The fun and games of the NHL CBA (cartoon via www.sharkspage.com)
Vaclav Prospal was a fan favorite with the Lightning, there's no more evidence of that then now with the reaction to his dismissal from the Bolts. If you look around the web you'll find some Lightning fans up in arms. Other fans out there seem to be making sense out of the move -- they may not like it, but they understand it. Still others are flat-out in denial at Vinny-20 is gone.
This post is sort of aimed at those in denial.... Because the repeated question being asked is if Prospal can now be re-signed by the Lightning for a lower salary, or if restructuring his contract was an option that could have kept him with Tampa Bay.
To be straight to the point: No. And no.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players, ratified in 2005, introduced the buyout option that has been used by the team in this instance (the last player on the Lightning to be bought out was the forgettable Marc Denis). The option basically lets a team severe ties to a player and spread out the cap hit of his contract over X number of seasons until the balance is paid off. From a player perspective, while being a downer of transaction, this is a free-market tool that allows the player to go into the unrestricted free agent pool and determine his own future: where he goes, how much he gets paid... On top of getting 2/3rds of the remainder of his previous contract paid to him in the buyout.
There are no options where, after a buyout, the buyout team can re-sign the player immediately for lower value. Why would you, anyway? You'd be paying him not only over more seasons, but also pad his salary while still paying off the old contract.
This brings us to the concept of contract restructuring, an option employed in the NFL that I would have expected to be implemented under the new CBA but wasn't. In a contract restructuring, the length and dollar amount of the contract is changed or some other terms within the contract itself are appended in order to lessen the cap hit, or perhaps find other ways to compensate a player whose contract is a burden against the salary cap. You see this all the time in pro-football and it enables teams to keep players. Not just the ones who are facing the restructuring of their contract with the team, but others who do not fit under the cap without more cap room created by the restructuring.
Prospal's contract could not be restructured. If it could have, it probably wouldn't have been anyway. The issue most dominant in this move wasn't just the money (though there is a cap savings through this move) but the player age and his contribution to the squad In proper use, the contract that would have been restructured for the sake of lessening the cap hit and creating more room under the cap would sooner have been Vincent Lecavalier's 11 year, $85 Million deal. The entire keep-or-trade hoopla before July 1st was a forced one-or-the-other choice because of lack of options with his contract.
And, in essence, every player and every team faces the cold do-or-don't, stay-or-go absolutes under the CBA. That's not a good thing for franchises, for players, or for the fans in this salary cap era.