Dominic Tiano: David Backes- More Questions Than Answers

Posted by Dominic Tiano

It’s been almost a week that the Boston Bruins lost game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals to the St. Louis Blues and the focus for Don Sweeney, Bruce Cassidy and the millions (and millions) of Bruins fans around the world switches over to what promises to be at the very least, an interesting offseason.

Obviously, the biggest issue on Sweeney’s plate will be to get Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo to put pen to paper on new contracts as their entry level contracts are set to expire on July 1st, 2019 as General Managers around the league embark on the yearly tradition of committing hundreds of millions of dollars of their owner’s money to players looking for contracts.

But for many B’s fans on social media and chat rooms across North America, the biggest question surrounding their beloved team is how do they get rid of the $6 million cap hit (for two more seasons) belonging to David Backes? Even the media is engaging in these discussions.

If you listened to Sweeney and Cassidy discuss the situation at the end of the year press conference, the pair intimated that Backes will be vying for fourth line duty with the ability to move up in a pinch. If you read Backes’ comments shortly after the season ended, he sounded like a player who knew moving on was an evitability.

When the 3 Amigos, TSP founder Kirk Luedeke, Reed Duthie and myself discussed doing a series of articles on “what’s next” for the Boston Bruins, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to do this piece on Backes.

Why, you ask? Well, there is a lot of misinformation out there on what precisely the cap ramifications might be to the Bruins under different circumstances and I wanted to set the record straight. Although my two podcast partners might disagree, I am no cap expert. But I do my research and if I can’t find it, I know who to ask.

I will breakdown the different scenarios being discussed and how that affects the salary cap if that situation were to come to fruition.

Retirement

I’m not going to debate the possibility that Backes would contemplate retirement. But with his injury history, anything is possible. Backes’ cap hit, even though it was not a 35-plus contract when he signed it, would not disappear if he chose to retire. The NHL has something called cap-recapture – a penalty imposed on teams who signed a player to front loaded deals in order to lower the cap hit. Basically, it’s the dollars paid to date minus the cap hit to date, divided by the number of years remaining to calculate the cap hit over the remainder of the term on the contract. I’ll break down the numbers below.

What makes Backes’ cap-recapture penalty even more complicated would be the date on which he retires. Backes is owed a $3 million signing bonus on July 1st and that directly effects the cap-recapture penalty. If Backes were truly contemplating retirement, would he do it 13 days away from collecting that $3 million pay check? Likely not, I know I wouldn’t and you probably wouldn’t either. But we’ll break the numbers down for you anyway.

To date, Backes has earned $19 million ($9 million in salary and $10 million in signing bonuses) while his cap hit to date is $18 million. The Bruins received a $1 million savings on the cap hit so the cap recapture penalty is $1 million spread over two seasons, or a cap hit of $500,000 per season.

However, if he retired after July 1st and receiving his signing bonus, he will have earned $22 million while the cap hit was $18 million, making the recapture penalty $4 million or spread over two years, a $2 million cap hit.

Buyout

This is where it complicates things for fans, and the best thing I can recommend to fans that don’t want to do the math or don’t understand how it works, is to visit CapFriendly and they’ll do all the work for you. Without confusing everyone on how it works or how to calculate it, it all boils down to just a $333,333 savings for the Bruins on the cap in the first year of the buyout.

The fact of the matter is this: with the amount allowed to be buried in the AHL increasing next season to $1,050,000, the Bruins receive greater cap relief sending Backes to Providence than to buy him out. The latter would only provide relief to Jeremy Jacobs’ check book.

Trade

Stranger things have happened and one can never rule a trade out as a possibility. But usually, those involved teams that were willing to take on cap hits with lower actual dollars remaining to be paid in order to reach the cap floor. But for the 2019-2020 season, there will be few, if any, teams in a position struggling to hit that cap floor.

Sure, there are many teams with the cap space to be able to take on the cap hit, but that means the price to “dump” the salary just went up. Those teams don’t need the cap hit, but may be willing to take on part of the salary – the Bruins would have to retain- in order to get an asset back. And it better be an enticing asset or rival GMs will hang up the phone.

There is another alternative that hasn’t been discussed, or I haven’t seen discussed. It may cost less in terms of assets, but it’ll cost nonetheless. If the Bruins can somehow find a team willing to take another asset in order to acquire Backes (with retained salary) and then buy him out, it may be the most beneficial way in terms of cap savings.

As an example, If Backes were to be bought out the cap hit for the first year would be $5,666,667 and go down over the next 3 years. However, if the Bruins could trade him along with a pick or prospect and retain 50% of his salary/cap, the maximum allowed under the CBA, the buyout cap hit would be split equally among the two teams, or $2,833,334 per team in the first year. That’s a $3,166,666 cap savings for the Bruins in the first year.

Some may call that cap circumvention. I don’t think so especially since they are giving up an asset. I choose to call it creative thinking.

I don’t know what the Bruins or Backes will do. But I do know that the leadership and character and the influence Backes has on the young guns has some importance to it. And his teammates love him.

Sweeney now has to decide how important that is.

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