NHL: Should an Amnesty Clause Be Included with a New CBA?

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NHL: Should an Amnesty Clause Be Included with a New CBA?
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The NHL's current collective-bargaining agreement is set to expire on September 15, 2012. The 2011-12 season is the final season that will be played under the current CBA, and it isn't too early to start talking about what could change or what could or should be added to a new CBA.

If you took a look at every team in the NHL, you can find at least one cap-killing contract that has an impact on how the team does business. In some cases, there are two, three or even four contracts that general managers would love to get rid of for good.

What if, under the new CBA, teams were allowed to extinguish one contract? What if teams could have a do-over on one deal that would come without the penalty that a buyout currently does? If an amnesty clause was integrated into a new CBA, teams would become a lot smarter on how they hand out contracts.

The players would obviously still receive the money they were signed too but it would no longer count against the salary cap.

What if the Philadelphia Flyers were able to extinguish Chris Pronger's contract from their books? He is in a precarious situation because he signed a 35+ contract and if he were forced to retire due to his concussion like symptoms, his cap hit would still exist for the remainder of his signed contract.

What if a few years from now, they wanted to get rid of Ilya Bryzgalov? He is signed to a nine year deal and may deteriorate over time. Better yet, what if the New York Islanders could unload the worst contract in the NHL to date? What if Rick DiPietro's 15-year deal was no more?

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There are two possible ways of looking at this. Small-market teams that often have no problems with the salary cap would be at a disadvantage. This would be the case because large-market teams could eliminate a large contract from their books in order to sign a marquee free agent. A team that in the past would have no room to sign a mega superstar would be given a super "get out of jail free" card.

However, the large-market teams could argue that cases of this already go on.

 

Look at Wade Redden as a prime example. Glen Sather, for whatever reason, signed Wade Redden to a monster contract. When Redden's cap hit became too large, he was sent down to the minors. He buried his massive cap hit, and it not longer counts against the Rangers' books.

 

The same was done with Sheldon Souray last year. He spent the last year of his contract in the AHL and became a free agent and signed at a much cheaper rate.

If an amnesty clause was in effect today, Wade Redden would still be in the NHL. By no means is Wade Redden worth his multimillion-dollar contract, but he is still a serviceable defenseman who could provide depth.

Chances are that if he had a minimal cap hit, he would have been brought up once Marc Staal and Michael Sauer went down with an injury.

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On the opposite side of the spectrum, small-market teams would have no use for this in most cases, so how could they be compensated?

Guidelines would have to be set up so that teams that don't use the clause could be compensated with a draft pick. If this was not the case, large-market teams would swap large contracts and draft picks in exchange for a lesser pick with a small-market team that has yet to use their amnesty clause.

Guidelines would also have to be established for players whose contracts are amnestied. Would the player become a unrestricted free agent, or would they become part of a bidding process between the remaining 29 teams?

 

A bidding system would have teams compete based on what they would pay player X in salary. This could be deemed more fair than having a team swoop in and sign the free agent at a bargain-basement rate.

 

This one clause could save a lot of aggravation between negotiators when it comes to salary-based articles of the CBA.

If general managers had ways to remove a contract per year or every two years, trades could once again be more straightforward. There would less salary-dump trades, and teams could all have an equal playing field.

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Rick DiPietro signed a 15 year deal and hasn't come close to living up to his contract.

Trades should be about adding players to improve the quality and depth of a team. They shouldn't be about handicapping another team's salary cap by compensating them with a nice prospect or draft pick. Players are always becoming available for trade in the NHL today, so you never know when you will need your cap space.

If applied properly, teams could then sign players to more realistic contracts. There would be no reason to fluff out the ending years because players could then be cut at a moment's notice. Precautions could also be applied to contracts that would rival current no-trade and no-movement agreements.

The most recent amendment to the CBA was a term-limit on contracts. Teams like the New Jersey Devils were fined when they attempted to sign Ilya Kovalchuk to a deal that would circumvent the salary cap. It was deemed that the Devils had added fluff years towards the end of Kovalchuk's contract that deflated his cap number.

 

There are going to be a lot of sticking points with the new CBA. Contracts, contract length and reforms to the free-agency process are expected to be among top priorities. 

 

By giving teams a do-over, there most likely would be a trade-off of sorts.

Will burying contracts in the minors become cap circumvention under a new CBA? With the CBA set to expire in just a few months, it is a great time to start talking about what should and could be added or taken away from a new CBA.

Teams are always looking for ways to work around the current contract guidelines, so wouldn't it be better for the league if they had an approved way to do it? 

 

Tom Urtz, Jr. is an NHL featured columnist. For NHL news, updates and alerts about players:

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