You have to hand it to the NHL.
Having already delivered a stinging blow to the New Jersey Devils in the summer Ilya Kovalchuk saga that left the Devils staggered along the ropes, the NHL decided not to go for the TKO Monday when New Jersey dressed only 15 skaters for their game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The collective bargaining agreement clearly states: "Except in case of emergency, there shall be no reduction of the required minimum Playing Rosters of the Clubs, below eighteen (18) skaters and two (2) goaltenders."
The Devils dressed nine forwards and six defencemen, which the math will tell you is under the minimum.
There was no emergency. Just horrendously bad management.
But the NHL has decided to turn a blind eye to the Devils shorthanded violation, saying it has happened before and could happen again.
And, perhaps, playing shorthanded this early in the season is punishment enough.
New Jersey general manager Lou Lamoriello is entirely to blame for this screw-up. He's got absolutely no cap space to work with (thanks to Kovalchuk) and had to dress a depleted roster rather than face a possible fine for going over the cap by calling up players to fill in for injured regulars Brian Rolston and Anton Volchenkov.
But his decision raises a lot of questions.
Aren't clubs supposed to dress their best teams?
Aren't fans doling out their hard-earned cash expecting to see the best possible product on the ice?
Doesn't this speak to the integrity of the product, the credibility of the collective agreement?
In the end, it's the fans who end up losing the most.
Several years ago, the Ottawa Senators mused out loud about not taking their best team into Boston for a season-ending game against the Bruins. In that instance, the NHL was quick to intervene, reminding ownership and management about the obligation they had to the fans.
Imagine if Pittsburgh decided not to dress Sidney Crosby for, say, this year's Winter Classic. You'd better believe the NHL would have something to say about that.
Trouble is the NHL is not consistent at enforcing its own rules and regulations.
The Calgary Flames found themselves in a cap squeeze late in the 2008-09 season and they dressed fewer than the number required under the collective agreement for a few games.
What did the NHL do?
It's interesting how the NHL interprets circumventing the salary cap.
In the Kovalchuk case, the arbitrator gave the NHL an out when he made his ruling. The arbitrator clearly stated that technically the Devils had done nothing wrong in signing Kovalchuk to a 17-year, $102-million deal.
But he ruled the team violated the "spirit" of the cap.
Seeing blood, the NHL decided to hit the Devils hard anyway. The league fined the team $3 million and forced them to surrender draft picks even though, according to the arbitrator, the Devils played within the rules of the CBA.
In contrast, consider the recent move by the Chicago Blackhawks to loan its netminding albatross Cristobal Huet to a team in France, thereby clearing $5.6 million in salary space.
Shouldn't that have been considered a case of cap circumvention?
Same for the New York Rangers and Wade Redden. The primary reason to send him to the minors on a one-way contract was to clear cap space.
It speaks volumes that NHL teams continue to hire "capologists" to find ways around the salary cap.
What this says is five years into the era of the NHL salary cap, general managers like Lamoriello still haven't figured it out.
And when they do, the NHL either decides to be heavy, as in the case of Kovalchuk, or turn a blind eye as it did with Calgary, New Jersey and Chicago.
So the next time an NHL team comes to town, fans might not be getting the biggest bang for their buck.
But in this salary cap era, that might be the new norm.