It's been a hot topic of debate around here lately: will Jody Shelley's salary count against the salary cap during his suspension? It's an important question -- for a team as close to the salary cap as the Flyers are, $1.1M of wiggle room has a lot of value.
For example, the cap relief would make it easy for the team to fit Sean Couturier's salary in for a five-game stint at the start of the year, but without it, they can't fit him in without making other moves.
The CBA section 50.10.(c) seems to say clearly that the team will get cap relief for Shelley's salary:
For Players that are suspended, either by a Club or by the League, the Player Salary and Bonuses that are not paid to such Players shall not count against a Club's Upper Limit
Capgeek had the same interpretation, explaining it as such in their FAQ and listing Shelley and Daniel Briere as counting against the cap for less than the full year as a result of their suspensions last year. CBA experts across the internet agreed, including our own.
And yet throughout it all, the Flyers were telling Sam Carchidi that the team would not get cap relief.
For those who asked, Shelley's $1.1 M cap hit DOES count against cap during suspension; #Flyers still pay him, but $$ goes to #NHL.
Don't shoot messenger. Just reporting what #Flyers brass says. They said when Briere was suspended, for instance, it COUNTED against cap.
The CBA seemed clear, but the Flyers had a different interpretation. So we went searching for evidence that could settle things.
One idea was to look for other teams that had players suspended when they were right near the cap. If we could find one that would be over the cap if you included the suspended player's salary, that would be compelling evidence that the Flyers were wrong about the CBA.
However, we couldn't find any such examples. Last year, the Devils were so stricken by cap woes and injuries that they had to play with only 15 skaters when Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond got suspended for a game. It wasn't because they didn't have someone who fit in under an exemption for Leblond's cap space, because when the suspension was over they waived Leblond and called up Adam Mair.
Still, this wasn't quite conclusive. CBA section 18.3.(b).(i) says that first-time offenders such as Leblond don't lose their full salary during a suspension, so it was possible that Mair fit in when Leblond's full salary got sent to the AHL but not during a partial exemption via suspension.
We decided to turn to the league for an authoritative answer. It would be hard to imagine a more authoritative voice than Bill Daly, Deputy Commissioner and Chief Legal Officer of the NHL. Here's what he had to say in response to our question:
Yes, the salary of players suspended for on-ice incidents do continue to count against the cap.
That seems pretty straightforward. Yet it also seems to be in clear conflict with the CBA passage quoted above, so I asked him to explain why that section does not apply. His answer:
This section was intended to apply to players who receive no salary as a result of a team or League suspension. Supplementary discipline suspensions for on-ice conduct receive specific (and different) salary treatment as per the CBA, where forfeited salary is paid (albeit to the Emergency Assistance Fund) and by agreement of the NHL and NHLPA the player's full salary continues to count against the team's cap.
So now we're at the heart of it. Section 18.7 of the CBA says that any fines collected or salary forfeited pursuant to any discipline imposed by the League goes into the Emergency Assistance Fund. Section 50.10.(c) says that any salary not paid to players as a result of suspension won't count against the team's salary cap. Although there are separate procedures for imposing discipline for on-ice and off-ice actions, there is no written distinction of the salary cap implications.
However, the NHL and NHLPA decided that this wasn't what either side had intended, and so they agreed separately to count the salary in full against the cap.
Carchidi was right; his Flyers source had more knowledge of the situation than we were privy to. We -- and many others -- were combative about this on Twitter and owe him an apology.
But more importantly, this means that Shelley's suspension really does hurt the team. Because his salary will stay on the books, the team will have limited options for replacing him. Because he can't play, the team won't have a 13th forward should someone get hurt in the first few games.
The team is operating so close to the cap this year that an injury here and a suspension there could leave them following the Devils' example and dressing 16 skaters. With Brendan Shanahan seemingly cracking down on dirty hits, the Flyers -- and especially their repeat offenders -- need to be particularly careful to stay clean this year.