Larry Brooks doesn't understand the cap, or I don't
[UPDATE: got a nice private tweet this morning from Larry Brooks, thanking me and letting me know he understands the cap perfectly. So, you know, my mistake, It must be me.]
[UPDATE #2: people have mentioned (see comments) that the Rangers could have a problem if Drury is somehow ready to play in the fall. I responded in more detail in the comments, but here I will boil it down to: (1) the Brooks article is predicated on the assumption that Drury has a degenerative, chronic knee injury and his career may well be over; (2) if that were not the case -- and Drury in fact believes he will be ready in the fall (or ever) -- he would not have blocked the buy-out, since he would then be paid half his salary more or less AND be able to sign anywhere he wants as a UFA; (3) there's no reason for Drury to "force" the Rangers to keep him and pay him in full if he actually intends to play; that would obviously be a horrible situation for everyone; the only reason for Drury to want to stay technically on the payroll is so he can collect his full salary while riding out his last year on LTIR. Because at that point (with his playing days over), it's merely an accounting issue.]
Okay, so it appears Chris Drury has a potentially career-ending knee injury, which prevents the Rangers from buying him out. That's terrible for Drury, but that's not why I'm posting the Brooks article that broke the story. I'm posting it because Larry Brooks thinks this is bad news for the Rangers.
Rangers can't buy out injured Drury - NYPOST.com
[...] this also is bad news for the Rangers, who will contend with complex cap issues [...] for next season. [...] Under terms of the CBA, the captain will have to report to training camp in September for the team physical. If Drury fails, as would be expected, he would qualify for a long-term injury (LTI) exemption when the season begins and the roster is set. But in order to gain the full value of the $7.05 million exemption, the Rangers would have to go that far over the cap. In other words, if the cap is $62.5 million (an estimation before it is officially established by June 30), the team would have to get to $69.5 million (including Drury) before the season-opener in Stockholm to reap the full LTI benefit.
What he's referring to is some funky language in the CBA by which, technically, the cap hit of a player does not get subtracted from the team's cap hit; rather, the team is allowed to go over the cap by up to the full amount of the injured player's cap hit. Phrasing it this way allows the owners to count more $$ against the so-called Players' Share (of profits). This area of the CBA is a maze of convoluted accounting designed (at least) to allow the NHLPA to benefit from teams being able to acquire (and thus pay) more players, while also allowing the clubs to benefit by being able to deduct more and therefore be able to cough up less in profit-sharing to the players as a whole. I don't claim to fully understand all the ways in which this language puts money in peoples' pockets, but that's the basic plot as I understand it.
However, all that has to do with how much money the owners carve up amongst themselves, and how much they end up having to kick back to (share with) the players. It has nothing to do with the cap, because:
Allowing a team to exceed the cap ceiling by up to as much as the total of the cap hit of the injured player is the same thing as subtracting the full cap hit from the team's total. Why? Well, Brooks says, "in order to gain the full value of the $7.05 million exemption, the Rangers would have to go that far over the cap." But if you don't desire to go that far over the cap, you don't need "the full benefit."
It's like a weird revision of Schrodinger's Cat. "If you don't need the cap space, it's not there. It's only there if you need it. But not a penny more than you need. Unless you need more. In which case, voila."
As far as cap management goes, it doesn't matter at all whether (a) you get an immediate and full cap rebate for the injured player, or (b) the league will "loan you" as much extra cap space as you need, up to the full amount.
Recall that the Rangers never were close enough to the cap at any time last season to be in position to put Vinny Prospal on LTI at the start of the season while he was rehabbing an injured knee or to place Alex Frolov on LTI when he went down with a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 8.
Presumably, those players were on Injured Reserve. There's no point in putting a player on LTIR if you don't need the cap space. You put a player on Injured Reserve, however, so that you can add bodies to your Active Roster (players on IR and LTIR don't count against the Active Roster maximum of 23).
Under a buyout, the Rangers would have carried approximately $3.717 million of dead space on the Drury contract through both the summer and the season.
And this is why it's not a cap problem for the Rangers, but a cap benefit. A buy-out would have only given them $3.5MM (approx) in cap relief. LTIR gives them the full $7MM+ (technically, as much as they need up to that amount).
Unless they don't need it, in which case it literally doesn't exist.