- Craig Custance
One of the interesting developments in the NBA's lockout resolution was the inclusion of the amnesty clause, a provision that allowed NBA franchises to waive a player and not have his salary count against the salary cap or luxury tax. It's a good deal for the players because they still get paid in full. Teams like it because it frees up cap space and provides a reset button for bad contracts.
Negotiations between the NHL and the NHLPA are expected to begin shortly after the All-Star break, and the idea of a similar agreement in some form for the NHL is an option, although it's not at the forefront of discussions.
"[Amnesty has] not even been contemplated or discussed at this point," an NHL source said. "Far too early."
Teams that have a bad contract on the books may push for some form of amnesty in the next CBA, although it may just be the big-market, cap-limit teams that would be interested.
For the players, it would help prevent situations like we currently have with Wade Redden playing in the AHL and Cristobal Huet playing in Switzerland simply because teams wanted to clear salary-cap space, not necessarily because of performance. As long as amnesty would guarantee that 100 percent of their contract be paid, it shouldn't be a tough sell to players.
"From a players standpoint, I don't really see any downside," said Stephen Bartlett, who represents Huet. "They're going to get their money; they're going to get their freedom."
Unlike the NHL, NBA teams don't have minor league affiliates in which to stash big contracts, which might have been one of the reasons amnesty was on the table in basketball. A similar deal for NHL players might be a tough sell to the league.
According to one source, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman describes any money paid to a player outside the salary cap as "leakage," and amnesty certainly would open the leakage floodgates.
"I can't ever see Gary [Bettman] ever pushing for something like that," an agent said.
An alternative may be to allow onetime buyouts of bad contracts where a player only receives a certain percentage of the total contract and not have the deal count against the cap. It would free up players in AHL purgatory like Redden to pursue NHL jobs and allow teams to get out of bad deals on the books. The biggest concern for NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr would be to make sure the players are getting a fair cut of the contract they signed.
"If you do end up with something like that, I can't see Don Fehr agreeing to anything less than what's on the books," an NHL source said. "I know he thinks the buyout provisions in the NHL are archaic and draconian right now."
And not every player would be thrilled if a bunch of big names re-entered the market. If you've been waiting your entire career to hit free agency, and suddenly 10 big names are cut loose, your payday could be altered significantly.
"The players who have the big existing long-term contracts are like 'Amnesty! Amnesty!' But the guys coming up on free agency are going to need a deal," said another agent. "They want to have as much money free as possible so they can sign a new deal. It's really, really uncharted territory. Nobody really knows."
If there is some form of amnesty when the new CBA agreement is reached, there will be no shortage of contracts to consider cutting loose. Here are five NHL amnesty candidates (salaries per CapGeek.com) I'd start with:
1. Scott Gomez, Canadiens: Gomez has scored a total of 19 goals since the Canadiens inexplicably acquired this contract from the Rangers in June 2009, and there's been debate as to whether the Canadiens should send him to the AHL to free up cap space. He comes with a salary-cap hit of roughly $7.4 million per season through the 2013-14 season, and the Canadiens certainly could use that money to beef up a defense that can't depend on the health of Andrei Markov every year.
2. Roberto Luongo, Canucks: The emergence of Cory Schneider gives the Canucks a much cheaper option in goal. Luongo's salary-cap hit is reasonable at $5.3 million per season, but it extends through 2022, which isn't reasonable. The Canucks may still believe in Luongo despite his inability to lead them to a Stanley Cup yet, but a onetime offer at amnesty might be more than they could resist in freeing them from this deal.
3. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals: This is a tough one. He's the face of the franchise and the Washington Capitals' captain, but if he's not going to return to the Hart Trophy-winning form that meant we could pencil him in for 40 to 50 goals per season while dominating games, he's not worth $9.5 million per season through 2021. He scored 32 goals last season and is on a 28-goal pace this season, offensive production nowhere near worth what he's being paid. This contract has the potential to look like a disaster in a few years.
4. Ilya Kovalchuk, Devils: New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer has been nothing but complimentary of Kovalchuk's play this season and willingness to do whatever it takes to help the team -- like his move to the right side to accommodate Zach Parise. But for the money he's earning -- $6.7 million per season through 2025 -- he needs much more offensive production than the 30-goal pace he's maintaining. He scored just 31 goals in his first full season in New Jersey after signing the contract that nearly broke the current CBA.
5.Rick DiPietro, Islanders: Using the amnesty option on DiPietro would finally allow the Islanders to start fresh in goal and shed a contract that's been a punch line for years. He's earning an average of $4.5 million through 2021, and his inability to stay on the ice has been well-documented. The one problem is that the Islanders aren't near the cap limit, so they may not be to motivated to get this contract off the books if they still had to pay them. They may actually need it to get to the salary-cap floor in the future, assuming the floor still exists in its current form in the next CBA.
•Bartlett has a trip planned soon to Switzerland to visit Cristobal Huet, who's entering the final season of the four-year, $22.5 million deal he signed with the Blackhawks on July 1, 2008. Bartlett said Huet is having a great season and his team in Switzerland is interested in signing him to an extension, but Huet's first preference is a return to the NHL.
"He's wanted to be back here from day one," Bartlett said. He knows a return to the NHL will come with a pay cut, but Bartlett is optimistic Huet still has a lot to offer an NHL team. "He'd be a great 1B and is somebody that you know is a great team guy," Bartlett said. "He could be a real good fit for a fraction of what he's been making. And he'd be coming off what's looking like a good season."
• The depth that the Blues have been building over the past couple years under GM Doug Armstrong is starting to pay off, and the organization believes it has eight NHL defensemen, a luxury many NHL teams would love to have. I asked Armstrong whether he's getting any calls on his surplus on defense, and he said the depth on defense is a necessity. "We might be looking [to add] and not go the other way if we hope to play in the playoffs," Armstrong said. "We're pretty content with what we have right now. Knowing if you want to get to the playoffs and play in the playoffs, you need eight to 10 defensemen."
• According to Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times, Dale Hunter's contract with the Capitals is only a one-year deal that will expire after this season. That gives the Capitals flexibility to go another direction if the experiment fails, and it gives Hunter the flexibility to return to the OHL if he doesn't enjoy coaching at the NHL level. The problem is, it also gives the players an opportunity to tune out a demanding coach if they believe he's not in for the long haul. The Capitals desperately need to build off Tuesday's win over the Nashville Predators, their most impressive game under Hunter.