Should a new NHL CBA be implemented to save what remains of the 2012-13 season, the contents of that agreement will be felt by NHL clubs immediately.
For some time, it had been speculated a one-time-only amnesty buyout would be part of the deal, similar to that at the start of the previous CBA. That would allow teams to shed salaries of expensive underachieving players without incurring a salary cap penalty.
But according to Larry Brooks of The New York Post, the owners are strongly against amnesty buyouts as part of the transition toward a 50-50 split of hockey related-revenue between the owners and the players.
That’s because the league sees such buyouts as money being paid outside the new cap system.
Brooks also reported the league intends, for book-keeping purposes, to maintain the salary cap ceiling for this season at $70.2 million, dropping to $60 million for 2013-14.
With 16 teams currently carrying payrolls exceeding $60 million, it would result in considerable hardship for many of those clubs to become cap compliant if the ceiling were lowered for this season. Doing so next season buys them some time.
Still, 11 teams currently have cap payrolls for next season uncomfortably close to $60 million.
Those teams include the Montreal Canadiens ($60,160,476 invested in 16 players), Tampa Bay Lightning, ($57,534,416 for 15 players), Philadelphia Flyers ($57,473,095 for 16 players), Boston Bruins ($57,351,310 for 16 players), Chicago Blackhawks ($57,211,795 for 17 players), Vancouver Canucks ($55,403,333 for 13 players), San Jose Sharks ($54,339,167 for 14 players), Pittsburgh Penguins ($52,583,333 for 15 players), New York Rangers ($51,841,667 for 16 players), Minnesota Wild ($51,129,701 for 16 players), and Carolina Hurricanes ($50,737,500 for 15 players)
Even teams with payrolls for next season currently between $44 million and $50 million could have varying degrees of difficulty retaining key players and bolstering their roster depth.
It’s those 11 currently perched over $50 million for 2013-14 that face potential salary cap headaches.
Some, like the Bruins and Flyers, could gain some cap relief by placing injured stars such as Marc Savard and Chris Pronger on long-term injury reserve.
The previous CBA stipulated the salaries of players on LTIR still count against the cap, but the team can invest the equivalent of those salaries in replacement players, even allowing them to go over the cap ceiling. It’s expected that trend will be continued under the new agreement.
Teams could try to bury some salary in the minors, but the new CBA could impose significant restrictions on that practice.
Most of those 11 clubs also have key players slated to become restricted/unrestricted free agents next summer who they must either re-sign or replace.
Given those factors, many of those clubs could be forced to make significant salary-dumping trades.
If there is a shortened 2012-13 campaign, some will waste little time shopping some high-salaried talent. The Vancouver Canucks, for example, are expected to trade goaltender Roberto Luongo ($5.3 million per season), who was linked throughout the off-season to the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Shedding Luongo’s cap hit will help, but they’ll have to take some salary back in the deal. With defenseman Alex Edler due for UFA status in July, they won’t have much space to re-sign him and fill out the remainder of their roster.
Canucks management could face a stark choice: move a player or two to free up cap space to re-sign Edler, or let him walk in order to maintain depth elsewhere in the lineup.
Most GMs, however, will wait until the off-season, when teams traditionally have more cap space and willingness to swap expensive talent. Even then, such moves will still prove difficult to make.
For example, there’s unlikely to be many takers for struggling Montreal Canadiens center Scott Gomez and his $7.3 million salary for next season, unless the new CBA includes a stipulation allowing the Habs to absorb part of his salary to facilitate a trade.
That still might not be enough to entice rival teams to acquire Gomez, unless another quality player is added to the deal, further weakening the Canadiens depth.
If the new CBA sets a $60 million cap for next season with no amnesty buyouts, no allowance for teams to absorb salary to facilitate trades and restrictions on player demotion, the summer of 2013 could see an unusually high number of players moved.
The aftermath could have a significant impact on the league’s standings in the coming years, potentially weakening strong clubs, bolstering weaker ones, or stalling the efforts of rebuilding teams.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla’s Korner.