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Know Your NHL CBA: 'Retained Salary' Trades, Shuffling Cap Room, and Ryan Miller

It's been a year since Lockout Nightmare III. Do you know where your CBA is?

Available at 50% off?
Available at 50% off?
Jen Fuller

Mercifully, it's been a year now since the NHL and NHLPA stopped shooting themselves in the foot so that they could all resume making gobs and gobs of your* money.

*or the money of your client-pampering employer and those who would sell you their wares, if only you'd buy the floor mats/insurance/hamburger/something useless already!

With the trade deadline looming (after the Olympic break) and many would-be dealers close to the salary cap, it's a good time to go over one of the rules that changed in the new CBA reached after negotiators' blood, media members' sweat, and your fan tears.

This came up last week in Lighthouse Hockey threads, so as usual when I notice a disturbance**I decided to dig back into the CBA file to remind myself and you, dear reader, what's possible when it comes to shuffling cap and salaries in trades.

**Previous disturbances have been more alarming, like when credentialed media and blowhard columnists said the Isles were cap circumventing by not putting players on LTIR, showing they never bothered to look at what*** LTIR is actually for

***And what LTIR is for, in a nutshell, is to allow the Flyers to keep paying bad/injured players without it taking up cap room

How Retained Salary Trades Work

Anyway, something that might have gotten lost over the past year: Teams can't actually trade payroll room/cap space: there is no "I'll trade you $2 million of my cap space for your sexy prospect so you can afford to acquire some rich player."

What teams can now do -- and it's a subtle but important difference -- is keep a portion of salary (and cap hit) when trading a player. That's spelled out here:

(iii) Prohibition on Transfers of Payroll Room. A Club may not sell, assign, trade, transfer or otherwise hypothecate its Payroll Room (including, without limitation, by trading a Cap Advantage Recapture charge or obligations pursuant to a Retained Salary Transaction), provided, however, that Clubs, in the context of Trades, may allocate between them the Averaged Amount and related Player Salary and Bonuses payable under the given SPC(s) associated with the Player(s) being Traded subject to the following limitations...

I won't paste the full limitations on Retained Salary Transactions (you can check them in the CBA in 50.5 (e) (iii) (C) if you want to read legalese), but they boil down to:

  • You can keep up to 50% of the cap and salary commitment to a player you trade.
  • You can only have such commitments to three players at any given time. (e.g. Toronto currently has that with Ben Scrivens, Matthew Lombardi, and Matt Frattin. They can't add another until one of those contracts runs out.)
  • The total of your "retained salary" commitments cannot exceed 15% of the cap's upper limit. (So under the current $64.3 million cap, a team can retain up to $9.6 million.)
  • You cannot reacquire such a player for one year after the trade -- unless his contract has expired in the meantime (i.e., he became a free agent, signed a new deal, and you traded for him).
  • Any single player contract cannot be used in a "retained salary transaction" (trade) like this more than twice. (So if L.A. had agreed to retain some of Scrivens' salary when dealing him to Edmonton, the Oilers could not do the same if they traded him on this contract.)

The new CBA's added wrinkles surely make CapGeek's job all the harder, but they do have a list of known trades where retained salary was involved. Check it out here, then report back.

How Many Teams Could Fit Ryan Miller?

The first thing I noticed from their chart: Apparently, the Sabres aren't actually retaining a whole lot of salary from the Thomas Vanek trade. It's there, yes, but it's far lower than I'd remembered at the time of the trade, amounting to just under $1.4 million, or just under 20 percent of his annual value.

(One question that came up at the time of the trade: Why would the Isles request that when they don't need the cap space? The answer is that it's not just "cap commitment" retained in these trades; it's actual salary. The Sabres will reimburse the Isles for that amount of Vanek's 2013-14 salary, and that payout also counts against the Sabres' cap.)

The Sabres retained even less in last season's Jason Pominville trade -- $795,000, or 15 percent of his annual commitment. Combine Pominville and Vanek's retained commitments and you get about $2.2 million, which is interesting because ... if they trade Ryan Miller this season, they can still afford to retain 50 percent of his $6.25 million cap hit in the transaction.

A common thought about any potential Miller trade is that many teams couldn't fit his contract under their own cap -- a glance at CapGeek shows only six or seven teams could fit him in outright without giving substantial salary back the other way. That's led some goalie-starved Isles fans to think the Islanders would be one of few available destinations.

However in reality, assuming the Sabres are willing to retain salary again and take a $2-3 million player back in return, it opens up nearly the entire league as potential trade partners.