What does long-term injured reserve mean for Lightning’s salary cap?

Ryan Callahan’s $5.8 million salary doesn’t come off the books, but Tampa Bay does get some needed relief to re-sign Brayden Point.
Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan on the ice for warmups during a February game from this past season. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan on the ice for warmups during a February game from this past season. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Published June 21

Two specters have been looming over the Lightning since the season ended: its playoff embarrassment and the salary cap.

Everyone is still working to move on from the first-round sweep loss to the Blue Jackets, but putting Ryan Callahan on long-term injured reserve does alleviate some of the cap issues.

The Lightning announced Thursday that Callahan has been diagnosed with a degenerative back disease, has been advised to not play again and would be put on long-term injured reserve.

The move doesn’t simply take Callahan’s $5.8 million off the books. His cap hit remains. The long-term injured reserve designation gives the Lightning the ability to exceed the cap limit by up to $5.8 million.

[ MORE LIGHTNING: Ryan Callahan done playing due to degenerative back disease ]

Last season’s cap was $79.5 million. The new cap, reported to be between $81 million and $82 million, likely will be announced next week.

“Using (long-term injured reserve) is not ideal,” general manager Julien BriseBois said. “But it looks like that will be our best option for this year.”

But getting to go over the salary cap fixes everything, right? Not so fast. It’s a complicated issue.

A team’s cap hit is calculated daily, and a team can save any available funds for later use. That’s part of why the term “deadline cap space” gets thrown around as the trade deadline approaches. Teams can appear to go over the cap limit because a) they have to pay only the remaining portion of an acquired player’s salary and b) they have saved money up to that point of the season.

But money from long-term injured reserve relief can’t be saved. The money is there only to give a team relief if its average payroll begins to exceed the cap limit. It’s essentially use it or lose it.

The Callahan move does mean the Lightning — with a cap hit as of Friday of $76.1 million, according to the salary website Cap Friendly — has money to work with right now. That’s important for re-signing players (for example, Brayden Point, who can be a restricted free agent July 1) and bring in free agents.

[ MORE LIGHTNING: What does the 27th pick look like and where are the last five now? ]

Speaking of Point, BriseBois said he has been talking to Point’s agent, Gerry Johannson (who also is Braydon Coburn’s agent), and they planned to meet in Vancouver during draft activities this week. He said he was confident they would agree on a deal but he didn’t have a time line in mind.

It’s possible they are waiting for the 2019-20 cap figure to know better what the Lightning has to work with.