by Dominic Tiano
For the vast majority of hockey fans, the National Hockey League’s Collective Bargaining Agreement and the salary cap can be a nightmare to understand unless you have a law degree from Harvard. Now, I don’t have such a degree, but I do talk to people who work with the CBA and Cap daily and have a good understanding in what the Boston Bruins are facing this upcoming season and beyond.
So here is my take on what General Manager Don Sweeney and cap guru Evan Gold face:
With the announcement by the Bruins yesterday that they have reached a contract agreement with Colby Cave, the Bruins have all their restricted and unrestricted players signed for the 2018-2019 season (at the very least, those they wanted to retain). Unless of course you want to count Rick Nash, who is still undecided if he wants to continue playing because of health issues.
Using CapFriendly as a source, we find the Bruins with $2.95 million in cap space with a 23-man roster. That money can be banked to use throughout the season to add to their current roster, including Nash if he wishes to return to playing hockey and with the Bruins.
Their cap space was reduced for 2018-2019 because of performance bonuses paid out to Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen that could not have fit under last season and are carried over. Under the CBA, a team can exceed the cap by 7% because of performance bonuses and have it charged to the following season. For 2018-2019, that charge to the cap is $774,000.
Further reducing their cap space is what is often called “dead money” – money paid to players no longer on the roster because they were bought out or the team retained salary in a trade. For 2018-2019, the Bruins are still paying Dennis Seidenberg ($1,166,167 for two more seasons) and Jimmy Hayes (866,667 for one more season) after buying them out. They are also paying Matt Beleskey in a salary retained deal with the New York Rangers $1.9 million for two more seasons, although the numbers could change if the Rangers choose to buyout Beleskey during the second buyout period. That’s just shy of $4 million in “dead money”.
At the end of the 2018-2019 season, the Bruins could be tagged with a bonus overage of just over $3.7 million. Potential bonuses that could be paid out are Zdeno Chara ($1.75 million) McAvoy ($500,000), DeBrusk ($425,000) Heinen ($212,500) and Ryan Donato ($800,000). Based on where the cap is today and barring no roster changes (although there are sure to be callups from Providence when injuries occur further reducing the cap) and that most, if not all those bonuses will be attained, fans and the Bruins can look forward to a bonus overage carried over to the 2019-2020 season. Just how much depends on how much of their current $2.9 million in space is used.
The cap is almost certainly going to rise, either by increased revenue or by the NHLPA invoking the escalator (artificially increasing the cap by 5%). But there is always the possibility that the NHLPA does not invoke the escalator (they’ve done that once in the salary cap era and other times increasing it by less then 5%). Hayes will come off the books, but it still leaves a tad more then $3 million in dead money from the Seidenberg buyout and Beleskey trade.
According to CapFriendly, the Bruins have $16.5 million in cap space for 2019-2020 (if the cap remains stagnant) with 16 players on the roster. Some of those spots could be filled with prospects making the jump from Providence.
But the Bruins have to dish out new contracts to McAvoy, Carlo, Heinen and Donato. And if Big Z decides he wants to play another season, well, that pretty much eats up that $16.5 million with two roster spots left to fill. The problem still lies with how much bonus overage there is going forward and that $16.5 million is directly influenced by that figure.
But, the cap will rise. Whether it rises enough is anyone’s guess.
In the end, there are a lot of “ifs” when looking beyond the upcoming season. The only definitive answer I can give you now is that Sweeney and Gold will get it done.