15 Devils? Fixing The Cap Crunch: Treating Bubble Players More Fairly

Matthew Rutledge-TaylorContributor IOctober 13, 2010

Matt Corrente
Matt CorrenteBruce Bennett/Getty Images

Less than one week into the 2010 NHL season and some teams are already feeling the cap crunch. 

In a typical example, the Ottawa Senators sent David Hale to the AHL after a strong camp because the team could not afford to keep him on the roster as a seventh defenseman.  In the pre-lockout era, teams would routinely keep 13 forwards and seven defensemen on the active roster. 

Not anymore. 

Teams can save a few dollars by keeping only 12 forwards, six defencemen and two goaltenders with the big club, while relegating all others to the AHL (or, CHL etc).  This hurts bubble players who deserve a chance with the big club.

In a more extreme case of cap crunch, the New Jersey Devils played a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins with only 15 players.  That’s five fewer than normal, and three fewer than they are technically allowed to play with. 

Why did only 15 Devils suit up against the Pens? 

Amazingly, they could not afford to call up healthy, eligible players from their AHL affiliate (Albany Devils) to fill in for injured players, Anton Volchenkov and Brian Rolston.  This is because the salaries of injured players count against the cap (unless the injury is long-term), and the Devils are only about $90,000 under the cap. 

Thus, even the relatively small salaries of a few AHL call ups, paid out for only a few days, are too costly for the Devils.

One might say that this ridiculous situation the Devils were put in is their own fault.  True, but the team is abiding by (most) NHL rules and is technically under the cap.  Despite this, worthy players in the Devils’ system (e.g., Matt Corrente and Nick Palmieri) are not getting the opportunity to fill in for injured NHL regulars.  One would think that a player earning under $900,000 at the NHL level should not be the one getting the short-end of the stick in this salary cap era.

What’s the solution?

One way to fix this problem is to reduce the team salary cap by $18 million, but then make the first $900,000 of a player’s salary not count against the cap.  This would mean that a team could keep as many players as they want, making under $900,000, on their NHL roster without cap implications.  This would enable teams to keep players on the NHL bubble with the big club and allow teams to keep a full NHL roster filled at all times, regardless of what the team’s superstars are making.

Earlier this summer I discussed my “Kovalchuk Rule”.  We’ll call this one the “Rutledge-Taylor Addendum” to the CBA.