31 Takes: Putting older players on LTIR is getting out of control

David Backes #42 of the Boston Bruins, center, celebrates with Kevan Miller #86 and David Krejci #46 after scoring. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
David Backes #42 of the Boston Bruins, center, celebrates with Kevan Miller #86 and David Krejci #46 after scoring. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Late last week, Brian Lawton went on the NHL Network and dropped a bit of a bombshell.

There are rumors, he said, that one or two guys on the Bruins are currently injured and would have to go on injured reserve. Those two players? You’ll never guess: David Backes and Kevan Miller, two guys who are of little or no use to the Bruins and yet take up a combined $8.5 million against the cap (or 10.4 percent).

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This will apparently be determined when players report to camp for their physicals, but if either or both of them are injured, that provides the cap flexibility Boston needs to sign Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. And at no cost to the 23-man roster they would aim to put together for the start of the season.

While this is obviously all shrouded in mystery today, and there’s no clear answer on whether they’re injured or how severe those injuries may be, doesn’t this all feel an awful lot like beach softening? Backes is 35, spent a chunk of the season as a healthy scratch, and is a black hole on the Bruins cap allocation (albeit one any observer with a brain saw coming years ago). Miller, likewise, is 31 and overpaid for what he provides.

If they do come up injured in that physical, let’s make no mistake here: They are injured. They’re being evaluated by medical professionals and are found to have these legitimate injuries. We don’t know if they would have to miss a week, a month, or the full season with them, but they should be taken at face value. However, as with the Marian Hossa’s skin condition or Henrik Zetterberg’s back injury that ended up on forever-IR, there’s a difference between them being injuries that are worth playing through and injuries that aren’t. The only difference here would be that the team didn’t build Backes and Miller’s contracts to be long-term, back-diving, and cap-hit-reducing with a wink and a nudge toward, “We all know they’re playing the last few years of this one.”

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But whether the Bruins shut these guys down for the season or whether this is temporary cap relief, the bigger issue is that this has become something of an epidemic league-wide. Even if neither of them ends up on LTIR, there are a number of teams carrying sizable AAVs for injured players as a means of skirting some sort of salary cap rule, in spirit if not actual letter.

Just this week, the Sabres announced Matt Hunwick — a 34-year-old No. 8 defenseman who carries a $2.25-million AAV (only $1.75 million in real dollars) on a crowded blue line — would likely miss the coming season with a neck condition. Again, you can rest assured that’s a real injury, but getting the player off the books is a boon to a team that’s still over the cap ceiling even with the LTIR relief.

The difference between cap hits and real dollars is a common theme in just about every case of guys hitting the LTIR permanently. In addition to Hunwick, that also applies to both Nathan Horton and David Clarkson in Toronto, Hossa in Arizona, Zetterberg and Johan Franzen in Detroit, and Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik in Ottawa. That would also be true of Backes if he’s LTIRed.

Of the nine players who fall into this category currently (not counting Backes or Miller), only Clarke MacArthur will make more than his cap hit this year, and his is perhaps the case where grave injuries piled up sooner and faster than anyone would have liked and expected. Miller would be another, as he’ll make exactly the same amount as his cap hit.

More, however, could be coming. Many of these moves lead the average fan to scoff, “Well isn’t that convenient,” for almost every one of these contracts being ferried off to Robidas Island. Even though these are legit injuries across the board, the conspiracy-minded will always be able to point out it’s more than coincidence that this keeps happening with some of the worst contracts in the league.

In the end, this is something that probably needs to be addressed in the next CBA. While you don’t want to give teams an easy out on signing bad contracts, you also don’t want to see them work the system like this.

31 Takes

Anaheim Ducks: Hard to disagree here. Ondrej Kase is a very underrated player who should get a chance to play with top talent. Bet he’d do a lot with the opportunity.

Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes need to go to the Kachina jerseys full-time. What are we even doing here?

Boston Bruins: The Bruins might need bigger contributions from their young players next season. I dunno how reliable they would be here.

Buffalo Sabres: I’m not this low on the Sabres but I’m pretty low.

Calgary Flames: Does saying Lucic is in “phenomenal shape” count as a “he’s in the best shape of his life” comment?

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes will be fine even if Justin Williams doesn’t come back, but it would be good if he did.

Chicago: Yeah bro I wonder why no one remembers a guy with 61 career points who spent the last three seasons in Edmonton.

Colorado AvalancheWhen billionaires fight, no one who matters wins.

Columbus Blue JacketsThis is also true in Ottawa. Don’t get excited.

Dallas Stars: The Stars have the Winter Classic this year and frankly all their jersey options for throwbacks are bad. Their current jerseys are their best by a mile.

Detroit Red Wings: Just announce Dylan Larkin is the new captain already.

Edmonton Oilers: Instead of looking to the future for what feels like the 50th year in a row, weren’t we supposed to be talking about how the Oilers are really good by now? Poor Connor McDavid.

Florida Panthers: Yes, let’s go.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are probably going to be extremely bad.

Minnesota Wild: “Young?” “Core?” Okay.

Montreal Canadiens: Granted, they’re only exhibitions against Canadian a college team, but Cole Caufield had four goals in two games. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a goal a game player in the NCAA this season.

Nashville Predators: Already crying over an Ekholm/Fabbro pairing. I love it.

New Jersey Devils: “Filled” is a strong word here. There are like three stars on this team if you want to be generous.

New York Islanders: Well, I mean, it’s not good.

New York Rangers: I’m not loving this defense.

Ottawa Senators: Let me know how this one goes.

Philadelphia Flyers: I’m sorry, what?

Pittsburgh Penguins: I gotta say the answer to this question is: “Probably not.”

San Jose Sharks: The thing with Martin Jones is that he doesn’t even have to bounce back to being above-average, which he often was before last season. He just has to be slightly-worse-than-average to easily get the Sharks to like 105 points. That’s how bad he was last year.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues re-signed Ivan Barbashev after spending most of the summer acting like that might not happen. What a time.

Tampa Bay Lightning: A lot of these guys who might make the Lightning seem to have profiles where they’d easily make just about any other team in the league. Must be nice.

Toronto Maple Leafs: People love to talk about Zach Hyman’s role on that Tavares/Marner line but you could put about 80 percent of NHL wings on that line and boy they’d look great.

Vancouver CanucksGreat headline.

Vegas Golden Knights: Oh I guess we’re already looking ahead to 2020-21. Lots of bad money coming off the books. Gotta like that.

Washington Capitals: Says here the Caps will make a trade before the start of the season. Innnnteresting.

Winnipeg Jets: Speaking of trades, the Jets have a little more than $16 million in cap space before signing Laine and Connor, so they might have to make one too.

Gold Star Award

Damn the KHL already started. It’s hockey season, baby!

Minus of the Weekend

We’re about a week away from finding out if there’s gonna be a work stoppage, because it’s tough to be optimistic that either side would be able to work something out in just 12 months.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “TSN Jdog” wants to lend a hand.

[quote]To Anaheim:

Nylander, William ($6,962,366)

Dermott, Travis ($863,333)

2021 1st round pick

To Toronto:

Lindholm, Hampus ($5,205,556)[/quote]

Signoff

Oh, what can I get for 75 cents?

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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