LeBrun: Where do NHL GMs stand on LTIR rules? ‘It’s a CBA issue’ worth a deeper discussion


MANALAPAN, Fla. — One of the league’s hot-button topics wasn’t actually on the official agenda this week at the NHL GM meetings. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t discussed in some form.

In fact, the LTIR/salary-cap/playoffs issue was indeed discussed Sunday when the six-member GMs’ executive committee met with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly (and executive vice-president Colin Campbell) ahead of the three-day GM meetings, which began Monday.

And in that discussion on Sunday, it was determined (likely from direction via Bettman and Daly), that the executive committee members should canvas their entire GM group at large over the coming weeks and months to get a truer sense of where the feelings lie on this issue.

“I think what we want to do is get direction from the league, to canvas our guys, to see if this is becoming a trend, is this a trend we want to fix? And then, yes, how do we fix it?” Blues GM and executive committee member Doug Armstrong said Tuesday.

“What we talked about with our smaller group there on the executive committee is go back and talk to the group, and that’s kind of the genesis I think of the executive committee, was to try to get things in a smaller discussion and try to talk about a CBA issue and go see where the guys’ temperatures are at,” added Jets GM and fellow executive committee member Kevin Cheveldayoff.

Armstrong and Cheveldayoff are joined on the executive committee by Ken Holland of the Oilers, Steve Yzerman of the Red Wings, Don Waddell of the Hurricanes and Lou Lamoriello of the Islanders. It’s a committee that’s only in its second year of existence. But this is precisely the kind of reason why it was created.

The committee members have a small group of 4-5 GMs they stay connected with on issues throughout the season that they report back to the executive group on. And that’s how they’ll canvas all 32 GMs on this particular issue, which was first raised at the GM meetings two years ago but didn’t lead to any changes at the time.

“It’s a CBA issue,” Holland said Tuesday. “I think you watch the way things play out. I believe everybody is playing by the rules. I’ve been a manager for 25 years, as you go along, you think some things need to be tweaked. They get tweaked. This isn’t a rules change, this is a CBA issue. On the executive committee, we’ve all got our little group, five or so managers that we talk to, so we can talk to our groups and see what the feeling is.”

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“I don’t really have an issue with it,” Oilers GM Ken Holland said of the league’s current LTIR rules. (Andy Devlin / NHLI via Getty Images)

Added Yzerman on Tuesday: “Well it’s a CBA issue, teams are using LTIR when necessary according to the CBA. I don’t really have an issue with it. Right now we’re not an LTI team. Teams use it different ways within the CBA. I think over time the league will continue to monitor it and see (about) going into a new CBA if they want to make any changes on it at that point.”

The current CBA expires in September 2026, which isn’t that far away. So perhaps the league will feel compelled to look at this ahead of the next negotiation with players. Although there is also the possibility, depending on what the feedback is from all 32 GMs over the coming weeks and months, that there’s a desire for more immediate change.

On the flip side, the executive committee members may realize after canvassing everyone that there isn’t enough consensus for change.

Two years ago, Holland came to the GM meetings with an idea for this issue. In a nutshell, it was that regardless of clubs’ actual payrolls come playoff time, which in many cases exceed the salary cap via LTIR, the actual active roster for a playoff game, whichever 20 players a team dressed that night, should not exceed the salary cap.

The league gave the conversation some thought before eventually deciding it wasn’t an area it needed to move on. Again, this is a CBA issue. That overrides so much of this conversation.

Asked Tuesday for his view on it again, Holland said he doesn’t want to get ahead of things but rather wants to see how the process plays out as far as seeking input from all 32 teams.

“My personal view is, anytime you’re doing something, it’s got to be in the best interest of the group,” said the Oilers GM. “I don’t think this is a one-person opinion. This is a 32-person opinion plus obviously Gary and Bill and the Players’ Association. It’s a bigger process. So, I’d like to see what other people think.”

Also important is taking the emotion out of it. This issue tends to flare up around the trade deadline, and it did again this year when a serious injury to Mark Stone (lacerated spleen) that will keep him out for the rest of the regular season allowed Vegas to be aggressive at the deadline. All very much within the rules.

“It’s usually only an issue at the trade deadline,” Armstrong said, speaking generally about the conversation at hand. “I don’t really think there’s a massive push one way or another for it. It’s something that I think as the CBA expires, we’ll go back to our group and see if it’s an area that we’re concerned with. The cap’s going to start to rise, there’s going to be other things that happen I think that might mitigate this also. I think what we’d like to do is get a feel for everybody when it’s not within one or two weeks of the trade deadline — is this a real issue or not?”

