Philadelphia Flyers fans know the story by now.
Chris Pronger, despite likely never playing again, will count against the Flyers' salary cap during the offseason. The only relief the Flyers can get from his $4.941 million cap hit is by placing him on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). It's at this point, though, that many fans and media alike overlook a key detail.
I've read it on Twitter and in news articles numerous times ... "the Flyers must wait until Day 1 of the regular season before placing Pronger on LTIR," or something to that effect. The truth is the Flyers do not have to wait until the first day of the regular season to place Pronger on LTIR. Which means they do not have to shed any cap space in order to become cap compliant.
As always, the devil is in the details.
The Flyers have two options when it comes to LTIR; use it on the last day of training camp, or use it on the first day of the regular season. The timing is the key difference.
As always, I encourage everyone to head on over to Capgeek and give their FAQ on the topic a read. They have some great real life scenarios. From Capgeek:
OPTION 1: Build the injured player into their opening-day roster and have that roster fit as close to the upper limit as possible without exceeding it, then place the player on LTIR.
OPTION 2: Put the injured player on LTIR on the final day of training camp and, including the injured player's annual average salary or cap hit, build a roster that exceeds the upper limit by an amount that is as close as possible to the injured player's annual average salary.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement even has a subsection under LTIR called "Prior to Opening Day Illustrations". That, in and of itself, is pretty clear that the Flyers don't have to wait until the first day of the season to utilize LTIR.
In Section 50.10(d) of the CBA, it gives four specific illustrations as to how to use LTIR prior to opening day. The key one is illustration No. 4. I'm not going to copy the entire thing as I don't want to inundate you with examples and I'd rather save it for a Flyers-specific example at the end. However, the key text from that illustration is as follows (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.
The difference between using it on the last day of camp versus on the first day of the season comes down to roster construction and maximizing what you get out of LTIR.
Placing a player on LTIR on Day 1 of the regular season
We'll start with the most commonly known scenario. In order for the Flyers to take advantage of LTIR on Day 1 of the season, they must first become cap compliant. (You can't get to Day 1 of the season unless you're under the cap, after all.)
For the sake of my example, I'm going to use some made up round numbers without straying too far from the Flyers' reality.
Just prior to the start of the season the Flyers are about $1.2 million over the cap. They decide to demote Pierre-Edouard Bellemare ($600k) and they decide to waive (who clears) and subsequently demote Zac Rinaldo ($750k) as well.
Now the Flyers are under the cap by $150k.
Night falls and morning comes and we're at Day 1 of the regular season. The Flyers now place Pronger and his $4.941 million on LTIR. However, LTIR does not give space in excess of any cap space they may already have. So that means the Flyers don't have $5.091 in allotted space (4.941 + 0.150). They have $4.791 (4.941 - 0.150).
So it would actually behoove the Flyers to be as close to the salary cap as they can possibly be before they use LTIR in this scenario.
If they were to demote Jay Rosehill instead of Zac Rinaldo, they would be under the cap by $75k (as opposed to $150k above). When they place Pronger on LTIR the next day, they now have an alloted 4.866 in space (4.941 - 0.075).
The key takeaway is to be as close to the salary cap as they can possibly be, without going over, so that when they utilize LTIR the next day, they get to take advantage of as much of it as they can. LTIR is not in addition to any cap space a team already has. So they better spend it.
Placing a player on LTIR the day before the regular season
The Flyers could also opt to place Pronger on LTIR the day before the season starts if they wanted. Using the same number as above, let's say the Flyers opt to not send down anyone. Instead they decide to place Pronger on LTIR while they are $1.2 million over the cap.
The Flyers are then deemed to have already replaced Pronger and they will not see any additional LTIR advantage beyond that $1.2 million.
Now, this isn't the smartest idea because in the above scenario the Flyers would get to spend an additional $4.866 million; whereas in this scenario they are only spending that extra $1.2 million.
What would actually make more sense would be if the Flyers opted to add additional salary to the books (be it via signing or recalls) so they can exceed the cap by as close to $4.941 (Pronger's number) as they can get.
Since I'm living in idealism here, let's say that tomorrow the Flyers sign Peter Mueller for $3.741 million. They are now exactly $4.941 million over the cap. On the last day of training camp they can now put Pronger on LTIR. They are deemed to have already replaced him and now they've taken full advantage of Pronger's LTIR allotment while never once having to reduce their salary cap below the Upper Limit.
Putting a bow on it
The moral of the story is that the Flyers don't need to get under the cap and they don't need to wait until the season starts to put Pronger on LTIR. That doesn't mean that they don't have to be smart about how they ultimately end up cap compliant.
If the Flyers opt to get under the salary cap and then place Pronger on LTIR, they better make sure they are just barely under the cap by as little as humanly possible so that they can maximize Pronger's LTIR allotment.
If the Flyers opt to just place Pronger on LTIR before the start of the season, they better make sure they spend some more money (or recall more players) and get as close to $4.941 million over the cap as is humanly possible so that they can maximize Pronger's LTIR allotment.
So if you're hanging your hat on the Flyers doing something, like trading Vincent Lecavalier, soon just because they "have" to in order to get under the cap ... well, no they don't.