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Frei: Golden Knights’ Cap Shenanigans Expose the “Kucherov” Loophole Again

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Rick Scuteri/AP

After their 4-1 loss to Dallas Tuesday night — their first defeat in regulation since December 16 at Nashville — the Avalanche were headed for the airport area and a trip to Las Vegas.

There, they’ll meet Vegas Wednesday night in potentially a preview of another playoff matchup a year after the Avalanche’s ugly second-round collapse against the Golden Knights.

The TNT game will draw extraordinary international interest for several reasons.

First, of course, the Avalanche, along with the two-time defending Stanley Cup-defending champion Lightning, are one of the league’s marquee draws.

Second, it’s expected to be Jack Eichel’s first game for the Golden Knights following his November acquisition from Buffalo and his subsequent disk replacement surgery on his neck.

The Golden Knights suddenly and coincidentally placed captain Mark Stone, who has had back problems but actually played in the All-Star Game on home ice 10 days ago and against Edmonton on February 8, on Long Term Injury Reserve.

That gets the Golden Knights under the salary cap for now.

The greasy kicker — greasy, NOT as in against the rules, but as in a CBA loophole big enough to drive two Zambonis through it — is that if Stone isn’t activated until the playoffs, there won’t be a cap issue.

There’s no cap in the playoffs.

After the 2004-05 dark season, the NHL got what it wanted from the capitulating NHLPA — a hard cap with far fewer loopholes and exceptions than the caps in the NFL and especially the NBA.

But there are still a few bugs in the system.

This is one of them.

The flaws have come into play in the postseason before, including in 2021, when the Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov missed the entire regular season, had hip surgery and was placed on LTIR before he was activated for the playoffs — when he was spectacular. The NHL said it had kept tabs on all of that, and that nothing was against the rules. The Lightning had a playoff payroll, with Kucherov, of about $98 million, while those sticking to the cap were at $81.5 million. It wasn’t technically against the rules, but it was against the spirit of the rules.

So this is not making a case that the Lightning “cheated.”

It’s agreeing it’s at least against the leveling spirit of the hard cap.

The Golden Knights’ moves also might set forth a challenge to Avalanche GM Joe Sakic to additionally heighten his quest to make an augmenting move or two before the trading deadline — whether that deal involves the Flyers’ Claude Giroux or anyone else.

That’s because while there is no guarantee of an Avs-Knights rematch, it all changes the Western Conference dynamic.

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“I’m not going to speculate on their injuries and whatnot,” Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog said Tuesday night when I asked him about the Knights’ maneuvering. “We’re excited to go play Vegas. We haven’t seen them in a long time. It should be a good opportunity for us to go on the road. We’re starting a long road trip here, and bounce back on the road.”

Landeskog said of Eichel: “Listen, we’re going in to play the Vegas Golden Knights. We’re not going in to play Jack Eichel. We know he’s a superstar in this league. I think most of our team knows what he’s about as a player and how skilled he is.”

I also asked Avalanche coach Jared Bednar if he had any reflection on the Knights’ moves.

“No,” he said. “I couldn’t care less. That’s their team. They do whatever they have to do. Stone’s had some back issues. I’m sure they’re using this time to get him fully rested and healthy before they go into the stretch run.”

This is why it’s farcical.

The league is watching all of this, including monitoring injuries. Kucherov underwent surgery. Stone unquestionably is banged-up and has back issues. (Wince.)

But …

The Avs technically could declare a banged-up Mikko Rantanen or Landeskog or Nathan MacKinnon suddenly unable to play the rest of the regular season and put them on LTIR, and easily afford a Claude Giroux and his $8.25 million cap hit. Then, they could activate any of them in time for the playoffs.

That’s not a realistic possibility, of course. The league would not allow whole-cloth concoction non-existent injuries. But if a true shot-term injury, or an accumulation of bumps and bruises come up for a high-salaried star, he could rest up for the playoffs.

Are the Avs above skating around the spirit of the cap and the rules, too? As long as they don’t out-and-out break them?

Of course they are.

This is not directly analogous, because it predates the cap. But there was considerable resentment of the Avalanche in 2001-02, when Peter Forsberg sat out the entire regular season because of his notorious foot issues — then rejoined the Avalanche for the playoffs and had nine goals and 18 assists in 20 games. The resentment wasn’t about financial issues, since there was no cap, but rather was tied to the concept that a player should have to appear in the regular season to be eligible for the playoffs.

The Stanley Cup is alluring.

POSTSCRIPT: Jack Eichel and Gabriel Landeskog took part in a ceremonial faceoff before the Sabres-Avalanche game in Denver in February 2000. (Click below to see the video.) “Dropping” the puck was a 97-year-old Windsor, Colorado resident, Leila Morrison. As a World War II combat nurse, she came ashore at Omaha Beach and followed the 118th Evacuation Hospital across Europe. She witnessed both the carnage of battle and, at Buchenwald concentration camp, the results of the horrific actions of Nazi Germany in implementing the unspeakable “Final Solution.” My profile of this remarkable woman.

