Two trades occurred during the opening two months of this NHL season which wouldn’t have occurred in recent years under the previous collective bargaining agreement.

The first was the Buffalo Sabres shipping Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders for Matt Moulson and two draft picks, while the other saw the Florida Panthers trading Kris Versteeg to the Chicago Blackhawks for two prospects.

These trades took place because this CBA allows for retained salary transactions, making it possible for teams to absorb a percentage of a traded player’s remaining cap hit, salary and bonuses.

The new NHL CBA was responsible for the recent Vanek-for-Moulson swap.

The new NHL CBA was responsible for the recent Vanek-for-Moulson swap.

Vanek, for example, has a cap hit of over $7.142 million for this season, the final one of his contract. The Sabres agreed to pick up nearly $1.4 million of his remaining cap hit (which counts against their cap), while the Islanders got a more cap friendly $5.75 million.

Versteeg, meanwhile, has an annual cap hit of $4.4 million stretching through 2015-16. The Panthers will pick up half of it over the remainder of his contract.

You’d have to go back to the autumn of 2005, the first season under the previous CBA, to find comparable early-season trades, and those occurred without the benefit of retained salaries. Back then, the San Jose Sharks acquired Joe Thornton from the Boston Bruins in a blockbuster deal, while the Anaheim Ducks shipped Sergei Fedorov to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

A big reason those deals occurred when they did was because teams were still adjusting to working under a salary cap. In the remainder of that CBA, trades involving high-salaried never took place until the second half of the season, usually near the trade deadline.

This new stipulation for retained salary transactions comes with four rules. As per

  • No more than 50 per cent of the salary/cap hit can be retained
  • Salary/cap hit cannot be retained on more than three contracts in one season
  • The aggregate cap hits retained cannot exceed 15 per cent of the upper limit
  • A contract can be traded only twice where salary/cap hit is retained

This doesn’t mean we’ll see a significant increase in early-season trades involving high-salaried players in the coming years. Most teams still invest the bulk of their cap space during the off-season, leaving little room for significant early-season additions. Many GMs at this point in the season still prefer one-for-one, almost dollar-for-dollar deals, such as the Colorado Avalanche recent trade of winger Steve Downie to the Philadelphia Flyers for forward Maxime Talbot.

The Vanek-for-Moulson swap involved two players eligible for unrestricted free agency next July. At this stage in this CBA, it’s difficult to determine if future early-season retained salary transactions will become limited to pending free agents.

Still, it’s led to two trades which either wouldn’t have happened until much latter in the season (Vanek-for-Moulson) or, given the length of Versteeg’s contract, probably wouldn’t have happened at all. That bodes well for an NHL trade market which, since the implementation of a salary cap, usually saw little notable early season activity.