AFTER THE LOCKOUT the league began to approach contracts differently, effectively eliminating the front-loading that enabled teams to circumvent salary-cap restrictions. Under the terms of the current CBA, settled last January and now in effect for its first full season, a player's salary may vary by no more than 35% from one year to the next, and no single year's salary can be less than 50% of the richest year. That ends the trick of signing players into their 40s to deals that lower the overall cap hit by including extra seasons at reduced rates long after a player has retired. Just two months before the lockout began, for example, the Minnesota Wild signed Zach Parise, 29, and Ryan Suter, 28, to identical 13-year, $98 million deals, with a total of $4 million each due over the last three seasons. Those three years lowered the players' cap hits by roughly $2 million per season. Now that this numerical dekeing is against the rules—no free agent signed with a new team for more than seven years this off-season—these extended contracts are most likely extinct.
The salary cap decreased to $64.3 million from the $70.2 million it would have been had 2012--13 been a full season, forcing teams to curtail off-season spending and correct poorly designed deals with what is known as a compliance buyout. The CBA stipulated that in '13 or '14, teams could buy out the contracts of up to two players at two-thirds of the remaining salary on the contract with no money counting toward the cap. During the most recent buyout period, which ended on July 4, clubs bought out 15 contracts. By comparison, only two—the Canadiens' Scott Gomez and the Rangers' Wade Redden—were changed in January, right before the shortened season began.
The Flyers have taken full advantage of this new financial wrinkle. They unloaded goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who had seven years left on a nine-year, $51 million contract but was just 19-17-3 last season, and also dumped forward Danny Bri√®re, who had two years left on an eight-year, $52 million deal but had just 16 points in 34 games in 2013. Bryzgalov is still a free agent, while Bri√®re signed a two-year contract with Montreal in July. Those moves gave the Flyers enough cap room to snag a player who had been cut from another team in a compliance buyout, 33-year-old forward Vincent Lecavalier, who was signed for $22.5 million over five years. Lecavalier was four years into an 11-year, $85 million deal with Tampa Bay, with whom he won a title in '04. The 6'4" center will anchor Philly's second offensive line, and he still has the tools to produce close to a point per game. He had scored at least 20 goals for 12 straight seasons before last year. Lecavalier could be the steal of the summer that changed the game.
BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES (LECAVALIER)
PHILADELPHIA FREEDOM Dumping two front-loaded contracts gave the Flyers plenty of room to add the still dangerous Lecavalier.