I've asked this question a couple of times before in the comments and never really received a definitive answer, so pardon me for being persistent here. But I'm curious, and I've seen this point come up a lot in recent discussions because free agency starts in two weeks, so I'm asking again.
Any time there's some sort of extended discussion about potential Flyers' targets and rosters for next season, someone will inevitably make the comment "well if you just take Chris Pronger's $4.9 million off the books because he'll be on long-term injured reserve next season, we have the cap room to sign/trade for ___________." And that poor sap will inevitably be shouted down by at least three people saying "YOU CAN'T PUT SOMEONE ON LTIR UNTIL THE SECOND DAY OF THE SEASON SO YOU HAVE TO WORK WITH PRONGER'S CAP HIT THROUGH THE WHOLE OFFSEASON."
Here's my problem: I'm not entirely sure that's true. Jump.
The question I've asked, then, is where exactly in the CBA it says anything along the lines of that second quotation above--basically, where it says that you can't have anyone on LTIR until after the season starts, meaning that everyone on the payroll has to actually be on the payroll on the first day of the season. Obviously, as mentioned, if this is true as everyone says it is, it would hamper the Flyers' ability to spend a ton of money in the offseason. It more or less makes Pronger's cap hit of $4.9 million dead weight (assuming, of course, that Pronger doesn't have a miracle comeback and find his way back onto the ice any time soon) until the season starts and you put him on LTIR to create room for callups/trades/various midseason acquisitions.
But again, I'm not entirely sure that the CBA actually says this. And I think there's wording in it that pretty much says the opposite, too.
Adding in the disclaimer that we don't know what the new CBA is going to look like and this could all become useless in a few months...let's open up the CBA to Page 226 (control+f, type "226" or "50.10", hit enter a few times and you're there) and take a look at Article 50.10(d), which covers usage of LTIR. First, a definition:
(d) Bona-Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception to the Upper Limit. In the event that a Player on a Club becomes unfit to play (i.e., is injured, ill or disabled and unable to perform his duties as a hockey Player) such that the Club's physician believes, in his or her opinion, that the Player, owing to either an injury or an illness, will be unfit to play for at least (i) twenty-four (24) calendar days and (ii) ten (10) NHL Regular Season games, and such Club desires to replace such Player, the Club may add an additional Player or Players to its Active Roster, and the replacement Player Salary and Bonuses of such additional Player(s) may increase the Club's Averaged Club Salary to an amount up to and exceeding the Upper Limit, solely as, and to the extent and for the duration, set forth below. If, however, the League wishes to challenge the determination of a Club physician that a Player is unfit to play for purposes of the Bona-Fide LongTerm Injury/Illness Exception, the League and the NHLPA shall promptly confer and jointly select a neutral physician, who shall review the Club physician's determination regarding the Player's fitness to play.
OK. Simple enough. Nothing in there, to the best of my reading ability, that specifies time frame. Let's go on. Not everything in this section (i.e. "the team has to submit a request in writing") is entirely relevant to what I'm saying here, but I'll paste the stuff that is or even possibly could be. A bit down from that first section is this:
(ii) The Player Salary and Bonuses of the Player that has been deemed unfit-to-play shall continue to be counted toward the Club's Averaged Club Salary as well as count against the Players' Share during the League Year in which the Player is deemed unfit-toplay (including during the period such unfit-to-play Player is on a Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception Conditioning Loan to another league);
(iii) The total replacement Player Salary and Bonuses for a Player or Players that have replaced an unfit-to-play Player may not in the aggregate exceed the amount of the Player Salary and Bonuses of the unfit-to-play Player who the Club is replacing;
Basically: the guy on LTIR is still getting paid towards the cap (as BSH has gone over multiple times before) and you can't exceed the LTIR exemption you've been granted. Stuff we already know. Next:
(iv) The replacement Player Salary and Bonuses for any Player(s) that replace(s) an unfit-to-play Player may be added to the Club's Averaged Club Salary until such time as the Club's Averaged Club Salary reaches the Upper Limit. A Club may then exceed the Upper Limit due to the addition of replacement Player Salary and Bonuses of Players who have replaced an unfit-to-play Player, provided, however, that when the unfit-to-play Player is once again fit to play (including any period such Player is on a Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception Conditioning Loan to another league), the Club shall be required to once again reduce its Averaged Club Salary to a level at or below the Upper Limit prior to the Player being able to rejoin the Club. To the extent any Player who is unfit-to-play becomes fit to play during the period of the Roster Freeze set forth in Article 13, the provisions of this Section 50.10(d)(iv) requiring a Club to come back into compliance with the Payroll Range shall supersede the provisions of Article 13 restricting transactions during the Roster Freeze;
Again, pretty much says the same as above--you can't spend more than the exemption you have, and when the guy on LTIR gets healthy you have to get back under the cap. And some stuff about the holiday roster freeze that I don't think is important. Still not sure where it says anything about not being able to do so before the season starts, but I could have missed/overlooked something in there.
