After the NHL nixed a proposed deal between the New Jersey Devils and Ilya Kovalchuk last summer because the deal circumvented the salary cap, it was widely assumed that teams trying to circumvent the cap with long-term, front-loaded deals would be shut down, and that circumvention as a whole would come to an end.
Thanks to Brad Richards and Christian Ehrhoff, those cap philosophers have been proven wrong.
Christian Ehrhoff signed a ten-year deal with the Buffalo Sabres that will pay him $40 million over the duration, but $18 million (including $13 million in signing bonuses over those two years) in the first two years of the deal. His AAV of $4 million makes him an affordable pick up for a team that needed a strong puck-mover, but it also puts the team at a serious disadvantage if they need to improve their team via trade during the next two seasons.
As it turns out, the suddenly spend-happy Sabres are now the team with the NHL's highest payroll according to CapGeek.com. That, to be sure, can change over the next two months, but it's got to be a welcome sight for Sabres fans to see their team spending money.
At the other end of New York State, it's been reported that Brad Richards - the most highly prized free agent in an otherwise remarkably weak (yet overpaid) class - has agreed to a nine-year deal with the New York Rangers that will pay him $58.5 million over the duration, but will give him $50 million in the first five years.
If that's the case, the deal will allow New York an easy out after the fifth year, when Richards will be nearly 37. It's similar to Ehrhoff's deal - although he'll only be 38 at the end of the deal, the last four years of the contract pay him a combined $6 million, and only $1 million in each of the last three years.
Both contracts avoid the 35-and-over CBA clause, which states that whenever a player over 35 signs a multi-year deal, the AAV counts against the cap for the entire duration of the contract, even if the player retires before the contract is up.
(The Philadelphia Flyers nearly waded into that territory when they signed 39-year old Jaromir Jagr, but they were able to keep his $3.3 million deal to just one year.)
But that doesn't change the fact that the Ehrhoff and Richards deals, while team- and player-friendly, are in pretty blatant disrespect of the league and the CBA. It may not be a huge concern now, but with the CBA in need of renewal come Spring 2012, these contracts could prove to be a big point of contention among owners trying to agree on their end of the CBA talks.