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Golden Knighs use of LTIR prompts questions about salary cap but other teams do same thing

Mark Stone Vegas Golden Knights Mark Stone - The Canadian Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Boos began raining down on Golden Knights captain Mark Stone at American Airlines Center in Dallas the moment he first touched the puck. They didn't let up whenever the first-round series was in Dallas.

Stars fans weren't happy that the poster boy of all that is questionable with how long-term injured reserve operates was back on the ice just in time for the playoffs.


No team is more scrutinized than Vegas for how it uses LTIR. To critics and skeptical fans, it looks very much like manipulation of the salary cap — even though the NHL has steadfastly maintained it is fine with it all.

Stone has gone on LTIR each of the past three seasons, which allows the Golden Knights to exceed the cap by roughly the amount of his salary until the playoffs begin. The Knights have taken advantage by acquiring players such as Jack Eichel, Ivan Barbashev, Tomas Hertl and Noah Hanifin. It was Hanifin's goal Friday night that forced a Game 7 against Dallas.

The past two years — after back surgery in 2023 and recovering from a lacerated spleen this season — Stone was activated off LTIR for the postseason opener.

As many fans around the league howled at the remarkable timing of Stone's recovery, a smiling Hayley Thompson posed with a fan wearing her husband's No. 61 jersey with LTIR on the nameplate.


Vegas is hardly alone in using LTIR to its benefit. PuckPedia's Hart Levine said 69% of teams used LTIR this season to exceed the cap, which is $83.5 million this season. The website that tracks salaries around the league also lists 10 playoff teams ending the regular season having exceeded the cap, with the Toronto Maple Leafs ($14.15 million over) and Tampa Bay Lightning ($10.27 million) topping the list.

Vegas is third at $8.72 million above the cap. The team gets attention because it has used LTIR every year to seek talent at the trade deadline. Unprompted, general manager Kelly McCrimmon took a few moments to address the issue before the postseason began. He said "the NHL is 100% involved” in all matters involving LTIR.

McCrimmon said the league had complete access to Stone's medical information and NHL doctors communicated with the surgeon and the Golden Knights' medical staff.

“That's what keeps the system legitimate,” McCrimmon said. “They are the people that are fully involved in this. I don't know maybe fans or media understand the degree to which these injuries are scrutinized. We've had the situation with Mark. Ironically, it's the same player. We talked openly what his surgery was a year ago. This year was a freak accident.”

Levine noted that a timeline of Stone's recovery had to be provided to the league and the process documented. He also said there are parts of the process open to interpretation.

“The fact that (Stone) was magically healed and ready to go for Game 1 of the playoffs for the second year in a row obviously leaves a poor taste in everybody's mouth," Levine said. “I certainly think it's a bad look and it does lead to frustration among fans, which is important. I don't think anything was done that was against the rules. No one cheated or anything. It's just using the rules as they are and living in a bit of the gray area.”


Chicago star Patrick Kane was placed on LTIR in 2015 with a broken clavicle, the Blackhawks added three players at the trade deadline and he returned in time for the playoffs. The Blackhawks went on to beat the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final.

Tampa Bay used the rule to its advantage when Nikita Kucherov missed the pandemic-shortened season because of hip surgery and Steven Stamkos went on LTIR with a lower-body injury before the trade deadline. Each player returned in time to help the Lightning repeat as champions.

“We had a great season,” Carolina defenseman Dougie Hamilton said back in 2021 after the Hurricanes were eliminated by Tampa Bay in the second round. “We lost to a team that’s $18 million over the cap.”

Fans accused the Blackhawks and Lightning of circumventing the cap, much like the criticism of Vegas in recent years.


It’s unclear if the league and NHL Players’ Association will discuss the matter again as soon as this summer, though it has been on the radar as a topic. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said to this point there has been no groundswell of opposition demanding change.

Levine said there are possible solutions, such as limiting a team exceeding the cap to replacing only 50% of the lost annual salary. He added that things need to be simplified; how much of a salary gets freed up depends on a complicated formula that is not spelled out in the collective bargaining agreement.

“It's in memos and verbal discussions with the league,” Levine said. “There are many front-office people who manage the cap that really don't have a great handle on all the intricacies.”

He said no other major sport leagues use this kind of system where an injury can end up benefiting a team when the postseason begins.

“I would say there's definitely a possibility of a change because I do think it's rather embarrassing for the league,” Levine said.


AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.


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