How do performance bonuses count against the cap?
Under the collective bargaining agreement struck in 2013, a performance bonus cushion is in place for all years of the deal, including the last one in 2021-22.
The performance bonus cushion allows teams to exceed the upper limit with performance bonuses to a maximum of 7.5 percent of the upper limit.
For example, if the upper limit is $64,300,000, teams can exceed it by $4,822,500 in performance bonuses. Any performances bonuses in excess of that total do not fall into the cushion and are counted as part of the team's cap payroll.
Any performance bonuses actually earned at season's end (ie. for games played, awards, all-star teams, etc.) are then added to the team's final cap payroll. The catch with the cushion is that if the bonuses earned at year's end push the team past the upper limit, the overage is carried over as a penalty the following season.
The 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks are the most famous example of a bonus overage. Bonuses earned by the likes of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews following their Stanley Cup win pushed the Blackhawks' final cap payroll $4,157,753 past the upper limit. As a result, the $4,157,753 overage reduced their 2010-11 upper limit from $59,400,000 to $55,242,247 million. That, in part, resulted in the trading of Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Brian Campbell, and others.
During the off-season, CapGeek.com includes all performance bonuses in its cap payroll estimates. However, it then accounts for the 7.5 percent bonus cushion in its cap space figures. During the season, CapGeek.com zeroes all performance bonuses, meaning if a team is in excess of 7.5 percent cushion, our cap space figure may be higher than the league has calculated. CapGeek.com zeroes bonuses during the season because it is not possible to determine which performance bonuses (most prominently, games played) have been ruled unattainable by the league.