After being asked by the esteemed James Mirtle about whether or not Chris Pronger counts as being 35 for the sake of his new contract and the cap implications that flow from that, I went and took a look at the specific provision of the CBA. It reads:
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 to 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 or 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…
It seems likely to me that he’s over the age of 35 for the purposes of this deal. There’s another thing that caught my eye though. This is from the section of the CBA that deals with “Averaged Club Salary” or, in English, how you calculate a team’s salary cap number. Pronger’s new deal pays him $7.6MM, $7.6MM, $7.2MM, $7.0MM, $4.0MM, $0.525MM and $0.525MM. My understanding of how these contracts work, which I think is the dominant understanding in the media, is neatly encapsulated in this bit from Puck Prospectus:
Over 35 Signings: If a player who, as of June 30 of the upcoming season, is over the age of 35 signs a multi-year deal, the signing team will take a cap hit for each year on the contract, regardless of if the player retires. For example, if Chris Chelios signs a 3-year deal worth $2 million per year, and retires after the first year, the signing team still takes a $2 million cap hit for the remaining years on the contract. However, since Markus Naslund’s 35th birthday was after June 30, he was 34 as of June 30, thus his retirement removes his cap hit.
The only problem is this: that’s simply not what the section of the CBA says. Look closely at the amount that’s counted: “All Player Salary and Bonuses earned in a League Year…” It then lists a bunch of circumstances in which a player might earn his money. In a straight retirement though, a player earns nothing. The use of the phrase “All Player Salary and Bonuses earned…” stands in stark contrast to the amount that’s used to calculate the cap hit for players who are on the roster – in that case it’s “The Averaged Amount of the Player Salary and Bonuses for that League Year…”, which is calculated in the usual fashion.
There’s an interpretive rule that lawyers use when interpreting contracts that basically holds that different language means something different; if the drafter meant the same thing, he would have said the same thing. If Pronger’s full cap hit was to be charged regardless of whether he retired and I was drafting the CBA, I would have written “The Averaged Amount of the Player Salary and Bonuses for that League Year” instead of “All Player Salary and Bonuses earned in a League Year…”
If asked to interpret the provision as it currently reads, my answer would be that, in the event Pronger retires and the Flyers pay him nothing, the cap hit is zero. If he retires due to injury, the cap hit is whatever the salary figure is, not the cap figure on his contract. I don’t know whether that interpretation correspond’s with the NHL’s interpretation or not, but legally, I think it’s pretty sound. If it’s accurate, it makes the Pronger deal a lot easier to understand.