Here's what really makes me wonder, though. Right under that last quoted section, they've got illustrations of examples of situations where LTIR can/would be used. They have one general example, and then four different "Prior to Opening Day" illustrations. The general one and the first three prior-to-opening-day examples all involve either a team below the cap to start with or a team that sends players down to the minors in order to reach cap compliance, so they aren't that helpful to our situation given that the Flyers would be over the cap and presumably wouldn't be able to send anyone down to the minors that would get them under the cap.
Illustration #4, though, is the one that I'm really curious about (and the one that basically prompted me to make this post). Beginning on Page 229:
Illustration #4: The Upper Limit in a League Year is $40.0 million. A Player who has an SPC with an Averaged Amount of $2.0 million becomes unfit to play on the last day of Training Camp, and on the same day, his Club exercises the Bona-Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception on such Player. On Opening Day, the Club has an Averaged Club Salary of $41.5 million (excluding Earnable Performance Bonuses up to the full amount of the Performance Bonus Cushion). The Club is deemed to have already fully replaced the unfit-to-play Player with any Player or Players on the Opening Day Roster. If these replacements are maintained through the conclusion of the season, the Club's Averaged Club Salary is $41.5 million, as the Club is permitted to exceed the Upper Limit by $1.5 million because of the Bona-Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception.
Here's what I'm getting out of example detailed in the above paragraph.
- A team is above the cap on the last day of training camp.
- A team has a player that they wish to put on long-term injured reserve that would put them back under the cap.
- The team wouldn't have to make any other moves to replace that player, as they are "deemed to have already fully replaced the unfit-to-play Player with any Player or Players on the opening day roster."
- The team leaves the player on LTIR all season and doesn't exceed the amount of the exemption it's been granted.
- Here's the money quote, emphasis mine: "A Player who has an SPC with an Averaged Amount of $2.0 million becomes unfit to play on the last day of Training Camp, and on the same day, his Club exercises the Bona-Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception on such Player." In other words, the player is put on LTIR before the season starts. Meaning he is on it for the first day of the season.
Man, I tell ya, that sounds a hell of a lot like something the Flyers would be able to take advantage of in early October.
There's only one remotely possible snag/argument here that I can see with the above description compared to the Flyers' situation with Pronger. The example, as it's written above, says that the player "becomes unfit to play on the last day of training camp", whereas it's rather clear that Pronger will have an injury that will have lasted through the entire offseason and all of training camp. But even then, I don't quite think it's relevant. The Flyers can either (a) pretend that they think Pronger will be able to play until the last day of training camp, or (b) legitimately hold out hope that he'll be able to be. Either way, though, I'm pretty sure that they can submit on the last day of training camp that they believe Pronger is unfit to play, and apparently based on the above illustration, they'll be able to put him on LTIR before the season starts. Which means that they can, realistically, go into training camp with a salary cap figure that exceeds the maximum by an amount that doesn't exceed Pronger's $4.9 million salary.
Now, all of that said, there are a few other paragraphs of 50.10(d) that talk a bit more about the rule, but I still don't think any of them say anything that contradicts the above example and/or really say anything about the time frame of when it is or isn't allowed to be used. The phrase "long-term" appears 52 times in the CBA, and I don't think any one of those appearances or any of the words surrounding them contradicts those either.
But I don't think everyone would be saying that there's a rule in place if they didn't have a reason to. So if someone can either point me to where my logic above is incorrect or where in the CBA it says we can't put a player on LTIR until the second day, I'd appreciate that. But if that doesn't happen, then I'm pretty sure the Flyers will, indeed, be able to disregard Pronger's cap hit. And I'm not saying that they should be using that money to sign guys like Ryan Suter or Zach Parise or anyone like that--I'm just saying I think they have more flexibility than most of us realize based on the rules in place.