Why Connor Zary’s excellence could have salary cap impacts for the Calgary Flames

Photo credit:Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Pike
5 months ago
The 2023-24 season hasn’t been all smiles and sunshine for the Calgary Flames. Through 35 games, they sit either two games or 3.5 games below .500, depending on how you interpret that mark. But one indisputably positive development for the hockey club has been the debut and emergence of 2020 first-round pick Connor Zary on the NHL roster.
But Zary’s excellence could come with a cost – an additional salary cap impact.
Since Zary’s NHL debut on Nov. 1, he’s been one of the Flames’ most reliable and consistent offensive players. He has 17 points over 25 games. That production rates him third among all NHL freshmen since the beginning of November, and tied for fourth among all Flames players. He’s good.
But the structure of Zary’s contract and the Flames’ particular salary cap situation may conspire to create some cap wrinkles if Zary’s strong play keeps up in the second half of the season.

Zary has performance bonuses in his contract

According to our pals at Cap Friendly, Zary’s deal contains $212,500 in potential performance bonuses for 2023-24. So what does that mean?
Exhibit 5 of the 2013 collective bargaining agreement defines two types of bonuses: “A” bonuses and “B” bonuses. “A” bonuses are for individual performances relative to the team and max out at $850,00, while “B” bonuses are connected to winning awards or leading the league in categories and max out at $2 million (and are generally on top of “A” bonuses). Given Zary’s potential bonus level, he likely only gets “A” bonuses.
So let’s dive into the “A” bonuses. Here are the defined categories for forwards:
(i) Ice time (aggregate and/or per Game). Player must be among top six (6) forwards on the Club (minimum 42 Regular Season Games played by Player and comparison group). (Note: an Entry Level SPC may contain bonuses for both aggregate and per Game ice time; however, the maximum aggregate amount the Player may receive on account of the ice time category is $212,500.)
(ii) Goals: 20 Goal Minimum
(iii) Assists: 35 Assist Minimum
(iv) Points: 60 Point Minimum
(v) Points Per Game: .73 Points Per Game Minimum (minimum 42 Regular Season Games played)
(vi) Plus-Minus Rating: Among top three (3) forwards on the Club (minimum 42 Regular Season Games played by Player and comparison group).
(vii) End-of-Season NHL All-Rookie Team
(viii) NHL All-Star Game (selected to play or plays)
(ix) NHL All-Star Game MVP
Depending on how Zary’s deal is structured, he might max out his bonuses by reaching any of the listed thresholds, or it could be scaled so that he needs to hit a few of them to max out his bonuses. Through the Flames’ first 35 games, 25 played by Zary, here’s how he looks category-wise in his bonus hunt:
  • (i) TOI: 7th among forwards on a per-game basis
  • (ii) Goals: 7 goals in 25 games, on pace for 20 goals
  • (iii) Assists: 10 points in 25 games, on pace for 29 assists
  • (iv) Points: 17 points in 25 games, on pace for 49 points
  • (v) Points Per Game: 0.68 points per game
  • (vi) Plus/Minus: plus-7, tied for 2nd among forwards
It’s hard to guess what happens with the All-Rookie Team or the All-Star Game categories, but Zary’s on pace for the goals and plus/minus category bonuses, and is just shy of the pace for the points-per-game bonus. Unless his game completely falls off, he seems fairly likely to get some performance bonuses.

The Flames using LTIR adds complexities

We don’t need to bore you with the mechanics of the long-term injury reserve (LTIR). What’s important is that the Flames had to use LTIR exemptions to have a cap compliant roster for a good chunk of the season so far, and at present Kevin Rooney and Oliver Kylington are on LTIR. Both players would need to be activated for them to exit LTIR, though as players get healthy (and others likely get traded), it’s likely the Flames won’t need to dive into the LTIR piggy bank as much in the second half of the season. So being in LTIR itself isn’t a big challenge.
The big challenge is this: the cap ceiling is $83.5 million this season, and from a bonuses perspective it’s a hard ceiling. So if the Flames exceed that cap number, even by using LTIR for chunks of the season, whatever performance bonuses are incurred this season will be pushed onto next season’s salary cap instead as what are known as “bonus overages.”
If the Flames are below the $83.5 million cap ceiling at the end of the season, bonuses will be applied to that number and if they’re over the cap ceiling because of earned performance bonuses, whatever spillover exists will count as a bonus overage for 2024-25.
Zary’s been great for the Flames and he’s a legitimately fun story for this season. But the Flames’ tight cap situation means that it’s pretty likely that whatever bonuses he earns this season – and we’re expecting he’ll earn some bonuses – will likely eat into next season’s salary cap space. Just how much of an impact those bonus overages will have on the Flames will become clearer as we approach the trade deadline and the end of the regular season.

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