Since the details of Chris Pronger's seven-year contract extention came out last week, the Flyers have been widely ridiculed around the hockey world. People have called the deal a "blunder", a "mistake", "mind-boggling", and, quite simply, "silly."
All of the criticism stems from one fact -- the contract is an "over-35" deal, meaning that when Pronger likely retires before the contract is up, the Flyers will still be on the hook for his $4.985 million cap hit each year until the contract expires in 2016/17. The over-35 rule in the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement is, as James Mirtle mentioned in his analysis of this deal, "... aimed at idiot proofing the thing by protecting teams from (a) signing brutal deals and (b) circumventing the cap with throwaway years at the end of contracts."
The Flyers are doing both of those things. It's hard to argue that this isn't a brutal deal if the Flyers have Pronger's cap hit still haunting them two years after he's retired from hockey. And the structure of the contract -- front-loaded with cash in the early years, worth practically nothing in the later years -- proves that years six and seven are in fact "throwaway years."
To argue that the Flyers didn't know what they were doing, as many, including Larry Brooks of the New York Post, have done, is foolish. Paul Holmgren and assistant general manager Barry Hanrahan, the team's so-called "capologist", knew exactly what they were doing in signing Pronger's contract. Here's what Brooks had to say on the situation...
Philadelphia likely will never suffer the consequences for the massive blunder in which management agreed to pay $33.4 million of the total $34.9 million within the first five years of the extension. And thus would be on the hook for a $4.921 million cap hit in 2015-16 and 2016-17, even with the defenseman in expected retirement.
The Flyers will not take the hit because the CBA will be long extinct by that time, with another round of rollbacks and amnesty buyouts expected to bridge the gap between the current labor agreement and whatever comes next.
There are no guarantees, of course, but no one knows the fate of contracts that run beyond 2011-12, which is when the CBA will expire once the NHLPA exercises its pro-forma option to extend the deal through that season.
If Brooks can figure out that the current rules will probably not be the future rules, and that there will be "another round of rollbacks and amnesty buyouts," do you think the Flyers can't figure that out, too? The team knew exactly what they were doing, and they know that there is a contentious battle brewing in the years leading to 2012, when the next CBA will be hammered out between the league and the players' union. Those negotiations will likely yield that next round of amnesty buyouts, which means the Flyers probably won't have to keep Pronger under their salary cap following his retirement -- they'll just buy him out.
The Flyers are able to do that because they are in the favorable position of being a rich team in a salary capped world. While the Florida's and the Atlanta's and the Nashville's are working under a budget that is, in most cases much closer to the salary floor than the cap, Philadelphia can work to find loopholes in the rules that allow them to spend more than the salary cap stipulates.
These actions go against the intentions of the salary cap and they go against the intentions of the rules set in place to close these loopholes, like the 35-plus contract rule, and if you're a fan of a less-than-wealthy team in the NHL, it probably seems down right unfair.
Yes, that's a solid point. It's not fair that the Flyers are circumventing the rules in this fashion. It's also not fair that they charge $90 for a lower level ticket. But if they can charge that much for a ticket and still sell out, can you blame them?
And if they can get away with giving Chris Pronger this type of contract, can you really blame them?