Unless they can clear the cobwebs over the next three weeks, two Calgary Flames will start collecting NHL salaries despite the lockout. Matthew Lombardi and Jordan Leopold are currently nursing head injuries sustained during action, which may soon prove to be a headache for both the Flames and insurance adjusters.
Under the terms of the expired collective bargaining agreement, all injured players from the previous season must be paid -- even during an NHL lockout.
No other players will receive all compensation this season if indeed it's wiped out by the labour impasse.
Lombardi missed the second half of the Flames playoff run last year after a vicious cheap shot from Derian Hatcher left the rookie forward with whiplash and a concussion. The 25-year-old has been receiving treatments all summer in Montreal, where he'll soon be re-evaluated by neurologist Karen Johnson who'll have to make a pricey ruling one way or another. If fit to play, Lombardi will be assigned to AHL Lowell where he'll make $92,000 Canadian alongside Chuck Kobasew. If he's still unable to resume skating, he'll start receiving portions of his $550,000 US NHL salary from the Flames starting Oct. 13.
"The players are comfortable with (Dr. Johnson) and so are we," said GM-head coach Darryl Sutter of the same doctor who will eventually help determine whether Jeremy Roenick is entitled to the $7.5 million US he claims the Flyers owe him for a playoff concussion that kept him out of the World Cup and still lingers.
"She ultimately has the final say on 95% of the head injuries in the league. If (Lombardi) isn't cleared by Oct. 13, that's the next issue we'll deal with."
Johnson also will be asked to examine Leopold soon to determine if the concussion that knocked him out of the World Cup of Hockey will prevent him from playing any time soon. The good news for the Flames is they won't be on the hook for the $950,000 US salary Leopold may start collecting.
"With a guy like Jordan, we want him healthy, bottom line," said Sutter, who confirmed with Leopold's agent Neil Sheehy the talented defenceman was in town to see team doctors last week.
"He was hurt at the World Cup and a big part of the World Cup (profits) go towards insurance premiums."
League spokesman Frank Brown and NHLPA representative Jonathan Weatherdon both confirmed yesterday Leopold would be taken care of by a World Cup insurance policy until he's cleared medically.
"I'm sure there will be some people who think he's milking the injury so he gets paid but the bottom line is Jordan needs to get healthy and there's a process to that," said Sheehy.
Sutter says insurance premiums are what's keeping most of the league's premiere players home while the lockout continues.
"Some guys' insurance premiums are more than they'll be making (in Europe) but they just want to play -- it's kind of nice to hear that," said Sutter, who has five players playing abroad -- Miikka Kiprusoff (Sweden), Marcus Nilson (Sweden), Steve Montador (France), Ville Nieminen (Finland) and Martin Gelinas (Switzerland), who signed with Forward Morges according to an Internet report yesterday.
"(Kobasew and Lombardi) are going to make $92,000 Canadian and that's a lot more than they'd make in Europe or anywhere else. Miikka is probably making enough to keep his sleeping bag dry and his beer cold."
Sutter figures because insurance premiums for players generally hover around 20% of a player's NHL contract, most high-profile players will wait until December before joining the 150 others in Europe.
"If I had my druthers, every guy on our team would be playing in Europe right now," said Sutter.
"A lot of these guys can't go a year sitting around without playing -- they won't have a chance."
Another option players have is signing in the AHL, where Sutter would gladly reserve a spot in Lowell for young players such as Leopold or Mike Commodore.
Incidentally, the Flames won't have to pay injured Denis Gauthier or Dean McAmmond because the former is now a Phoenix Coyote and the latter is an unrestricted free agent.