Stan Bowman has been wading into the mind-numbing minutiae of the NHL’s salary cap for all 12 years of its existence. He’s fluent in all the convoluted mathematics behind offseason long-term injured reserve and in-season long-term injured reserve and cap-space accrual and tagging and all the other obscure provisions that go into assembling an NHL roster.
But even Bowman isn’t sure what the heck he’s going to do now that Marian Hossa is sitting out the 2017-18 season — and likely the rest of his career — because of a skin condition.
“I know how it works,” Bowman said. “What’s going to happen is a different question. There’s understandably a lot of confusion.”
Yes, the Hawks will get some cap relief when they put Hossa and his $5.25 million contract on long-term injured reserve. And, yes, they can leave him there for the last four years of the contract, if need be. But depending on when the Hawks put him on LTIR — before the season or just after the start of the season — there will be different ramifications that cap experts are still trying to parse. And once he’s there, the Hawks can’t simply add another $5.25 million player because it would prevent them from having the cap space to make moves throughout the season. All teams must be under the $75 million salary cap by opening night, one way or the other.
“You can’t start the season with zero cap space, then expect when two guys get hurt to play short-handed all year,” Bowman said. “It’s not a functional way to run your team. . . . There’s certainly not as much room as people think.”
The best way out for the Hawks probably would be to trade away Hossa and his cap hit to a team with no such cap problems, perhaps one that’s just trying to get to the cap floor. That’s how Chris Pronger and Dave Bolland ended up as Coyotes even though neither has played nor ever will play a game for Arizona.
“It’s not as simple as people might think, that we just have this ability to suddenly replace Marian with another player,” Bowman said.
The situation leaves the Hawks in a bizarre limbo as they enter the transaction frenzy of draft weekend, followed by the opening of free agency July 1. They’ll definitely get some cap relief from it, but how much? So while fans and pundits across the hockey world understandably spin conspiracy theories about the Hawks circumventing the cap just as Hossa’s actual salary drops to a mere
$1 million per season, as long as Hossa’s dead money is on the books, it hamstrings the Hawks to a degree.
It’s up to Bowman, the Hawks’ first and foremost cap-ologist, to figure it all out.
“I wish it were that simple, but it’s not,” Bowman said. “It’s a much more complicated provision than people think. It’s not some easy cap solution where we just go sign a player for the same amount and off we go. It’s much more problematic than that.”