Johnston: Why it pays to be 35 in the NHL CBA

Jarome Iginla and Daniel Alfreddson saved their new teams cap space by agreeing to bonus-heavy contracts.
July 10, 2013, 4:57 PM

Daniel Alfredsson and Jarome Iginla are not as popular as they once were in their long-time NHL homes, but each made a nice gesture when signing with a new employer.

For all of the comparisons that have been made between the once-iconic captains, one that slipped through the cracks last week was the unique team-friendly deals they each agreed to on free agent Friday.

The timing for them to sign one couldn’t have been any better.

With the salary cap dropping to $64.3 million next season and both jumping to teams that are actively chasing the Stanley Cup, Alfredsson and Iginla took advantage of a clause in the collective bargaining agreement to arm their new general managers with more flexibility by signing bonus-laden deals.

While that option has been available to every 35-and-over player signing a one-year contract since 2005, seldom has it been used in this manner.

Let’s start with the Iginla contract.

Even though the veteran winger is virtually assured of earning $5.5 million next season — his salary could hit $6 million if Boston wins the Stanley Cup — the Bruins will be saddled with a cap hit as low as $1.8 million for Iginla’s services in 2013-14.

That is the value of his base salary in the deal.

Another $3.7 million will be paid to Iginla as a bonus once he plays just 10 games, but the CBA allows Boston to roll that amount onto its cap the following season if it exceeds the $64.3-million ceiling this year.

The thinking behind this structure is that the Bruins won’t mind being charged for that $3.7-million bonus (plus the additional $500,000 he could potentially earn for playoff performance) in 2014-15 because the salary cap is expected to climb back as high as $70 million.

No wonder Boston GM Peter Chiarelli was so complimentary after Iginla signed that deal.

“It’s actually a very good gesture by Jarome,” Chiarelli said last weekend. “(He) worked hard to get us into a deal that was friendly for us and would get him properly paid too. I give Jarome credit for that. We’ve acquired a player here who’s a terrific player.

“He’s a Hall of Fame player.”

Alfredsson made a similar gesture after deciding to leave Ottawa and entering into negotiations with the Detroit Red Wings. The 40-year-old ended up agreeing to a deal that will pay him $3.5 million in base salary — that will be Detroit’s minimum cap hit next season — plus a $2-million bonus after he plays his 10th game.

His deal was actually modeled on one that Brendan Shanahan signed with the New York Rangers in 2007-08 and also included a bonus for 10 games played.

That type of contract hasn’t been seen much since.

In some ways, it almost amounts to a legal form of cap circumvention. Even though the teams will eventually be charged for the full amount paid to the player, the chance to delay some of that cap hit is particularly important at a time when a good portion of the league is struggling to stay under the ceiling.

However, there is also a benefit for the player.

Alfredsson made it clear that he chose Detroit for the chance to win a championship and his salary structure will allow GM Ken Holland to potentially acquire another piece or two in a bid to help the team do so.

“Everyone knows Detroit’s goals are always to be at the top of the game and to win championships,” said Alfredsson. “They’ve done that in the past. I’m really excited to get this opportunity at this stage of my career to go for a Stanley Cup and fulfill a longtime dream.”

The only real risk for Iginla and Alfredsson is that they suffer a serious injury in the opening nine games of the season and fail to collect on their large bonuses.

At this stage of their careers, it’s a risk they are willing to take.

While this is unlikely to become a hot trend around the league — performance bonuses are only available to entry-level players and those that are 35-and-older on one-year deals — it highlights an interesting tactic that some teams have employed to deal with a shrinking salary cap.

It also further links Iginla and Alfredsson, who can identify with each other after chasing a Stanley Cup in a Canadian city for their entire careers before eventually moving on.

When asked about Alfredsson recently, Iginla indicated that there would be an adjustment for the 40-year-old when he shows up at a training camp somewhere other than Ottawa.

“By going through it, I know it’s not an easy thing — as far as leaving a team you’ve been with for a long time and made a lot of friends and life-long friends,” said Iginla. “I know he knew there would be a lot of people that would be upset about that.”

No one should be upset in Boston and Detroit. Not only have Iginla and Alfredsson arrived with Hall of Fame credentials, they’re bringing cap-friendly contracts as well.

Here is a breakdown of the contracts recently signed by the veteran NHL wingers:

Alfredsson

Base salary: $3.5 million.

Bonus for 10 games played: $2 million.

Iginla

Base salary: $1.8 million.

Bonus for 10 games played: $3.7 million.

**Bonus if Bruins reach third round: $250,000.

**Bonus if Bruins win Stanley Cup: $250,000.

** Iginla only qualifies for these bonuses if he scores at least 30 regular-season goals and participates in at least half of the team’s playoff games.

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