New NHL CBA will close loopholes, could someday put Richards, Carter back on Flyers payroll

Happier times. - Elsa/Getty Images/NHLI

Drafted in 2003, traded away in 2011, on the payroll in 2019? It's possible.

Remember back in mid-October, when instead of writing about the first week of the NHL season, we wrote this?

On the downright awful side, this part of the league's Tuesday proposal isn't targeted at players. It's targeted at their own clubs that have been cheating the system for the last seven years, like the Flyers.

All the talk about how Ed Snider, Peter Luukko and the Flyers are at the head of the NHL owners table? And how they always get the best part of the meal, leaving the rest of the family to fend for table scraps?

It looks like the family just revolted.

We were talking about the NHL's planned proposal to punish clubs -- like your Philadelphia Flyers -- that had handed out back-diving or front-loaded contracts in an attempt to circumvent the salary cap.

Retirement wouldn't matter, nor would a trade of a player to a different team. If the deal was longer than five years long, you'd be on the hook for that cap hit if the player were to retire. Even if you traded that player, and yes, even if that deal was signed before the new CBA went into effect.

Jeff Carter? Mike Richards? James van Riemsdyk and Scott Hartnell? Yep. If they were to retire early, the Flyers would be on the hook for their cap hit.

We tried to hold back the fear a bit back in October by noting that the CBA was far from its final form and that much could change before the pens finally hit the dotted lines. But now, three months (!) later, we're much closer to an ultimate deal, and ... yep, this is all still on the table.

Via James Mirtle in The Globe & Mail on Wednesday:

In response to the league's call for such an alteration, the NHLPA devised something called a "cap benefit recapture formula," which would punish teams with players who retired early on long-term deals by putting the money they saved over the term of the deal on their cap after they've retired.

This notion has been around for a while, but the change that came last week was that the PA offered to apply this formula to any new contracts that are seven years or longer OR existing deals with seven years or more remaining.

In short, that means slight alterations to what the NHL proposed back in October.

Instead of five years, this would apply to deals seven years or longer. That's a good thing, as it would remove James van Riemsdyk, Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds from the gray area. All three are on six-year deals, with Simmonds and Hartnell's deals beginning in 2013.

It wouldn't exempt Ilya Bryzgalov if he were to retire before the end of his contract in 2020, but there's at least some comfort in knowing that the Flyers have control over him. He's in their organization.

It gets disconcerting when it comes to players outside the organization, and both Carter (10 years left on his contract) and Richards (eight years left) could leave and impact. If those guys were to retire before their contracts end, something completely out of the Flyers' hands, the team would be on the hook for a penalty.

How much? Back to Mirtle:

Another change to the PA's previous proposal is that instead of allowing the post-retirement cap penalty to be spread over twice the length remaining on the deal it can only be spread over the number of years that the player didn't play.

This is bad. Using Mirtle's explanation and Carter's contract as an example, let's assume he retires with three years remaining on his contract at age 34 -- a plausible possibility.

Carter would earn $59 million over the first eight years before retirement, an average of $6.375 million per year. But thanks to the structure of the contract, his cap hit is only $5,272,727 per season over the life of the deal. Take the total cap savings earned across those first eight years of the contract -- $6.375 million minus $5.272 million multiplied by eight -- and you get the cap penalty the Flyers would be forced to pay.

It's $8.818 million, and they'd have to pay it over those final three years.

In a nutshell, a retired Carter could hit the Flyers cap for just under $3 million per season under this example, and it could happen nine years after he last pulled on a Philadelphia uniform. And for what?

The Flyers experienced utterly zero cap savings themselves on this deal since they traded him to Columbus before this contract went into effect. They'd be paying the penalty simply for signing him to this contract in the first place.


There are two frustrating parts about this.

For one, it's clear that the NHL is dead set on punishing teams that signed players to these types of contracts. The Flyers are certainly one of them, and we've laughed all along as they've used loophole after loophole to do this type of stuff.

But if you think back to the 2004-05 lockout, while the league won the salary cap and the CBA negotiation as a whole over the players, they rushed through some of the smaller details, which was a (very minor) victory for the NHLPA. They forgot to close these sort of loopholes, and now they're set on making sure smart player agents and smart general managers don't exploit them again. And they'll give 'em a little payback -- or a lot of payback, potentially -- in the process.

Secondly, it's that the proposal completely takes the power out of the Flyers' hands. They can control to a certain extent whether or not Chris Pronger or Mike Rathje or Ian Laperriere or Ilya Bryzgalov officially "retires," but when it comes to Mike Richards and Jeff Carter? Hell, you never know how much those guys might want to stick it to the organization that tossed them aside, even if those wounds are nearly a decade old at that point.

It puts the Flyers, their cap situation and ultimately their team at the mercy of two long-since-gone players.

And unlike three months ago when we last talked about this, we're even closer now to a collective bargaining agreement that will almost certainly include a stipulation like this.

Drafted in 2003, traded in 2011, on the payroll in 2019? It's possible.

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