One of the more controversial additions to the new NHL collective bargaining agreement, the league will allow all 30 teams to correct past contractual mistakes by offering them two buyouts over the ensuing two off-seasons. With the NHL salary cap shrinking from over $70 million this season to a reported $64.3 million next year, these amnesty buyouts are likely to flood the next couple of free agent markets with both top NHL-ers their teams simply cannot afford under the reduced cap ceiling (Marian Hossa, Brad Richards) and horrible contractual disasters of yesteryear (Rick DiPietro, Rick DiPietro, Rick DiPietro).
This column examines the buyout possibilities of Western Conference teams and the reasons why.
Anaheim Ducks: $45 million committed to 16 players
Who? D Bryan Allen ($3.5 million through 2014-15)
Why? Anaheim GM Bob Murray’s big priority is to sign UFA Corey Perry to an extension or to get a big trade return for him. If Perry signs, it could be for around $9 million per year, leaving the Ducks in a serious cap crunch. With five defensemen signed through 2013-14 and 2012 first-round blueliner Hampus Lindholm the apple of the Anaheim eye, Allen becomes expendable despite being dependable as a second-pairing rearguard. Even if Perry does not sign, the Ducks are likely to try to spend some off-season money trying to replace his offense to the best of their ability.
Calgary Flames: $47 million committed to 13 players
Why? Because the Calgary Flames organization, year in and year out, stubbornly refuses to admit what every expert in and around the NHL feels is obvious: they are not close to contending for the Stanley Cup. Though the trade rumor mills are abuzz with the possibility of Calgary rebuilding through savvy trades of Iginla, Kiprusoff and Bouwmeester, it still seems more likely that they will instead decide to trade their next seven first-round draft picks for Dany Heatley and a cardboard cut-out of Vincent Lecavalier.
Chicago Blackhawks: $60.3 million committed to 18 players
Who? RW Marian Hossa, $5.275 million through 2020-21
Why? This one is really going to hurt, as Hossa is the best player in the NHL with the possibility of being bought out by his club. He is a tremendous two-way winger, capable of shutting down top opponents while scoring 90+ points. Still, the Blackhawks are going to find themselves in a serious salary cap conundrum following this season. With Hossa 34 years old and signed through 2020-21 when he can immediately start receiving social security benefits, his contract is reasonable now but will be prohibitive in the future. Additionally, it is important to note that the new CBA’s cap-recapture formula could levy a penalty against Chicago of between $4.6 million and $9.2 million if Hossa were to retire before the conclusion of his contract, when he will be 42 years old. It would not be surprising if the Hawks bought out Hossa and then attempted to re-sign him to a more cap-friendly deal, but it is impossible to determine where the Solvakian superstar would wind up if he found himself one of the most coveted players in the free agent market.
Colorado Avalanche: $51.5 million committed to 20 players
Who? RW David Jones, $4 million through 2015-16
Why? The Avs find themselves in an enviable position of having tons of cap wiggle room and no one significant to re-sign until after the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. Even so, that’s no reason to pay an unremarkable third-line right wing $4 million for the next three seasons. On the open market, Jones would arguably get offered half of that money.
Columbus Blue Jackets: $39.7 million committed to 15 players
Who? RW R.J. Umberger, $4.6 million through 2016-17.
Who? D James Wisniewski, $$5.5 million through 2016-17.
Why? It is time for new Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen to purge the Blue Jackets of the many mistakes of his predecessor, Scott Howson, arguably one of the least competent executives in NHL history. Umberger is a solid trooper with Ohio roots, but he is at best a third-liner on a more competitive team and his contract is fairly huge. Wisniewski is another good but not great player who was grossly overpaid on the free agent market by Howson to don the Columbus sweater. The Blue Jackets can miss the playoffs with or without these players and their bloated salaries, and the jettisoning of them will allow for more ice time for their young prospects.
Dallas Stars: $44.5 million committed to 17 players
Why? Though GM Joe Nieuwendyk has yet to lead the Stars deep into the post-season, he has also wisely not saddled them with any regrettable contracts. With a solid talent base and a great deal of room under the cap, expect Dallas to be big-time players in the upcoming free agent market and perhaps even a dark horse in the Corey Perry sweepstakes.
