With the recent retirement of Marc Savard, some 7 years since his last game played, the joke that is cap recapture penalties has been thrust into the spotlight once again.
Up until now, there was no real fear amongst GM’s that any cap recapture would take place as it is well known that Gary Bettman has a valued inner circle that suffers little to no penalty. So as long as Chris Pronger and Marc Savard of Philadelphia and Boston respectively were still out there avoiding retirement to save their teams the penalties, Bettman was never going to do anything to set a precedent.
Now, however, all bets are off. With none of his protected owners shielding such contracts Bettman is free to go out and begin making up for every one of the teams that flouted his recapture penalty up until now.
A Bit of History
When Gary Bettman and the NHL locked out the players in 1994-95 the main reason was the owners wanted a salary cap implemented to combat out of control player costs. While it took half a season, the owners inevitably got what they wanted and a new day dawned for the NHL. Owners would have cost certainty and it would be a level playing field for all.
For a few years all seemed to be working quite well until the GM’s of the time figures out that you could pay a player for as many years as you wanted with the salary back diving at the end. This allowed the owners to once again start paying players highly inflationary salaries. The very thing they fought against just a few years earlier. GM’s were, of course, more than happy to start paying players almost anything they wanted as long as the players agreed to “tack on” 2, 3, 4 or more years at the end at a nominal $1,000,000 a year. This drove down the average annual salary and it was well understood that the players would likely not play out those years anyways. It was all just a way to cheat the system.
When these contracts were submitted to the league, it made Bettman and the NHL higher-ups extremely angry but since it was done by GM’s who were amongst the most powerful, he had no choice but to ok them and fume in silence. Quite quickly these types of contracts were being spread throughout the league and Bettman started warning GM’s not to keep up the practice. With other teams already enjoying the benefits of these contracts, other GM’s chose to ignore Bettman just to be able to compete on a level playing field.
After finally challenging one of these contracts that the New Jersey Devils signed with Ilya Kovalchuk, an independent arbitrator ruled that these contracts were an effort to circumvent the cap. This gave Bettman the leverage during the next lock out in 2012-13 to institute a cap recapture penalty. This rule stated that any cap benefit a team received during the early, more expensive, years would be applied to the teams cap going forward if the player in question retired during their inexpensive years.
Many of the players who signed those contracts have not played for years or are playing in other leagues. So haw many dollars have teams had to pay in cap recapture? Thats right…. ZERO. All this silly, poorly thought out, rule did was to delay players from retiring. Instead of making it official when they were done, they discovered “injuries” that prevented them from playing. Players like Marc Savard and Chris Pronger who suffered from such diblitating post concussion syndrome that it was well known they would never play again kept on reporting for day one of training camp to be “medically disqualified” and then they went on with their lives.
Even more of a joke was that the league hired Chris Pronger to be a member of their player safety department while he was still under contract to the Flyers. Even being on LTIR this was a gross conflict of interest showing how the NHL is still a bush league old boys club at it’s heart.
What’s Happening Now?
With the majority of these contracts now a thing of the past, it seems likely that Bettman will attempt to save face and make sure at least one team, or preferably all remaining teams with these potential penalties, suffer hardship for these contracts. At present there are only five active players on these contracts. They are Roberto Luongo, Henrik Zetterberg, Shea Weber, Gary Suter, and Zach Parise. It seems likely that the League will target either Zetterberg or, more likely, Loungo when they go on LTIR and, if successful, will make it clear that Suter, Parise, and Weber will not have the “mystery ailment” out clause.