After years of the NHL screwing fans, a few owners are now trying to screw the league. No one weeps for Gary Bettman, because turnabout is foul play.
The NHL is hiring an outside firm to investigate whether Chicago and Philadelphia's respective signings of Marian Hossa and Chris Pronger are illegally designed to circumvent the salary cap. Because cap rules are the most convoluted rules in sports, and you need an advanced economics degree to understand them, here's the CliffsNotes version.
Hossa signed a 12-year deal with the Blackhawks, a ridiculous length for a 30-year-old. But there could be method to the madness. The first eight years of the deal pay Hossa $7.9 million annually, while the final four years only pay $1 million per year.
The potential violation is if Chicago took into account that Hossa is likely to retire around age 38, a pretty likely projection. Then he essentially has an 8-year, $8-million-per deal, but because the annual cap hit is calculated by averaging over the length of the contract, that's only about $5 million per year. He wins, the team wins.
Pronger's deal with the Flyers pays him about $7.5 million annually in the first four years, $4 million in the fifth year and then $525,000 in each of the last two years. That puts the cap hit under $5 million, freeing them up to spend more money.
You can't sign your players to contracts you don't expect them to honor, by retirement or otherwise. The teams could face fines and loss of draft picks, but don't expect any punishments. Similar deals have been vetted in the past, and many GM's believe the league is just posturing. Serves them right: you put a loophole in your CBA, and someone's going to exploit it.