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After Justin Schultz injury, the Penguins are using the salary cap to their advantage

Time to get in the mud with long term injury reserve

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins made a call-up from the minor league yesterday, but you probably didn’t even hear about it. That’s because it got little fanfare, wasn’t formally announced by the team, and the player isn’t even showing on the website of the team’s NHL roster. Yet, Jeff Taylor, he of AHL and ECHL experience, was on the NHL roster yesterday. He won’t practice with the NHL club, nor will he play a game.

So, why did this happen?

Same reason the Penguins and NHL teams make a lot of their roster decisions: to maximize future flexibility and leverage every inch of the (very complex) salary cap as much as they can.

In this instance, that means using Justin Schultz (out four months with a broken leg) and a wrinkle in the CBA known as long term injured reserve.

Record scratch

At this point, we need to talk about what LTIR is. And what it isn’t.

If you’re interested in the topic and the minutiae of what this all means, go here and read this FAQ on CapFriendly. Seriously, do it. I promise you the answer to your question is there. If you’re still interested for further information and memories a good reference is back from 2010, where Mike Colligan wrote about one of the first situations of LTIR the Pens used. Colligan also has another article from 2014 with a similar situation.

TL;DR — What does it all mean? If the numbers make your head spin but you want an easy answer, it means the Penguins are using this LTIR tool to protect themselves (say, if Schultz has a setback in his recovery or it takes a bit longer than initially anticipated), the team is better equipped to deal with that.

Longer form:

When a player is placed on LTIR, their cap hit remains on the teams cap payroll and it continues to count as it always did. It also does not provide the club with additional cap-space savings that can be banked for future use while the team operates above the salary cap. Instead, LTIR provides relief if the club’s averaged club salary, or payroll, begins to exceed the upper limit. The amount of relief that the club receives is calculated on the day the player is placed on LTIR. There are three equations that are used to determine the LTIR relief, the first, the basic equation, can be used during the season and during the off-season. The second, the training-camp equation, can be used on the final day of the off-season in preparation for the first day of the season. The third formula is used when the team already has a player on LTIR.

Refer to the above, specifically, “it also does not provide the club with additional cap-space savings that can be banked for future use while the team operates above the salary cap,” — which is a question I see on the Internet in these situations multiple times. The Penguins absolutely can not trade and add a $5 million defenseman right now, because they must make sure they are still salary cap compliant upon Schultz’s return.

The bottom line is the Penguins are positioning themselves financially to accrue cap space as Schultz is injured. Which, if he’s back in four months, doesn’t mean anything going forward from that point, but does keep more options open in the interim and help to setup the team in the case that Schultz’s absence goes longer than expected.

A drab narrative has been how Jason Botterill was apparently the only person in the whole organization that knew how to work a calculator and the salary cap, but fortunately Jim Rutherford’s team is on top of these details and making sure to mind the complexities of the situation.

The main takeaway is that the team is using all the tools available to them, and it’s once again is supported by an ownership that is willing to pay expenses even above the upper limit of the salary cap to give the team every available advantage to win games on the ice.

It’s never a good thing when a useful player has to be put on the injured reserve or long-term version, but this course is the Penguins making the best of the situation they’re in and wisely leveraging every dollar they possibly can.