Currently $4.1-million over the NHL's salary cap, Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has a plan in place that will see the defending champs sneak under just in time for the start of the 2010-11 season.
To get there, the Blackhawks will have stay over the cap for at least another month. Twelve days before the NHL season begins, however, backup netminder Cristobal Huet's $5.625-million (all currency U.S.) contract is eligible to be placed on waivers and "loaned" to another team.
On Monday, reports surfaced that Huet has a deal in place to play for Swiss club HC Fribourg-Gotteron, three hours away from his hometown of Grenoble, France.
While the arrangement has yet to be finalized, if he joins that team next month, Huet's contract will no longer count against the cap and Chicago will be under by more than $1.5-million with 21 players under contract.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Huet playing in Europe would be "no different than an assignment to the AHL" and is perfectly legal under the collective bargaining agreement.
As with players sent to the minors, Chicago will have to pay Huet his full salary - although the Swiss team may pick up a portion of the contract.
Huet's agent, Steve Bartlett, said his client would have been willing to renegotiate his contract to stay in the NHL, something that is not currently an option.
"His goal was to stay in the NHL," Bartlett said. "If there was a way he could have, he would.
"That's the downside of the inflexibility of the CBA - there's no ability to renegotiate or for another team to take on a portion of a contract. Financially, you're well covered, but if your goal is to play in the NHL, you've got two hands tied behind your back."
Bartlett said they were well aware during last season's Stanley Cup run that Huet's time in the NHL was likely coming to an end. Including Huet and starting netminder Antti Niemi, the Blackhawks have shed nine regulars from the team that won the championship to get under the cap.
"Clearly Chicago was going to have cap problems and clearly he wasn't even the No. 1 goalie," Bartlett said. "And they walked away from their No. 1 goalie (in arbitration) for half the price. I don't think it took a whole lot of introspection to figure out that we were headed on the fast track to nowhere as far as playing for Chicago this season."
If Huet clears waivers and his deal with Fribourg-Gotteron is approved by the Blackhawks, he will join a cast of other former NHLers such as Michael Nylander, David Aebischer and Darius Kasparaitis that were loaned to European teams the past few years.
Nylander's case is the one that bears the closest resemblance to Huet's situation.
The veteran Swede signed a generous four-year, $19.5-million deal with the Washington Capitals in the summer of 2007, but fell out of favour with coach Bruce Boudreau and hasn't played a game in the NHL since May, 2009.
Unwanted any other NHL team at his salary, Nylander spent last season between the AHL and Finland while being paid $5.5-million. He is due another $3-million this season.
It's a situation more and more NHL players could find themselves in given eight teams have less than $1-million space against the $59.4-million cap with training camp less than four weeks away. Several players around the league - including New York Rangers defenceman Wade Redden and Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jeff Finger - have contracts considered out of line with their performance and could spend time in the minors this season.
Huet, who has a 129-90-11 record and .913 save percentage in his NHL career, struggled last season in Chicago and lost the starting role to Niemi in midseason.
His decision came down to whether he wanted to play with the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL the next two seasons or find a place to play overseas. Given his wife is from Switzerland and he has played there in the past, it proved a no-brainer.
"He's accepted it," Bartlett said. "He's a class individual. He has no bitterness whatsoever to the Blackhawks. It's a business decision that obviously he wishes was different, but they have been very good at working with me at trying to explore options so there's no animosity in that situation. There's probably just a little disappointment that the situation isn't different for all parties involved."