Detroit Red Wings: $45.9 million committed to 16 players
Why? The Red Wings have several quality players signed to long-term deals at reasonable rates. Detroit remains one of the most desirable locations in the NHL to play, for a perennial contender with a genius GM in Ken Holland before sold-out rabid crowds night in and night out. Players often accept below market value to play for the Wings, and with $18 million under the 2013-14 cap, Detroit can be expected to be free spenders in the upcoming free agent market with their eyes on a top-pairing defenseman and top-line winger.
Edmonton Oilers: $45.3 million committed to 16 players
Why? The Oilers’ only contract which is difficult to rationalize might be that of their captain, Shawn Horcoff, due $5.5 million per through 2014-15. With Edmonton fading from the playoff race and so many teams desirous of a second-line center with size, it is more likely that the Oilers can deal Horcoff at the deadline and get some quality assets in return for him. This is a team with a blindingly bright future, and if they can add some size and grit during the off-season the Oil is capable of competing in the West in the very near future.
Los Angeles Kings: $49.5 million committed to 13 players
Why? The Kings won the cup last year and are legitimate contenders once again this year. Despite an impending salary cup crunch (just $15 million to fill out the roster with seven more players), it is likely they try to keep their extremely talented nucleus together. Were it up to me, I would give serious thought to buying out C Mike Richards ($5.75 million through 2020) and Jeff Carter ($5.25 million through 2022), but word in the hockey media is that LA management is not giving serious contention to such an idea.
Minnesota Wild: $52.6 million committed to 18 players
Who? G Josh Harding, $1.9 million through 2014-15
Why? This is very painful to write, but hockey is a business. Harding signed a three-year extension at $1.9 million per following the 2011-12 campaign, then was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. A very good back-up netminder, Harding’s health questions make him expendable to a team with another capable back-up, Jeff Hackett, toiling away for them in the AHL.
Nashville Predators: $45 million committed to 14 players
Who? Paul Gaustad, $3.25 million through 2015-16
Why? No one would question that Gaustad is a solid NHL soldier, tough and tenacious defensively, a beast in the face-off circle. Unfortunately, it’s a lot of money for a long time to be paying a fourth-liner with skating issues. When savvy Nashville GM David Poile inked this deal, he had no idea how much of his salary cap would be committed to Shea Weber and Pekke Rinne for the coming decade. Gaustad could be a cap casualty, but he should have no problem finding another team to sign on with, though likely for a slight pay cut.
Phoenix Coyotes: $34.2 million committed to 11 players
Why? The Coyotes not only need nine more players to ice a team next season, they also need to aptly determine where it is they are going to play next season. Hopefully, someplace with ice.
San Jose Sharks: $53.7 million committed to 13 players
Who? RW Martin Havlat, $5 million through 2014-15
Why? With the window swiftly closing on the Sharks’ chances in the Thornton/Marleau era, bad is turning into worse. As it stands, the Sharks will have about $10 million to spend on seven roster spots which, in today’s NHL market, can get you seven Paul Bissonnettes. Although that would exponentially improve the Twitter-sphere, it might not be the direction San Jose is looking to go in personnel-wise. Havlat, 31, still oozes hockey skill, but has yet to enjoy any remarkable success while in a Sharks sweater. It is extremely likely GM Doug Wilson uses an amnesty buyout on Havlat and applies the money to fill a number of other holes in the line-up.
St. Louis Blues: $30.9 million committed to 12 players
Why? The Blues are in an enviable position. Very good now (defending President’s Cup winners), loaded with young talent (Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk now, Tarasenko and Schwartz in near future), and more than $30 million under the cap going into 2013-14. Expect the Blues to use their tubs full of free money to re-sign future franchise cornerstones like Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo to multi-year deals and still have cash left over to ink a goal-scorer and top-four defenseman.
Vancouver Canucks: $60.4 million committed to 14 players
Who? D Keith Ballard, $4.2 million through 2014-15
Who? LW David Booth, $4.25 million through 2014-15
Why? The Canucks are approaching a cap-ocalypse, with under $4 million to spend on six roster spots. They can alleviate this problem to some degree by jettisoning Ballard, the highest-paid seventh defenseman in hockey, and the very talented but injury-prone Booth. The Canucks will still be in a bit of a bind following these no-brainer amnesty buyouts, with about $12 million to spend on eight skaters. A much-talked about trade of Roberto Luongo could be the next step to icing a Stanley Cup contender under the 2013-14 salary cap, so start your engines, rumor-mongers!