wants to play. There may be problems if the NHL re-opens the CBA and tries to find a retroactive solution. The simplest solution is to avoid charging average salaries as salary cap hits. Whatever the player gets paid that year is his salary cap hit. It is a simple way to avoid some of the problems. Will it lead to players who sign for low short-term money to fit on a team with little salary cap space with future pay increases? Maybe, but a player is more likely to want a front-loaded contract than a back-loaded one, so I don’t see it as the same scale of problem.
The New York Rangers are the first team to free up much needed salary cap space with the retirement of a player in a front-loaded contract. This looks to become a more and more likely scenario in the future. Likely this will be an issue the NHL wants to address.
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