Milan Lucic’s age could make his next contract more affordable for the Calgary Flames

Photo credit:Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
1 year ago
Calgary Flames forward Milan Lucic played in his 1,100th career NHL game on Thursday night, which also served as the 210th game he’s played with the Flames. Lucic has become a cult figure for the Flames, as well as a pretty useful piece on the fourth line and an important figure in the locker room.
If you were looking at the Flames’ 2023-24 cap situation and went “there’s no way the Flames can afford to bring back Lucic!”… well, don’t be so hasty. Lucic’s age may be a big help in that regard.
Let’s establish some basic facts first:
  • Lucic is in the final year of a contract that pays him $6 million against the cap – the Flames are on the hook for $5.25 million, with Edmonton covering the remaining $750,000.
  • Lucic turns 35 on June 7. His contract expires on July 1.
Because Lucic’s next contract will begin when he’s past his 35th birthday, his next deal will be what’s termed under the CBA a “35+ contract,” and it’ll be eligible for performance bonuses. (Only 35+ contracts and entry-level contracts are eligible for performance bonuses.)
Performance bonuses are important because they aren’t counted in a player’s cap hit because they might not be met. So performance bonuses are handled differently; they’re calculated at the end of the year and if a team has enough cap space, they’re applied to the current year’s cap. If a team doesn’t have enough space, the remaining bonuses are applied to the following season’s cap – the cap penalty is called the “bonus overage.”
So let’s say you’re the Flames and you want to keep Lucic for 2023-24, but you think you’ll be up against the cap. Or let’s say you’re Lucic and you want to stick around, but are also aware of the Flames’ tight cap situation. Hypothetically, the Flames and Lucic could hash out a deal where his base pay is a league minimum of $775,000, and then stack on some bonuses in order to get Lucic’s compensation to a fair level. (Bonuses can be incredibly achievable: Patrice Bergeron has a $2.5 million bonus in his deal for playing in 10 games this season.)
With the cap going up a bunch when the players’ escrow debt is paid off following either this season or the next, the Flames having Lucic achieving bonuses that eat into a future year’s cap might not be a huge deal – especially if he remains a useful depth player. And it’s seems probably that bonuses offered to Lucic as a depth player would be something at or below the $1 million level, which may not spill over as a bonus overage too much. The cap risk seems minimal.
33 players have 35+ contracts this season, per Capfriendly. A dozen of them include bonuses, ranging from $50,000 to $2.5 million. It’s a mechanism that feels a bit like cap circumvention but, based on how the rules are written and treated by the league, apparently isn’t.
Lucic has been good for the Flames, and the Flames have been good for Lucic. If they want to continue this relationship, the Flames’ cap situation doesn’t necessarily need to get in the way.

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