The Washington Times - February 17, 2012, 09:14AM

The NHL salary cap is a murky swamp of exceptions, loopholes and a whole bunch of things that are hard to understand. There’s a reason why teams hire smart managers who know the cap, in order to figure out daily allotments and how much space they really have.

For the Washington Capitals, how much allowance against the salary cap they have at the trade deadline depends on a couple different injuries and injury status. Mike Green was activated off long-term injured reserve Saturday and returned to the lineup, meaning his $5.25 million salary is back onto the Caps’ books.

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With Tom Poti on long-term injured reserve and Green off, Matthew Wuest of the must-read site CapGeek estimates that the Caps have close to $1 million (that’s a full-season cap hit, not a salary) that they can acquire at the deadline. That also does not include Keith Aucoin’s cap hit.

That doesn’t give general manager George McPhee much room to maneuver, but he was coy about what he could do anyway.

“There are always ways to do things, I think. You just identify what you need and then figure out how you get it,” he said. “We’ll see what develops.”

One option is placing Nicklas Backstrom (concussion) on LTIR, which would, in Wuest’s estimation, give the Caps $7.6 million worth of acquisition space at the deadline. This estimation is also taking out Aucoin’s cap hit.

But McPhee isn’t eager to put his top player on LTIR.

“Nicky’s not the kind of guy you want to LTI and then three weeks later he’s ready to go and you can’t use him,” McPhee said. “We’ll just see 10 days from now. If there’s a way to help the club we will. If there isn’t a deal that makes sense then we won’t do it.

“You do have to put a team on the ice again in September and we have certainly lots of young talent that everybody would like to have.”

The complication with putting Backstrom on LTIR and acquiring a player with a large cap hit is that it would require some changes to get under the cap ceiling if the star center can return before the end of the regular season.

Last year, Green was on LTIR for the final two months as Washington acquired Dennis Wideman and Jason Arnott via trades and Marco Sturm via the waiver wire. Green could not play late in the regular season because his cap hit would not have fit.

But the salary cap is not in effect during the playoffs, so there was no problem with the defenseman being in the lineup Game 1 against the New York Rangers. If the Caps go out and get a high-priced player before the deadline and Backstrom is able to return, it’s not hard to envision a similar scenario.