Heading into today’s General Manager’s meeting in Florida, most people were talking about one thing: The Kucherov Manoeuvre. That’s not a clever trick from a Star Trek episode, that’s the so-called abuse of LTIR whereby an injured player is left off the NHL roster and only activated in the playoffs when the salary cap is no longer in effect.
Many stories have been written over the last few weeks making the case that the NHL needs a new rule to prevent this. Most of those stories have left out the very real fact that LTIR is outlined in Article 50 of the CBA and no one can change anything in the CBA without negotiating it with the NHLPA.
The two most famous incidents of this technique are Patrick Kane and Nikita Kucherov. A lot of effort has been made to find other examples to make this into a widespread trend, but they rely on assumptions about player health that are a little more hazy than they are in those two cases. In both of those incidents, the player was recovering from surgery, and recovery time can’t be defined. Is it way too convenient that it happened after the end of the regular season? Sure, but it’s likely not provably dishonest.
Bettman today started out by saying that the GMs don’t think there is a problem, and no one in the room he just came out of is calling it abuse. He went on to state firmly that, “[LTIR] is not going to get addressed as a front burner issue any time soon.”
Bill Daly then explained that at the trade deadline they get a list from all teams of injured players, and their expected returns, and for any that are near the start of the playoffs, they investigate. The NHL, Daly maintains, does a thorough investigation with independent medical experts.
The reality is that for all the frothing over Kucherov’s statements last year seeming to brag about their cap shenanigans, or the number of times someone added up the “cap hit” of the Tampa playoff roster, this is not a problem that needed a new solution. Article 50 has solutions, and Bill Daly described them. What the demands for new rules were really all about was a chance to play pretend CBA lawyer and think up clever and complex schemes, but also a desire to force the NHL to more rigorously use their powers to punish teams for what is perceived as cap circumvention.
Bring on the drama, in other words. Find someone guilty. The very last question of the day, which provoked a very combative answer from Bettman, was about Vegas’s use of LTIR right now. He didn’t seem to want to be pushed into an opinion on it, but considering Vegas tried to sort their cap out by sacrificing a very good player, it’s hard to imagine they should be punished now for that failure.
Much like making the nets bigger, a salary cap in the playoffs is one beloved idea that is never going to happen. The NHL is not really in the business of playing gotcha with their own teams or making money decide playoff games.
The other thing Bettman heaved a bucket of ice water on was any indication that the NHL GMs didn’t just have a wonderful loving and cordial conversation about officiating. He went so far overboard in claiming there’s nothing to see there, that I think it’s likely true someone is upset and wants improvement.
One actual change coming is that the NHL will negotiate with the PA a method to file no-trade lists at the Central Registry. Daly said they’ll start with new contracts, and then look at building a database for all existing deals. If you’ve ever heard any company say they will totally go back and clean up that old legacy data, you have likely got a low expectation the second part will really happen.
On the issue of the voided Dadonov trade, Daly only said that the no-trade list was not on file with Central Registry. He was, essentially, shrugging off responsibility along with his willingness to discuss it.
The NHL will also be finalizing a World Cup format, which they have no details on now other than the North American team is not going to be repeated.
The salary cap is going up, as laid out in the CBA, by $1 million next season, and the revenue predictions for this season look accurate and should top $5 billion. Breathless reports of this as news baffle me as much as they do Bettman. He was pointedly asked about why he’d predicted a flat cap back in December, and he had to explain that one million on 81.5 million is pretty flat. If their projections hold, expect this essentially flat cap to remain for several years.
The NHL will finally renegotiate the CHL-NHL transfer agreement, which expired in 2020. The immediate issue that will get buzz is raising the draft age to 19, but Daly didn’t sound like that was a priority.
Finally on the NHL draft, the expectation is it will be in Montréal in front of live fans, and there is no expectation right now that any restriction on drafting Russian players will be considered. It pays to remember however, that issues of residency, visas, work permits and free travel are matters the NHL has no control over, so that’s why Bettman said “right now”.
Like most media availabilities, the NHL only lets out so much information, and they like to keep their disputes private, but the overwhelming theme of this episode was that the media and fans care passionately about a lot of things the NHL is largely indifferent to. “Perception problem not a real problem” is a phrase Bettman used more than once.