Friday, September 11, 2009

Burke, Kessel and the Long Term Injury Exception

There seems to be a commonly held perception that Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs hold the leverage in the on-going saga of Phil Kessel. I’m not so sure.

Kessel, a restricted free agent (RFA), is looking for a multi-year deal north of $4 million annually while the Bruins have just $2M in cap room to spare.

It sounds like the perfect scenario for the Leafs. They tender an RFA contract meeting Kessel’s salary demands, the Bruins are in tough to match, and the Leafs get a 21 year old, 30+ goal scorer for a 1st, 2nd and 3rd round draft pick. Not only that, but the Blue and White poach a key part of a divisional rival’s line-up.

Sadly for the Leafs, the Bruins’ cap situation isn’t quite that dire. Because of Kessel's off-season shoulder surgery, Chiarelli can use the CBA’s Bona-Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception to park Kessel and his big shiny new contract on the long-term injury reserve list. Doing so not only permits the Bruins to go over the cap, they don't have to address how Kessel’s contract affects the salary cap until Kessel is ready to return.

Unfortunately for Burke and the Leafs, Kessel isn’t due back until late November or early December. which is more than enough time for Chirarelli to explore his options to find an additional million or two in cap room.

With the IR exception in mind, I can understand why Chiarelli is confident he can match any RFA offer and why the Kessel rumours have turned away from RFA offer sheets to a trade.

For those of you who hate plain language writing, the CBA explains it thusly:

50.10 (d) VII The replacement Player Salary and Bonuses for any Player(s) that replace(s) an unfit-to-play Player may be added to the Club's Averaged Club Salary until such time as the Club's Averaged Club Salary reaches the Upper Limit. A Club may then exceed the Upper Limit due to the addition of replacement Player Salary and Bonuses of Players who have replaced an unfit-to-play Player, provided, however, that when the unfit-to-play player is once again fit to play (including any period such Player is on a Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception Conditioning Loan to another league), the Club shall be required to once again reduce its Averaged Club Salary to a level at or below the Upper Limit prior to the Player being able to rejoin the Club.


  1. Interesting info on this. I hadn't thought about it that way. Personally, I think the fact that the Leafs can send an offer sheet should Chiarelli try to trade Kessel anywhere else, and Kessel's perceived desire to come to Toronto are forcing his hand to deal in earnest with Burke atm. I just hope the price isn't too exhorbitant. I'd also prefer to see a forward and a defensemen off the projected roster move for him rather than picks, to make some room for players like White, Bozak or Stalberg.

  2. Fair point, I hadn't thought of that - reson no. 2,586 why I'm not an NHL GM - but Chiarelli still has to be concerned about Burke essentially grabbing the wheel and driving the Bruins' bus against Chiarelli's wishes.

    Are there any other teams in a position to do the same thing Burke could? Is there anyone else with cash and cap space to spare plus a full slate of RFA-enabling draft picks?

  3. Kohma - I agree with your sentiment, but I don't think the Leafs have the right combination of roster players with manageable salaries to get a Kessel deal done.

    Any bodies going back to Boston will need to be high performance low contract guys - something that the Leafs aren't exactly loaded with.

  4. Junior - As Chiarelli has said he'll match any RFA offer made to Kessel - and thanks to the IR exemption he has the room to do so - I don't think it matters what teams have their 1,2,3 picks.

    As for cap space, according to NJD, FLA, STL, COL, LAK, ATL, DAL, CLB, PHO, NAS and NYI all have at least $5M+ in cap space. Whether these teams have the budget to sign Kessel is another matter...

  5. Anonymous12:16 p.m.

    Sure you can put a player on IR once the season begins, but you still need to be below the cap before the seasons starts. Meaning, they still need to be cap compliant before placing a player on IR.

  6. Paul Steckley12:42 p.m.

    Interesting point but it begs the question: If Chiarelli knows about this examption (and I think it's safe to assume that any NHL GM not named Ferguson is aware of it), then why hasn't he simply met Kessel's contract demands and immediately placed him on the long-term injury list? The fact that he hasn't suggests to me that there is more to his reluctance to sign Kessel than just the cap issue. Maybe ownership is worried about actual dollars to be spent? Maybe they just don't think Kessel is worth that kind of money? Maybe he's not convinced he can get back under the cap in time for Kessel's return?

  7. Anonymous - That's not how I read Article 50 of the CBA.

    Article 50.5 c ii (A) states that teams may exceed the payroll cap by using the Bona-Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception.

    Article 50.10 Illustrations 1, 2, 3 and 4 (pages 228 and 229 of the CBA) provide several different examples of how teams coming out of training camp may exceed the payroll ceiling by exercising the Bona-Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception.

  8. Paul - That's the big question. I think Chiarelli has to (and based on the NHL draft) wants to trade Kessel.

    At the same time, Chiarelli clearly thinks Kessel's value is higher than an offer sheet would return, so he needs to protect his asset by saying he'll match any and all RFA offer sheets.

    The Bruins have such little cap room it's going to be difficult to find the right salary dollars coming and going to make a trade work. The team that moves on Kessel also has to be willing to wait until late November/December before Kessel sees a minute of ice time.

    Not exactly the ideal situation to get a trade done quickly...

  9. Funny how no one in the actual media felt the need to make this point...