VANCOUVER — Long-term contracts seemed like a good idea at the time. Lock up key players virtually forever and obtain cap certainty — and stability at a specific position — for your team.
The New York Islanders did it first, signing goaltender Rick DiPietro to a 15-year deal. Others followed suit. Detroit signed Henrik Zetterberg for 12 years and Johan Franzen for 11. Chicago inked Marian Hossa for a dozen years.
The New Jersey Devils signed Ilya Kovalchuk for 15 years. The Minnesota Wild signed both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to 13-year contracts. Vinny Lecavalier was on an 11-year deal when the Tampa Bay Lightning finally said ‘no mas!’ on Thursday and announced they were compliance buying him out. Golatender Ilya Brzgalov was only two seasons into his nine-year deal when the Philadelphia Flyers decided they had enough and bought him out, too.
All these long-term deals had something in common: they were front-end loaded and back diving, which enabled the signing team to significantly lower the cap hit. They were also considered to have violated the spirit of the collective bargaining agreement in place at the time. To wit, the league now has a penalty in the new CBA called the ‘cap-benefit recapture’ that will punish teams if the player retires before the expiration of his contract.
All this brings us to Vancouver Canuck netminder Roberto Luongo. Bobby Lou was still Canuck property Thursday but isn’t expected to be for much longer.
He still has nine years and $40.57 million remaining on his whopper of a deal. His cap hit is $5.33 million. His actual salary for the next five seasons is $6.714 million before it drops to $3.382 million, $1.618 million and then, finally, dives to $1 million in each of the final two years, the contract expiring following the 2021-22 season.
The Canucks have made it clear they will make every attempt to trade Luongo. But what if they can’t? What if teams interested in Luongo sit on their wallets, hoping that will force Canuck management to buy him out, making him an unrestricted free agent on July 5? This way, they will be able get him for fewer dollars and lesser term as well as avoid the cap-benefit recapture penalty.
Pros and cons of a compliance buyout for Luongo:
• The Canucks create $5.33 million of cap room and avoid the cap-benefit recapture penalty.
• He’s gone, he’s really gone. The soap opera is over. Cory Schneider is now the undisputed No. 1 in Vancouver. There will be no goalie controversy in 2013-14.
• Luongo will be able to find a new home on his own and again become a No. 1 goalie.
• Luongo must be paid two-thirds of the remaining dollars on his contract so that’s $27 million of Francesco Aquilini’s money flying out the door. It will be a difficult one to swallow for the hard-nosed businessman and his family.
• A buyout means no assets coming back to the club in a trade, if there are any still to be had at this point.
• Even though the contract — and its remaining nine years — will travel with Luongo to a new club, the Canucks will still be on the hook for the cap-benefit recapture penalty if Luongo retires before 2021-22. So far, the Canucks have paid Luongo $10 million, $6.714 million and a pro-rated $6.714 million on the first three years of his contract. With his cap hit at $5.33 million, that’s a difference of roughly $7.4 million and it would be applied to the Canucks’ cap as ‘dead money’ if Luongo retires early. It would also be spread over the number of years he retired early. Whatever the dollar amount, it would prevent the Canucks from spending to the cap ceiling on active roster players.
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