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Having Austin Czarnik on LTIR until Christmas handcuffs the Flames

It’s no secret that the Calgary Flames have a problem with the salary cap. They’re not alone in this respect, as roughly half the National Hockey League is in the same boat. But what little wiggle room the Flames had cap-wise is quietly evaporating due to the injury to Austin Czarnik and the need to place him on the long-term injury reserve (or LTIR).

With Czarnik likely out until near the end of December, it’s worth exploring precisely how much cap space his LTIR assignment will disappear for the Flames.

How the salary cap works

If you’re a long-time FlamesNation read, you probably have a good handle on the cap. If you’re new or wish for a refresher, here’s the salary cap in a nutshell. The NHL regular season is 186 days long and the cap room for each team is calculated at 5 p.m. ET each day. Any unused space is pro-rated (e.g., divided by 186 days) and banked for future use. Teams staying under the cap early in the season tend to use up their saved space later in the season on call-ups, traded players or injury replacements.

When the Flames were roughly $155,000 below the cap, they were accumulating 1/186th of that per day (about $831) for future use. It wasn’t massive, but it potentially can add up.

How LTIR works

The main conceit of LTIR is this: the team is over the salary cap. If the team’s over the salary cap, they can’t accumulate cap space. With Czarnik and Valimaki out, the Flames are paying both of them (and the bought out contracts for Troy Brouwer and Michael Stone) not to play for them.

Because of all these factors, the Flames are currently at $81.9 million of cap spending – or about $400,000 over the cap. They’re able to exceed the cap ceiling by $1.095 million, but there’s no benefit to being under this inflated LTIR ceiling because they can’t bank any of it for later.

The Flames cap situation

The Flames were under the cap ceiling for the first 23 days of the season. They were saving around $831 per day, for a total of about $19,117 in accumulated space.

The general estimate for Czarnik’s return is Christmas. Let’s be pessimistic and presume he’s on LTIR until January 1. That would be 68 days on the LTIR and presuming the Flames would have kept roughly the same about of cap wiggle room per day, that’s the equivalent of $56,519 of additional cap space.

A player on a league minimum contract costs $3,763 of cap space per day, so the lost space is effectively the same as two weeks of an league minimum player (like Ryan Lomberg, Tobias Rieder, or Brandon Davidson).

The long and the short of it

Czarnik’s injury (a) removed Czarnik from the lineup at a time where he was playing pretty well and (b) functionally burned away $56,000 in cap space the Flames likely would’ve accumulated had he not been injured.