This is not a “Vegas issue.” No one I’ve spoken with around the league believes the Golden Knights are doing anything wrong. This is more about finding out what 32 clubs want from the system. There’s a salary cap in the regular season, and teams can go over the cap by 10 percent in the offseason. But in the playoffs? Zero salary cap.

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So this is really about circling back to 32 teams and really, really finding out once and for all: What do teams want here?

“I think what we’ve got to do is not just talk about it just one day, but go back and talk to our groups, talk to everybody, talk to our players — you know, the players have to live with this, too,” said Armstrong. “You just want to get a feel for it, you don’t want to knee-jerk anything.”

And even then, regardless of what the feedback will be from 32 GMs, it’s still up to the league to decide if it wants to bring it to the NHLPA.

“It’s a CBA issue, there’s a lot of hurdles,” said Armstrong. “Bill and Gary have to get a sense of whether it’s something they want to go to the Players’ Association with or is it something they monitor and the CBA is expiring soon anyways and it gets put into other things they’re going to discuss (with the NHLPA).”

The Athletic reached out to the NHLPA for comment on this issue. The NHLPA had nothing to add comment-wise at the moment, but my understanding is that it is something NHLPA leadership continues to discuss internally with players at large. The question is whether enough players believe there’s a competitive advantage for teams which use LTIR to greatly exceed the salary cap. Is there a level playing field or not in pursuit of the Stanley Cup? The NHLPA at some point has to determine where it stands on this.

Where does Cheveldayoff as a GM of a small-market team stand on the issue?

“I’ll reserve comment on that right now to have the discussions with the other guys,” he said.

Two years ago, Aaron Ekblad got hurt just a few days before the trade deadline, and the Panthers suddenly had more cap room via LTIR to add and they did. 

“So, it would be a little bit disingenuous for us now to turn around and say, ‘Oh (it’s wrong),’” Panthers GM Bill Zito said. “I can see it both ways, I’m OK with both ways. Personally, if there was a system that was a little more equitable and predictable then that’s probably not a bad thing.”

Then Zito paused before adding with a wry smile: “A lot of people pay a lot of money to accountants to prepare their taxes. They’re not stealing. They’re taking advantage (of the rules). So, no, they’re (the Golden Knights) not doing anything wrong. If we don’t like it, we have the ability I think to change the rules.”

Which goes back to Holland’s idea from two years ago as the most obvious remedy.

“No one is breaking the rules,” said veteran Stars GM Jim Nill on Tuesday when asked for his take on a solution. “But we’re starting to see now, is it something that needs to be tightened up with it? My feeling is, I think you should be cap-compliant for that game (in the playoffs). You can add $20 million if you want (via LTIR) for the playoffs, but for that game, your active roster has to be cap-compliant. That’s how I would do it,” said Nill.

“Because, you know, we don’t know what injuries we’re going to get. We can’t dictate injuries. You can get an injury two days before the start of the playoffs. So if you have an opportunity, if you can add something to your team, you have to do it, that’s your job. But within the cap world, we want fair competition for each game. Just be cap-compliant for a game. If you added $10 million, someone’s going to have to sit out for a playoff game. That’s just my take. Just be cap-compliant for a playoff game.”

Yzerman was asked about the type of solution Nill discussed.

“Just in discussing things in conversation, I’m sure you guys do as well, everybody has an idea of what’s a better solution,” said Yzerman. “Or what’s a better way of implementing or using LTI? That’s discussed. I would refer to Gary and Bill and (NHL) Central Registry on that; OK, let’s think that through on all the potential positives or negatives or issues that may come up with that, but it’s something to be considered. I know it’s been talked about.”

Unlike at the GM meetings two years ago, when this issue felt like a flare-up after the emotion of the trade deadline, it feels like a much deeper conversation is going to be had on this. It may still lead to nothing, but I think the league’s approach here was probably wise as far as suggesting to the GMs’ executive committee to canvas all 32 GMs to get a truer feel, once and for all, on this issue.

“What I like about the league is that they attempt to measure it twice and cut once,” Armstrong said. “And this would be something that you would want to measure two or three times and cut once.”

(Top photo of Steve Yzerman: Dave Sandford / NHLI via Getty Images)





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