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Mirtle: New CBA twist could help teams like Leafs with cap crunch

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Cody Franson reacts after scoring against the Boston Bruins during first period NHL hockey playoff action in Toronto on Wednesday, May 8, 2013.

Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS

There are salary cap woes all around the NHL right now, with seven teams currently listed as over and some deft manoeuvring required to get below $64.3-million by Monday afternoon.

Expect there to be a ton of veteran players on waivers in the coming days and a few curious trades shuffling money from one location to another.

There are also teams like the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings who are probably going to exceed the cap using the bonus cushion, which will push those extra dollars into the 2014-15 season.

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But another interesting wrinkle we could soon see this season is teams playing games with only 19 players – one below the NHL's roster "minimum" – in order to recall players that won't count against the cap.

More on that in a moment.

One of those seven teams currently in a bit of cap hell is the Toronto Maple Leafs, who signed their last free agent, Cody Franson, to a bargain of a deal at one year, $2-million on Thursday morning.

GM Dave Nonis did a great job in bringing him in at such a low salary, but even that won't alleviate all of Toronto's cap concerns, in large part because of David Clarkson's 10-game suspension and Frazer McLaren's minor injury.

Neither of those players will be able to play to start the season, but they will have to remain on the roster and the cap, meaning the Leafs have to pay more than 20 players no matter what.

The cap math can get tricky and evolves daily, but this link provides a quick look (via CapGeek.com) at how Toronto is probably about $220,000 (or more) over the cap with all of its main veterans on the roster.

The easiest fix there will be to demote John-Michael Liles to the minors, which frees up $925,000 of his nearly $4-million contract and puts the Leafs well under.

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What that doesn't allow for, however, is for someone like prospect Morgan Rielly to make the team, or for Toronto to carry extra bodies on its roster beyond the bare minimum, something generally considered a must when going on the road.

(This cap crunch may be good news for the organization's really low salaried minor-league veterans like Trevor Smith and T.J. Brennan, though. Their near-league-minimum contracts could come in handy.)

A trade of some kind remains the most likely avenue to ease this situation, but there's another option that the Leafs and other teams are looking at, one that's a tweak in the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement.

Provision 50.10(e) of the agreement is called the "roster emergency exception," and it will allow, for the first time, teams to call up players that won't count against the cap.

There are a pile of stipulations involved, as you can imagine:

1) Teams have to have less cap room than the league minimum salary (which is $550,000 this season) plus $100,000

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2) A player has to become "unfit or unable to play" or be suspended

3) The team is unable to recall a player using the long-term injury provision

4) The team played its last game with fewer than 20 players (18 skaters and two goaltenders)

If those conditions are met, teams can then add players who make $650,000 or less "without any charge to the club's averaged club salary for the duration of such roster emergency."

That's a pretty limited group of players in the Leafs case, but they could theoretically recall the likes of Joe Colborne, Smith, Troy Bodie, Brennan and Drew MacIntyre under this provision during the season.

The new rule was put in place to counteract teams like the Calgary Flames and New Jersey Devils in recent years being so close to the cap that they couldn't dress a full roster, which the league doesn't want to see happening with regularity.

It adds a slight advantage to teams willing to get by without 22 or 23 players on their roster and not carry extra bodies, something Leafs management has said they're considering doing.

And with the cap coming down nearly 10 per cent this season, there are going to be a lot of teams in that type of squeeze and looking to use these new rules to their advantage.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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