Why would a team trade for an LTIR Player?
In recent weeks, there was a rumor that Tampa Bay was looking to trade with Detroit for Henrik Zetterberg's contract, who is Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) eligible. Why would they want an injured player? On its own, trading for Zetterberg doesn't help Tampa's tight cap situation very much. But then word came that Nikita Kucherov is still recovering from an injury and may start the year injured and out long enough to go on LTIR. That changes things.
*For more on how LTIR works, here is a high level overview.*
There are two scenarios where teams could benefit from trading for an LTIR player.
Teams with a player starting the year on LTIR who is likely to return during season
One of the challenging and limiting aspects of LTIR is dealing with a player returning from it during the year. While on LTIR, a team can exceed the $81.5M Salary Cap by up to their LTIR Pool. However, when a player is healthy and ready to come off LTIR, and there are no other players remaining on LTIR, the team's annual cap hit on that day must be under the $81.5M Salary Cap. This can be very challenging, especially if they've added players and cap hit while the injured player was on LTIR.
However, if they have 2 players on LTIR, when one is healthy and returns, the team will still be in LTIR. Their LTIR pool will decrease by the Cap Hit of the player coming off, but they can still exceed the salary cap by the remaining LTIR pool. This would likely be easier to achieve than having to get all the way back under $81.5M the day the player is activated. Or, the team could only have 1 player on LTIR but have a player injured long-term and eligible for LTIR on regular IR, and swap them when the player on LTIR is healthy.
Teams that need to use LTIR to be cap compliant on Opening Day, but are over the cap by significantly less than the LTIR player's Cap Hit
As discussed in the LTIR overview, if a team cannot be cap compliant to start the year without being on LTIR, then the LTIR pool (the amount the team can exceed the salary cap) is the amount the team is over the cap. Therefore, if a team is too far over the cap to make roster moves to get under before putting the player on LTIR, but not enough over to be close to the injured player's Cap Hit, the LTIR pool will be quite a bit less than the injured player's cap hit.
Tampa is an obvious example, but other teams could also benefit from a similar move. The Toronto Maple Leafs made a similar transaction last year before the season when they traded for David Clarkson. It will be interesting to see if Tampa or anyone else make a move like this.
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