More Questions Than Answers

After examining the Mark Bell situation the league has suspended him indefinitely. Bell has said that he will not be appealing the decision which one would hope would take into account the changes he has already made. He was admitted into Stage Two of the NHL's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. Some of the program's particulars are outlined here. The stages are as follows:

Stage One: First phase of treatment, no penalty.

Stage Two: For violation of stage one treatment plan, suspension without pay during active phase of treatment and then eligible for reinstatement.

Stage Three: For violation of Stage Two treatment plan, suspension without pay for at least six months, then eligible for reinstatement.

Stage Four: For violation of stage three treatment plan, suspension without pay for at least one year. Reinstatement is not assured.

Considering the significant changes that Bell has made and the manner in which he has taken responsibility for his actions reinstatement should be a formality and Matt Stajan, the team's union representative, noted on TSN that he would not expect Bell to miss any time in the regular season and JFJ seemed to share that thought.

Now, looking at the team's salary cap situation, it is not clear as to what the salary cap implications are for the Maple Leafs. A player's salary does not count against the cap if he is not on the big league roster. You would assume that the Leafs would simply put Bell on the Marlies roster even though, because of waivers, that would mean essentially giving up on him all season. It would clear up $2.5M leaving them with more than $3M in cap space.

On the other hand, I have heard that Bell will count against the cap in the same way as a player on the Long-Term Injury list or as it's also know Lou's Loophole. The Leafs are able to go over the cap an amount equal to Bell's daily cost times the number of days he is suspended. In the case of the Leafs current cap situation they do not have to do anything special since they will still have more than enough cap space for whatever fourth liner takes Bell's spot.

However, if the Leafs pick up any serious injuries Bell's $2.5M will handcuff any attempt to bolster the team as they would have to get back under the cap once Bell's suspension is over. Not to mention that the $2.5M ould have been useful during the UFA period. Now that the Leafs could recoup it there are only dregs left.

As more information comes out about Bell's legal situation the questions mount. How much did JFJ know about the legal situation? What is the plan to deal with Bell? Is he going to the Marlies? If he is and the $2.5M is off the Leafs' books then why didn't JFJ use that space before? The team could have gone over the cap by 10% (up to $55M) until the start of training camp. Why not take advantage of that if he knew that Bell's contract wouldn't count?

More importantly, why does it seem like he has no clue what is going on? Why leave this issue to the fans imagination? If he was fully aware of the situation then was Bell a throw-in to the Toskala deal rather than more draft picks? If he was and his contract won't count against the cap then it's good to see that JFJ figured out a way to use MLSE's financial muscle. However, couldn't he have found a better add-on than Bell with all of his attendant problems?

Situations like this make it hard to see the light at the end of the 40 year (and counting) tunnel.

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