With injuries taking a toll on their lineup, it looks like the Pittsburgh Penguins will be starting the game shorthanded on Thursday night when they take on the Carolina Hurricanes. The team plans to dress just 17 skaters, one short of the minimum required under the CBA.
[The Penguins] sent [forward Andrew] Ebbett back down to bring [defenseman Derrick] Pouliot up to give the Pens 11 forwards and 6 defensemen for the St. Louis game. Ehrhoff was going to play as well to give the Pens a normal 18 skaters, even if they would be one forward short. Ehrhoff left again in the first with an injury, but the team at least had a full complement of defensemen.
Tonight that same 17 skater (11F, 6D) lineup will meet against Carolina for coach Mike Johnston.
“Any time you’re playing with 11 forwards, you’ll mix your lines up a little bit just because of the situation,” Johnston said. “I think on the road, it’s a little bit different as well. It gives a look that they may not be ready for as far as who’s playing with who and different shifts. And you can juggle. I thought last time, our top forwards managed their minutes well even though they were pushed into higher minutes.
The Penguins could consider putting a player on Long-Term Injured Reserve, but that would prevent him from suiting up for 24 calendar days and 10 regular season games. If there’s a chance he can return sooner, he’d be unable to suit up.
While the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement mandates that teams dress 18 skates and two goalies, there is a provision for an emergency recall when teams, due to injuries and suspensions, are unable to ice a full lineup.
Article 50.10 (e) of the CBA, which covers Roster Emergency Exceptions, states:
In the event that (i) a Club has Payroll Room less than the sum of the Minimum Paragraph 1 NHL Salary and $100,000 (i.e., that Club’s Averaged Club Salary is greater than the Upper Limit minus the Minimum Paragraph 1 NHL Salary minus $100,000); (ii) a Player on such Club becomes unfit or unable to play (i.e., is injured, ill or disabled and unable to perform his duties as a hockey Player) or is suspended; (iii) such Club is unable to sign and/or Recall a Player with an Averaged Amount equal to the Minimum Paragraph 1 NHL Salary plus $100,000 under the Bona Fide Long-Term Injury/Illness Exception; (iv) as a result of such Player being unfit or unable to play or suspended and the Club having Payroll Room less than the sum of the Minimum Paragraph 1 NHL Salary and $100,000, the Club has fewer than eighteen (18) skaters and two (2) goalies (“18 and 2”) on its Playing Roster (pursuant to Section 16.4(c)); and (v) the Club played its previous game with fewer than 18 and 2 (a “Roster Emergency”), then such Club may, beginning with the second game and continuing with all subsequent games and without any charge to the Club’s Averaged Club Salary for the duration of such Roster Emergency, add to its Playing Roster the requisite number of “emergency replacement” Player(s), provided, however, that (i) each such Player may not have an Averaged Amount that is more than the then-applicable Minimum Paragraph 1 NHL Salary plus $100,000 (e.g., $625,000 in 2012-13); and (ii) each such Player may only remain on that Club’s Active Roster during the period of the “Roster Emergency.”
What does that mean? Basically, by playing tonight with a shorthanded roster, the Penguins would be eligible to recall a player whose salary is less than $650,000 as an emergency call-up. (The minimum salary for 2014-15 is $550,000.)
The Los Angeles Kings found themselves in a similar situation earlier this season, when they had to dress 17 skaters due to injuries to Kopitar, Lewis, and Gaborik and a suspension to Slava Voynov.
The New Jersey Devils have been forced to ice shorthanded rosters a handful of times. Most recently, they went with 15 skaters for a game against the Penguins on October 11, 2010. Tehy went with 16 skaters on March 8, 2007, bumping it up to 17 for their game two nights later.
The Calgary Flames had a string of 15-skater games near the end of the 2008-09 season due to salary cap constraints. Bruce Dowbiggin of the Calgary Herald was not happy with the situation or its possible repercussions:
The NHL Players’ Association ought to be concerned as well. … [The Players Association] must be wary of allowing clubs to circumvent the cap by simply skating fewer players than the 18 required by the CBA. It robs players of pensionable days, games toward free agency and other benefits. Plus it puts a greater stress of the short-handed team.
The Flames lost three of those final five games that season.
Obviously, this isn’t a strategy to win. It’s a last-ditch effort to manage a depleted roster under the salary cap. The Penguins, by choosing to manage the team tightly against the cap, will unfortunately have to battle through their shortened bench as a result.