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Cap And Crunch

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ARTHUR:
Anaheim calling to the hockey world...

With the slow offseason news cycle, Daniel and I had decided that August would be a contest to see who would resort to asking an inane hockey question first. The loser would write the prompt: What's the greatest hockey movie of all time? Unfortunately, only two days into the contest, Daniel threw in the towel.

But rather than subject you to a discussion of Youngblood, I decided, as the winner, to go with this prompt:

This week, the NHL announced its intentions to examine the contracts of Marian Hossa and Chris Pronger. Both contracts are severely front-loaded to reduce cap hits, and the NHL is specifically interested in the drops in salaries in these deals after the age of 40, a pivotal year for players considering retirement.

So, Daniel, did Philadelphia and Chicago circumvent the salary cap, here? And assuming they did, is there anything wrong with that?

DANIEL:
I'd like to point out that saving readers from the inevitable movie prompt should not be seen as a negative thing. Then I'd like to point out that I'm not a lawyer, so I don't really know what the league thinks it's going to find. I am under the impression that the average salary of a contract is the figure used for a cap hit. If there is language in the CBA that alters that fact in given circumstances, I am unaware of it. Thus, my immediate reaction is to say that Chicago and Philly have not circumvented the cap. But that's just the letter of the law as I understand it.

From an ethical perspective, this is the type of deal-making that undermines the attempts to bring parity to the league. This entire situation is a gray area that the league must be immediately regretting. The fact is, every GM is looking for a way to give his team a competitive edge, just like every player on the ice. It's only natural that they find a way to walk in the gray area of the rules. If the league wanted this to be clean cut, it should have anticipated this problem and made sure there was a fair way to negotiate contracts. You can't get mad at a GM who uses his understanding of the collective bargaining agreement to negotiate an awesome deal-- It's like hating on college kids who pick the puck up with their sticks and tuck it into the net. How are you going to be mad at somebody who's just better than you are?

Maybe the league needs to think about a system where there are two types of contracts: ones where the variation of the salary warrants calculating an average for the cap hit, and ones where the dollar values are so far apart that the player's yearly salary is the number used for the cap hit. I think the only real problem here is that the league left a gaping loophole in its creation of the salary cap. I don't agree with what Chicago and Philly have done, but I don't think the league has any way of punishing them for this.

ARTHUR:
Well, I think the league's issue here is whether or not Pronger or Hossa stated that they planned to retire during these tacked-on years. Signing them to additional years under the league average is one thing, but signing them for seasons that they have no intention of playing is quite another. If the NHL suspects that there was an attempt to defraud the league, then I understand the investigation.

On paper, Hossa and Pronger are committed to play these years, and that's why the league approved it. If we signed Bobby Ryan to a contract like this, I can't imagine the league having a problem. We wouldn't be circumventing the cap (until/unless we bought him out and re-signed him). This is really only an issue with a player's "last" contract. And I'm sure the league plans to address it, in all its various forms, soon.

Yes, it's circumventing the cap, but it's 'cute' when these teams do it, as it's borne of some serious salary mismanagement. I can't call it "wrong"; I'm tempted to call it "sad." It's like someone with bad credit writing a bad check.

I reserve the right to change my tune when Chicago finds a way to keep Duncan Keith.