Don't look at defenseman Mattias Ohlund as a compliance buyout target

Eliot J. Schechter

Mattias Ohlund hasn't played since 2011, but shedding his salary cap hit isn't likely until the end of his contract in 2016. Why? Read on.

Mattias Ohlund has not been seen on the ice since 2011. He has not skated or participated in practices; he has not been shuffled through defensive pairings, struggled with turnovers, taken bad penalties or provided big hits, big goals, on-ice stability, leadership or stewardship for the Lightning blue line.

To recap why not: Mattias had both knees scoped in the fall of 2011. One knee did not heal as it should, it was painful to do the simple things like walk, let alone skate (and you know hockey players have a high pain tolerance threshold; for Ohlund to be in pain all the time meant something was very wrong).

In early 2012, Ohlund underwent radical reconstructive surgery on his knee. Titanium was inserted where cartilage once was (the reason for the pain was there had been no cartilage and bones were rubbing up against one another). From that point to now, Ohlund has been rehabbing and adjusting to his new normal in life.

And Ohlund remains a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning roster. He's been a member of the Bolts since signing a seven year contract in 2009-10, and that's where he'll likely be until it's expiry in 2016.

With the 2013 NHL CBA and the shrinking salary cap for the 2013-14 season, some fans look to Ohlund's salary as the first that should come off the books. The new CBA, ratified by the NHL and NHLPA last January, gives teams what is known as a "compliance buyout" option (only allowed to be used twice) at specific times during the next two offseasons. This will allow teams to shed bad contracts and pare down payroll to get under the salary cap (which will be decreasing from $70.2 million this season to $64.3 million next season) without being penalized under the cap as they are with normal buyouts.

The thing is... Ohlund is not an option for buyout, and his buyout is unnecessary.

For those who think Mattias Ohlund being bought out should happen (hey, he hasn't played in two seasons, the Lightning defense is bad enough, the money should be going elsewhere, et cetera), the NHL CBA works directly against you.

As some expected, players on the long-term injured reserve won't be eligible for the special CBA buyouts,

Why is the buyout of Ohlund (who has a cap hit north of $3.6 million) unnecessary? Well, because the Lightning can exceed the salary cap under the arcane language of long term injured reserve (LTIR) rules as clarified by capgeek.com:

Teams receive cap relief when a player is considered to have a "bona-fide long-term injury" - injuries that cause a player to miss at least 10 games or 24 days. This is one of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of the CBA.

Just because a player is on LTIR does not automatically grant the team extra cap space. In the event a player is placed on LTIR, his cap hit still counts toward the team's overall cap payroll. Relief only comes if replacing the player's salary pushes the team's cap payroll to date over the cap. The amount of relief is limited to the amount the team has gone over the cap (less the amount of payroll room the team had at the time the LTIR transaction took place), not the entire amount of the injured player's salary.

Basically, the Lightning are locked in with Ohlund for the duration. Even retirement won't bring salary cap relief. In fact, it'd penalize the club under the Salary Advantage / Recapture Stipulation of the CBA (aka the Roberto Luongo Rule). Basically, that rule says money saved under the cap with Ohlund's front-loaded, long-term contract would be charged against the Lightning if he were to retire before the contract expires. It's not that cut and dried, but that's the gist of it.

So, while Ohlund looks like an obvious target for a compliance buyout - it's not going to happen. Tampa Bay will have to look elsewhere if it wants to shed salary from the roster, and that will continue until Ohlund's contract expires.

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