January 13, 2011
There was some debate about the legality of this incentive program, and Damien Cox of the Toronto Star reports that the NHL frowns upon coaches giving cash bonuses to their players. In fact, it's in the collective bargaining agreement:
The NHL has informed the Maple Leafs they will be fined an undisclosed amount for violating the league's salary cap rules after head coach Ron Wilson rewarded his players with a small cash bonus after winning his 600th game in San Jose on Tuesday.
Part of the cap system instituted in 2005 was intended to make sure there were no more side deals between teams and players that were not specifically part of the Standard Player Contract. Teams used to routinely keep unofficial agreements "in the drawer" that allowed players benefits, cash or otherwise, that the league never knew about.
Article 26 of the current collective bargaining agreement states clearly "Neither a Club nor a Club Actor may pay or provide a Player anything of value except as provided in his (contract)."
As Cox noted, the Leafs' greatest sin was making the whole thing so public. These "bounties" are commonplace in locker rooms, but they're rarely discussed in the postgame interviews. (Please recall the sweet, glorious bribery of Evgeni Malkin(notes) that came out days later.)
The fine is perfunctory give the CBA, but more likely a statement to coaches and players to keep this time-honored tradition on the downlow.
Darren Dreger of TSN reports that "the Leafs violation isn't viewed as a major issue, but league sources say the fine will be an 'appropriate' amount.'" Which we can only assume means $600.01.
(UPDATE: Puck Buddy Colin O. finds a March 2010 example of the "bounty" ending up in the media, as Brent Sutter anted up for a win against the New Jersey Devils. No reported fine for this one. But then again, he wasn't caught on camera and doesn't coach in Toronto.)