Leafs betting on gamble

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:24 AM ET

In the new collective bargaining agreement, exceptions to the salary cap are rare.

But the Maple Leafs have made one such exploitation and may do it again. It's a strategy that allows them to outspend the other National Hockey League teams, but it has its risks.

The new CBA has a clause would allow the Leafs -- who moan about having little cap room left as if it were someone else's fault -- to go over the cap if they really want to do so.

The two players most often mentioned as joining the Zelig of hockey, Tie Domi, on the Toronto roster have been Jason Allison and Eric Lindros. Allison they already have, and there's no doubt that Lindros would love to be next.

"These are the only two guys who were mentioned by name when we had our briefing," said one governor. "There is a special provision for them."

Here's the deal. Performance bonuses, once common in the NHL, are now banned -- with three exceptions.

Entry-level players are allowed performance bonuses, but the limits are highly restrictive. The guys at the other end of the age spectrum, veterans who sign a one-year contract after they're 35, are also allowed bonus clauses.

The third category, as defined in the document presented to the NHL governors at their New York ratification meeting, are: "Players signing one-year contracts after returning from long-term injuries (e.g. Eric Lindros, Jason Allison, etc.,) defined as 400-plus game players who in the last year of their most recent SPC spent one-hundred (100) days or more on the injured reserve list."

SPC is an acronym for standard player's contract.

The juicy part is that those bonuses, to a specified limit, don't count against this year's cap. If the Leafs wanted to give Lindros what they gave Allison -- a contract with a large performance bonus, they could raise their payroll to approximately $42 million.

There is a slight catch. If the Leafs do pay out $3 million in bonuses to those two players, that amount is deducted from their cap room next year. Still, if the players earn those bonuses, it means they had good seasons.

And part of the mantra we have heard so often in recent days is that the Leafs will have lots of cap room next year and are poised to go after all the lucrative free agents.

Granted, that policy means that the Leafs are counting on other teams making mistakes -- releasing quality players onto the marketplace at a reasonable price -- but that doesn't affect the current Lindros-Allison situation.

Whether the Leafs should take advantage of the CBA's long-term injury provision is a matter of debate. The problem with signing players like those two -- especially Lindros who has had multiple concussions -- is that when they're playing well, you have to build your team around them.

They're far too good to languish on the bench and make sporadic appearances. They become the heart of your power play, your go-to guys when you need to make sure that a job gets done. The team comes to rely on them and shakes down accordingly.

Then, when the injury comes, it leaves a gaping hole. You need to re-create your power play. You need to find someone else to do the job that had been the responsibility of your injured player. You have to hope that lesser players can rise to the occasions and fill the huge blocks of ice time that had been accorded to one man.

Injuries are an unpredictable part of hockey, and when they happen to key players, they're devastating. But if you have a key player who has a high probability of getting injured, you leave yourself open to the possibility of a collapse at the most inopportune time.

Nevertheless, if that's a gamble the Leafs want to take, these are good players, and the loophole is there in the CBA for the league's most profitable team to exploit.


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