Cap change could hamstring NHL's big spenders

Updated: August 20, 2012, 3:21 PM ET
By Craig Custance

When Ilya Kovalchuk's contract was finally approved in the summer of 2010, the decision also meant the NHL dropped investigations into the long-term contracts for Roberto Luongo, Marian Hossa, Marc Savard and Chris Pronger. It also provided teams and players a blueprint for how long-term contracts could be structured and earn the approval of the league.

The Devils were punished for their attempt to circumvent the salary cap by losing a first-round pick, but other teams that negotiated similar deals went unpunished. The blueprint led to similarly structured long-term deals for players like Brad Richards, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.

But those teams could still end up paying a price for taking on long-term deals, as well as paying out the huge signing bonuses that have become increasingly common.

Highlighted by Buffalo GM Darcy Regier's spending spree last summer -- in which Christian Ehrhoff received $13 million in signing bonuses the first two years of his contract and forward Ville Leino got $9 million in signing bonuses for two years -- these long-term deals are now often paired with huge lump sums early in the contract. The big motivation for players is that a bonus provides insurance against a potential lockout and salary rollback. Parise and Suter received huge signing bonuses to play in Minnesota and, according to the Pioneer Press, the Wild's limited partners agreed to a total capital call of $10 million to go with Craig Leipold's $10 million contribution just to cover this year's signing bonuses for the two newest Minnesota stars.

Right now, all those contracts are structured in a way that makes the average salary manageable under the current salary-cap system. But under the new CBA, it's possible those deals won't be cap friendly at all and could cause serious difficulty for the Wild and several other NHL teams that owe outsized sums to recent signees.