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NHL Is Wrong to Investigate Flyers Over Pronger Contract

PHILADELPHIA - JULY 06:  (L-R) Flyers General Manager, Paul Holmgren presents Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers with his new jersey during his first press conference as a Philadelphia Flyer at Flyer's Skate Zone on July 6, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Kevin LagowskiCorrespondent IAugust 2, 2009

The Flyers and the NHL are at odds again. Surprise.

News broke a few days ago that the league plans to launch an investigation into the contract that Chris Pronger signed with the team last month, one that was heavily front-loaded and will pay him veritable peanuts in the final two years of the seven-year deal.

The Blackhawks have come under similar scrutiny for their signing of Marian Hossa.

Both cases are clear examples of teams getting creative to bring in high-level talent but still remain under the salary cap in coming seasons.

Take a look at Pronger’s salary for the next seven seasons: $7.6 million, $7.6 million, $7.2 million, $7 million, $4 million, $525,000, $525,000. That makes a grand total of $34.45 million for an average annual cap hit of about $4.92 million.

Because of creative maneuvering around the league’s hard salary cap, the Flyers were able to have a $7 million player for about $5 million per year. Of course it becomes painfully obvious looking at the numbers that Pronger will not play the final two years of the contract. But the deal was registered by the NHL, which has no right to backpedal and cry foul.

Yet here they are threatening the Flyers and Blackhawks with fines and loss of draft picks if they determine the contracts to Pronger and Hossa were not within the spirit of the collective bargaining agreement.

There is no question that the contracts are legal, but the league thinks it has some moral high ground and that the teams in question and the NHLPA are taking advantage of a loophole.

Apparently only teams like the Red Wings, with their recent long-term signings of Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, are allowed to give out these kinds of contracts.

And something tells me that any team with Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin on it would get the same leniency.

Yes, common sense says that deals like Pronger’s are set up so that the player can get the lion’s share of his money in a shorter time period than the total contract. But that doesn’t mean Gary Bettman and company should take a page out of the Joe McCarthy playbook and start a witch hunt over it.

Bettman himself has remarked before that navigating the salary cap is now a major part of succeeding in the NHL and that general managers must be skillful in this area. Isn’t Pronger’s contract a prime example of this? And who exactly is the contract hurting to have caused such an uproar?

The league should instead focus its efforts on promoting the image of the game and cleaning up the messes it has made in places like Phoenix.

I understand the NHL’s fear of things spiraling out of control again, the potential for more labor unrest, and the doomsday scenario of another lost season or two.

But front-loaded contracts are not the right issue to take teams to task for. This is a not a forerunner of teams running themselves into the ground financially.

The NHL just needs to calm down and let healthy, important franchises like the Flyers make decisions without worrying about league interference.

 

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