Don’t expect hockey news to take much of a breather now that the games are over.
The Los Angeles Kings may be holding their Stanley Cup parade, but what Monday actually marks for the other 29 teams is eight days until the NHL awards, 11 days until the opening of the draft and two weeks until the start of free agency on July 1.
Along the way, there’ll be a lot of trade talk, too.
This busy section of the news cycle gets underway in earnest early Monday morning when the NHL’s compliance buyout window opens. This is one of the last remnants of the lockout, where every team was given two get out of jail free cards in the form of penalty-free buyouts to be used in the summer of 2013 or 2014.
Last year, there were 16, including enormous buyouts of Vinny Lecavalier, Rick DiPietro, Ilya Bryzgalov and Mikhail Grabovski.
Four teams – Chicago, Montreal, Philadelphia and Toronto – have already used both of theirs, while 10 others have only used one. That leaves 42 potential buyouts, although there are realistically only about a dozen candidates.
Some of them are slam dunks.
The Buffalo Sabres will nuke the last three years (at $4.5-million apiece) of Ville Leino’s truly awful contract. The New York Rangers really can’t afford to keep Brad Richards around at what he’s making and with the cap recapture penalties looming down the road.
Others around the league like Martin Havlat, Jordin Tootoo and Ryan Malone (whose situation is complicated by his substance abuse issues) are likely candidates as well.
Beyond that, you start getting into tougher judgment calls for the GMs involved. Do teams like Vancouver, Dallas and New Jersey feel like they need the salary cap room that buying out David Booth, Erik Cole and Anton Volchenkov could give them, especially given this is the last chance to wipe out a contract without penalty?
Will ownership sign off on paying millions to make those players go away? Is it worthwhile given the thin free agent class available to spend on?
Or will that “found” money simply result in more mistakes that will then become a buyout down the line?
Hence why it’s known as the silly season…
Bonuses land teams in cap trouble
The Flyers rather quietly re-signed defenceman Kimmo Timonen on Friday, but what was more noteworthy than his return at age 39 was the unique structure of the deal.
Timonen will get only $2-million in base salary next season on a one-year deal, but he can essentially double his contract with some easy-to-earn games played bonuses.
More and more, teams are using what’s known as the bonus cushion for older players like this, as it allows them to exceed the cap (by up to 7.5 per cent) when these veterans earn a portion of salary in bonuses. For every dollar teams go over the cap, however, that comes off their limit the following season.
At least three teams had huge overages this season that will hurt them in free agency and beyond. The Bruins, Devils and Red Wings are all believed to have exceeded the cap by at least $3-million primarily due to bonuses for Jarome Iginla, Jaromir Jagr and Daniel Alfredsson.
The one thing all three had in common is they were 35 or older and on one-year deals, which is the cut-off for allowing these kinds of “performance” bonuses.
What these contracts really are is a type of gamble where a GM can use some of next season’s payroll for a small advantage in the current year, but they only make sense for teams like Boston that are contending for a Cup.
For New Jersey and Detroit, these were ill-advised bets that will leave them with substantially less to spend next season.
Cap could get unexpected boost
There could be some good news on another front for those teams, though.
Based purely on the NHL’s projected revenues of $3.7-billion this season, the salary cap will rise to roughly $69.5-million for next year – a noteworthy 8 per cent increase that is in line with what we’ve seen in the past.
What that doesn’t factor in, however, is the possibility that the NHL and players’ union negotiate to include the new Canadian television deal in the cap formula right away, a distinct possibility according to multiple sources last week.
“If a significant one-time increase or decrease to league-wide revenues is anticipated in the next league year,” the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement reads, “the parties will endeavor to estimate the expected increase or decrease and incorporate that estimate into” the cap calculation.
A decision on this front hasn’t been made yet, but it could have major implications for the cap. The Rogers deal is so substantial it could mean an increase of a few million dollars, which would result in the NHL’s biggest single-season jump ever.
The final cap number has to be in place by late June so negotiations need to happen on this fairly soon. This is one development worth keeping an eye on the next two weeks as it’ll impact everything from buyouts to free agency and trades.