Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina Hurricanes Can Solve Salary-Cap Squeeze by Spending More

After five years of mediocrity, Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward and his $6.3 million salary cap hit have become undesirable baggage. But could there be a way for the 'Canes to escape the issue?
After five years of mediocrity, Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward and his $6.3 million salary cap hit have become undesirable baggage. But could there be a way for the 'Canes to escape the issue?Andre Ringuette/Getty Images
Mark JonesSenior Analyst IMay 16, 2014

A bizarre juxtaposition of rules gives the Carolina Hurricanes an opportunity to escape their upcoming salary-cap dilemma by simply spending even more money.

However, it's still not clear if the team will actually take advantage of such an opportunity.

Entering the 2014 NHL offseason, the 'Canes retain both of their compliance buyouts awarded to each team after the salary-cap reduction of the 2013 collective bargaining agreement.

When used on a player signed before September 15, 2012, the compliance buyout eliminates all future cap hit, but necessitates a 66 percent salary payment for players age 26 or older.

With the cap jumping from $64.3 million in 2013-14 to a projected $71 million in 2014-15, however, remaining compliance buyouts are about to become legal loopholes.

New Hurricanes GM Ron Francis.
New Hurricanes GM Ron Francis.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Carolina didn't use them last summer. New general manger Ron Francis begins work with both at his temporary disposal.

With the team projected to have just $19.3 million in space to work with this summer (12th-least in the league) and a mere 13 players under NHL contract (second-fewest in the league), it would seem the 'Canes would be well-advised to use one or both as easy solutions to the impending payroll crisis.

Cam Ward, already walking on shaky ground after a weak 2013-14 effort, would certainly be suspect No. 1.

The former Stanley Cup winner has become an inconsistent piece of glass who is a bit pricey for a backup netminder—more than a bit, actually, at $6.3 million per year.

Thanks to the compliance buyout concept, his contract is instantly removable for a lump sum payment of $8.4 million. Is it worth it? That's a question that may keep Francis up at night.

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 25: John-Michael Liles #26 of the Carolina Hurricanes carries the puck during their NHL game against the New York Islanders at PNC Arena on March 25, 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

John-Michael Liles has two years remaining at $3.875 million per season and could be a strong second in the "competition" for most tantalizing buyout.

Liles wasn't particularly bad after Carolina acquired him in January, but hemuch like Tim Gleason, the man sent the other direction in the New Year's Day tradeis making well above market value.

Given that his extension was signed after September 2012, Alexander Semin is not eligible for a compliance buyout, and probably fortunately so: Statistics suggest he's very due for a rebound 2014-15 campaign.

Farther down the payroll list, Jay Harrison (two seasons remaining at $1.5 million per) is coming off arguably his worst professional season and could offer a less expensive route for Francis to clear out some misused money.

STAN GILLILAND/Associated Press

Conversely, owner Peter Karmanos mentioned to The News & Observer a disbelief in the salary-success correlation and, mindful of the club's declining financial situation, may not be willing to be so liberal with his cash.

According to Forbes.com, the Hurricanes organization operated at a $3.4 million loss in 2013 and functions under the third-highest debt in the leagueonly the Phoenix Coyotes and New Jersey Devils have more. 

As Karmanos moves from Michigan to Raleigh and takes on a more influential role with the franchise's business side, the club's collective wallet may soon speak louder than ever before.

Around the NHL this offseason, spending more money off the books will suddenly translate to a greater ability to spend money on the books. 

The league is taking a one-year vacation into the loose world of the "soft cap." Rich franchises will suddenly find their excess cash the most directly convertible to roster improvement since the cap implementation in 2005.

The contradiction is confusing, but the reality is straightforward—and is about to become a leading theme in summer activity.

Whether the 'Canes will choose to take part, though, remains uncertain.

 

Salary and buyout information courtesy of CapGeek.com.

Mark Jones has been a Carolina Hurricanes Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report since 2009. Visit his profile to read more or follow him on Twitter.

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