Terry Frei (terry@terryfrei.com, @tfrei) is a Denver-based author and journalist. He has been named a state’s sportswriter of the year seven times in peer voting — four times in Colorado and three times in Oregon. His seven books include the novels “Olympic Affair” and “The Witch’s Season.” Among his five non-fiction works are “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” “Third Down and a War to Go,” “March 1939: Before the Madness,” and “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.” He also collaborated with Adrian Dater on “Save By Roy,” was a long-time vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and has covered the hockey Rockies, Avalanche and the NHL at-large. His web site is www.terryfrei.com and his bio is available at www.terryfrei.com/bio.html

His Colorado Hockey Now column archive can be accessed here

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dp10

We shall see how Eichel‘s neck holds up.

Nick Benjamin

The Avs could have pulled a “Kucherov” with MacKinnon. The team already have Bo on concussion protocol, why not add MacK. Plus, he needed surgery. Bring in Giroux (or who ever) and MacK comes back for the playoffs. With that said, I am personally glad they didn’t.

jimstrohmeier

The Avs are after “W”s right now, and Mac is determined to be on the ice every night to make them happen.

#PresidentsTrophy

dk

It wasn’t technically against the rules, but it was against the spirit of the rules.”

This is about the best way to put it, Terry.

Greasy and fishy and many other dirty adjectives is how I’d describe it…. Canadians may not understand this, but loopholes are an American tradition. A tradition we should all be working to be rid of. Too many people take advantage of what these gray areas in our rules offer instead of simply doing the correct thing. It’s depressing and disgusting.

Last edited 3 months ago by dk
dk

One thing I want to add to this comment…

This VGK wannabe-Kucherov maneuver now makes the acquisition of Giroux, or someone Giroux-like, become more of a necessity than I originally believed.

avs-kate

We all have this belief that going after a “proven” talent like Giroux would be the best move for the team. I’m still in the camp of please no, and hell no! Unless Joe can make a dutchy style trade, it just screams horror story imo. Whilst Giroux IS a proven talent, it is just not a proven talent with our system. I wince at the thought of what we would have to give up simply to have that bonus player. what I do know is this. Sakic is a magician with a few extra dollars and being able to… Read more »

dk

Oh, Kate…the fact that you had to mention that you weren’t trying to “insult my hockey intelligence” tells me you intended to do just that. But you didn’t. I have been watching professional hockey avidly for more than 45 years. I also played for my entire youth plus three seasons in a lower tier junior league. There is nothing wrong with my hockey intelligence. That being said, if you read my other posts on this site, you might know that I am strongly in favor of a move to replace the hole that Byram’s absence might leave come the playoffs.… Read more »

jimstrohmeier

getting around the rules, whether driving fast in the left lane or “adjusting” one’s income taxes, is the American way!

Adam Manter

I know it won’t happen but how funny would it be if the Knights missed out on the playoffs altogether because they don’t have Stone in their lineup!

Luke Waggoner

I’d say it’s more likely that they miss because they don’t have Lehner in their lineup. Unfortunately though, the Pacific is such a shit-pile that there aren’t enough teams to push them out of the top 3.

Jimmy Two Times

If your team has a $98 million set of players on the ice….against teams with a $82 million roster. That’s cheating in my book, whether it is against the rules or not. That is circumventing the salary cap. It’s absurd that the NHL allows this. If Vegas wins the cup, that will be a tainted win in my book. Just like Tampa last season. That is a gigantic advantage that is completely unfair.

jimstrohmeier

I’ve been a huge fan of Terry’s writing for decades, even after my move to Las Vegas in 2019. The NHL is made up of owners and players and they made an agreement that allows for such shenanigans! If the owner wants to pay the bill, then I say more power to them. Gabe is right, they are playing a VGK team, not Jack Eichel. Eichel has been off so long, it’s possible he will have considerable rust, not to mention any possible mental worries about his neck. The Avs are fine – I expect a bounce-back game after Dallas.… Read more »

Daryl Dawkins

The Avs should put EJ on LTIR at the trade deadline

avs-kate

Fen 2000 or believing it’s 2020! Got to love those gremlins!

avs-kate

Side note. Thank you for adding the Leila piece. What a remarkable woman she must’ve been. Throws more light on what we consider “problems”, and makes them all seem grossly minute.

Bob Neal

Great article on Ms. Morrison. I feel so blessed to have been raised by that generation and miss them dearly. Thanks to all the people that are helping them to travel back to these sites to be honored properly.

Bob Neal

Thanks for the link. I’ve always wanted to read the one about your dad flying P-38s in the Pacific. My dad flew 51 missions as a bombardier in B-24s out of Italy including twice over Ploesti, Romania. I met a good portion of his crew when they were at the reunions. Amazing guys.

Jdog

Blackhawks did it first… should be called the Kane loophole. 🙂

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