When free agency began in early July one of the most compelling storylines was the possibility that Martin Brodeur would end his career in a uniform other than that of the New Jersey Devils. As a hockey fan, never mind a Devils fan, it was truly unfathomable.
Word leaked that the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team in dire need of reinforcement between the pipes, was making a strong push for the future Hall of Famer. The same reports emanated from Chicago with interest from the Blackhawks, as well as Southern Florida with the interest from the Panthers.
The only reason that fans and media alike believed that Brodeur would depart from New Jersey was due to the team’s troubled finances. It has been no secret in the world of hockey that the Devils have had financial troubles for some time. In fact, recent Winnipeg Jets signing and former Devils winger Alexei Ponikarovsky said as much when asked why he did not return to the organization that made a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011-12.
Some believed the troubles were so significant that the team could not afford the hefty ticket that Brodeur would command. Not re-signing Brodeur may have said more about the franchise’s financial fortunes than anything else imaginable—save Lou Lamoriello leaving for a different organization. Quite simply, Brodeur is the Devils and the Devils are Brodeur.
At the time, the prospective salary negotiation (if the Devils had the financial ability to sign Brodeur) in terms of money was likely not a significant impediment. The Devils, if you asked the organization on the record, would almost certainly admit that much of Brodeur’s contract is based on past performance and his popularity with the fan base. That said, one cannot argue with Brodeur’s very solid play in last season’s playoffs.
Brodeur eventually re-upped with then only franchise he has ever known. His annual salary cap hit is $4.5 million for two years (actual salary of $4.0 million in year one and $5.0 million in year two). That represents a decrease in salary from his previous contract that resulted in a $5.2 million cap hit for six seasons. The salary is not as interesting, however, as is the term.
Brodeur signed his deal for two seasons. While it was clear that Brodeur wanted the second year to sign with the Devils—or any other club if it eventually came to that—the second year of the contract was likely easier to stomach for the Devils than some other franchises.
That is because of the following rule in the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) 50.5 (d)(i)(B)(5):
All Player Salary and Bonuses earned in a League year by a Player who is in the second or later year of a multi-year SPC which was signed when the Player was age 35 or older (as of June 30 prior the League Year in which the SPC is to be effective), but which Player is not on the Club’s Active Roster, Injured Reserve, Injured Non Roster, and regardless of whether, or where, the Player is playing, except to the extent the Player is playing under his SPC in the minor leagues, in which case only the Player Salary and Bonuses in excess of $100,000 shall count towards the calculation of Averaged Club Salary;
As we know, Brodeur is over 35 years old so the above applies to him. Specifically, if Brodeur retires he will still count against the Devils’ Averaged Club Salary—or, more plainly, his annual cap hit of $4.5 million will continue to count against the Devils’ books.
However, if Brodeur were to retire after the first season of his two-year contract, he would not be paid for the second season. As Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe explained to readers last year in regards to Marc Savard:
Savard is signed through 2016-17, and is still due $21.05 million – a sum he would not collect if he announces his retirement. “If Savvy retires, he would not be entitled to the benefits of the contract,’’ GM Peter Chiarelli wrote in an e-mail.
If a player retires, he does not collect the money he is owed on his contract. So, therein lies the exception and interesting incentive for the Devils.
If New Jersey is in such financial distress, then this contract could be beneficial in a number of ways.
Firstly, the Devils are able to re-sign a franchise icon; an icon that is not the netminder he once was, but is not washed up by any means.
Secondly, the Devils are in a seemingly no-lose situation in the 2013-14 season. If Brodeur retires, then the organization does not have to pay Brodeur $5.0 million. Maybe more importantly for the allegedly cash-strapped Devils, Brodeur’s salary cap hit of $4.5 million will remain on the team’s books. Meaning that New Jersey would have the ability to be a “cap team” (above the salary cap floor) without actually paying out the money to be that “cap team.”
That may not be what a Devils fan wants to hear, but it remains a financially beneficial option for teams that are in financial flux.
Finally, the above has been written on the basis that any contracts signed prior to the enforcement of the new CBA (hopefully that happens prior to the 2012-13 season) will be enforced under the current CBA.