Keep an eye on these potential performance bonuses

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hallandseguinhavingalaugh.jpgPerformance bonuses always have been a bit nebulous in the NHL. Rarely do teams release information on them and … for the most part, they haven’t had a big effect on anything.

Well, they didn’t have a big effect until this summer, when the cap-strapped Chicago Blackhawks were hit hard for about $4 million in bonuses for players like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Taking those lumps was not unlike waking up in an unfamiliar bed with an unrecognizable person and a massive, throbbing hangover. (By this analogy, I guess trading Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien would qualify as the Walk of Shame.)

The Hockey News decided to count down the “top 10” performance bonuses for the 2010-11 season, starting with wayward Phoenix Coyotes prospect Kyle Turris’s potential $2.05 million reward. Let’s take a look at the top three spots from that list.

3. $2.6 million

Our first tie involves defensemen drafted second overall one season apart, Drew Doughty (’08) and Victor Hedman (’09). So far Doughty has proved more likely to collect his extra cash than Hedman, but both are sublime talents who will vie for Norris Trophies for years to come.

2. $2.65 million

The Bruin who could have been a Leaf, Tyler Seguin, sits alone in second place. Now, here’s a perfect example of a kid who may have to wait a year to play no matter how he performs in camp. Boston is over the cap by $3.1 million and Seguin will count for $3.5 million. So unless the B’s can make some moves or are willing to eat someone’s contract in the AHL, the No. 2 pick from this summer’s draft will be back in the OHL.

1. $2.85 million

Four players tie for first in possible bonus money. Three are – not surprisingly – the past three No. 1 picks, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares and Taylor Hall. The fourth is – quite surprisingly – Toronto’s Tyler Bozak. The 24-year-old free agent signing out of Denver University led all rookies in points-per-game average last season at 0.73, but played just 37 games with the Leafs after spending time with the AHL Marlies. No offense, but we get the feeling the three No. 1s will cash in before Bozak does.

(Perhaps performance bonuses – rather than salary cap concerns – explain why it took quite some time for the Boston Bruins to sign their No. 2 overall pick Tyler Seguin.)

This list, to me, is a subtle example of the Collective Bargaining Agreement’s greatest accomplishment: the rookie salary maximum. Instead of having to gamble with huge money usually reserved for proven veterans like NFL teams must do, NHL teams can take advantage of the three year entry-level deals that often result in huge savings. This is especially the case in contract years for quick developers such as Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty or Nicklas Backstrom.

The question is: will your team be ready to deal with the salary cap fallout if those big bonuses are reached?