The Insider: Hidden contracts

Major league bucks for minor league players? That's SOP in the NHL

Updated: November 4, 2010, 5:34 PM ET
By E.J. Hradek | ESPN The Magazine

Bet you thought the NHL's hard salary cap leveled the ice for all 30 franchises, from big city to itty-bitty. Well, you're partially right. Now that teams are forced to operate within a $16 million payroll range (from $43.4M to $59.4M), the Red Wings and Flyers can no longer skate on three or four times the budget of more cash-poor clubs.

But one detail -- one that was collectively bargained, at that -- does continue to tilt the ice toward the big boys. Teams with money to burn can bury bad contracts (i.e., their mistakes) in the minors. "A big-market team can add seven or eight million to its cap because it can afford to eat its mistakes," says Bryan Murray, GM of the midmarket Ottawa Senators.