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No bonus cushion makes things hard for NHL teams

Bob McKenzie
9/16/2008 10:23:18 PM
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The NHL's team salary cap went from $50.3 million last season to $56.7 million this season, so you would think the extra $6.4 million would give clubs tremendous financial flexibility.

Well, for many teams, it's quite the opposite. Because the NHL Players' Association has the option to make this the final year of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams have lost the use of what was known as the performance bonus cushion.

Now all this salary cap stuff is far too complex for you and me to digest in the next minute or so, but all you really need to know is this - Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Cam Barker are going to chew up a lot more of the Chicago Blackhawks' cap space this year than they did last year.

With the disappearance of the bonus cushion, which allowed teams to overspend the cap by as much as 7.5 per cent, Kane, Toews and Barker alone will account for $9.3 million in hard salary cap space this season. That's almost $7 million more than how it could have been accounted last season.

For all intents and purposes, Boston's Phil Kessel goes from being an $850,000 salary cap hit for the Bruins to a hard $2.2 million hit.

And what about the Tampa Bay Lightning? Steven Stamkos becomes a hard $3.75 million cap hit and veteran signings Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi and Olaf Kolzig will eat up a hard $6.42 million in cap space this season. If last year's rules were still in place, the "cushion" would have allowed the Lightning a lot more wiggle room.

The truth is that for many teams, the increase in the cap has been largely offset by the loss of the bonus cushion. Many teams will start this season much tighter to the cap than they would like and they will have far less flexibility.

The only silver lining is for the teams trying to get to the salary cap floor of $40.7 million. The Los Angeles Kings will find it easier to do because they may have a lot of entry-level players with big bonuses chewing up cap space.

Most general managers, however, will tell you that this loss of the cushion will seriously handcuff them as they try to make their teams better through trades or signings.

And that will be a dominant issue this season.

Bob McKenzie


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