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January 7, 2013
Free Money, Part Two
by Ryan Wagman
As discussed in Part One, the new CBA will allow for each team to buy out two players to help comply with the 2013-14 salary cap. The previous article looked at likely buyout candidates in the Western Conference, so we now turn our attention over to the teams of the Eastern Conference.
New Jersey Devils
There is no escaping the Ilya Kovalchuk cap hit of $6.667 million until 2010-21. Even a team with coffers overflowing would blanch at dropping $68 million after this coming season. The Devils, renowned for their recent financial difficulties, are definitely not simply going walk away. Of the only three other players on the roster inked past 2013-14, the most likely to be bought out is hard-hitting stay-at-home blueliner Anton Volchenkov. Owed $4.25 million annually (in salary as well as cap hit), his inability to remain healthy for a full seasonlast season's 72 games played were his most since 2006-07makes him a poor bet to remain productive as he enters his thirties.
New York Islanders
There can only be one right answer for the Brooklyn-bound club. It isn't that Rick DiPietro's $4.5 million cap hit is that crazy. Forget, if you can, his endless parade of injuries and intermittently healthy ineffectiveness. Actually, don't. When you have a chance to wipe away eight more years of one of the worst contracts in the history of professional sports, you do it.
New York Rangers
As the new CBA purportedly also includes a provision that bad contracts can no longer be buried in the AHL, Wade Redden will finally be returning to the NHL this year. Glen Sather will happily eat the last year and $5 million afterwards to finally be rid of the former All-Star blueliner who has spent the past two seasons with the Rangers' farm team in Hartford.
The easy answer seems to be Ilya Bryzgalov. Seven more years with a cap hit of $5.667 million? The total sunk cost of $34.5 million might nix that thought, though. Also, the complete lack of organizational depth in net for the Flyers could also help keep Bryz around. Even their current starter at the AHL level, Scott Munroe, is a soon-to-be 31-year-old journeyman who has only had two above-average seasons at the AHL level and has yet to suit up in the NHL. It should be a lot easier to stomach a jettisoning of Daniel Briere's final two years. The Flyers would save $6.5 million on the cap for each season, while only having to spend $5 million in real dollars.
An exceptionally well-balanced team with a handful of elite players buttressed by moderately-talented and moderately-paid supporting players, the Penguins might cut a single year from someone to assist their transition to a lower cap number, but they lack the glaring misfit that some other teams should only be too eager to forget. One candidate for a buyout could be Chris Kunitz, who in spite of his long-standing chemistry with Sidney Crosby, will be 34 at the start of the 2013-14 season. His $3.75 million would do wonders for helping the Penguins to reach the new cap ceiling.
Signed through 2016-17 at a diminishing salary, Marc Savard, the victim of severe post-concussion symptoms, still has a $4 million cap hit attached to his name. If his injury woes make him ineligible for a buyout, he will likely remain on the LTIR. Chris Kelly would make a decent backup candidate, as a third line center with a cap hit of $3 million may be too high in the lower cap era.
While GM Darcy Regier must have loved the cash influx of new owner Terry Pegula, he most likely regrets his decision to blow a good chunk of it on Ville Leino. Even though Christian Ehrhoff is signed through 2020-21, he is still useful and his $4 million cap hit is more palatable than Leino's of $4.5 million through 2016-17. Furthermore, Leino has been an abject disappointment since signing with the Sabres.
Owed only $4.5 million on the last year of his contract, the cap hit saved on Scott Gomez would be a remarkable $7.4 million, while the long-term value of buying out the contract of Rene Bourque is three more years with a yearly hit of $3.3 million.
There are no obvious targets. Only seven players are signed beyond the 2013-14 season. Most are attached to moderate salaries, while others like Kyle Turris and Erik Karlsson, are still on the upswing of their respective career arcs. If anyone should go, it should be Chris Neil, a largely one-dimensional player with poor puck possession metrics who has not been in the plus/minus black since 2006-07 and who has a career penalty minute to point ratio of over 9:1. Already 33 years old, walking away from his ages 34-36 seasons will move the Senators that much closer to being a modern, pugilist-free hockey team.
Toronto Maple Leafs
With few players signed beyond next season, the Toronto club would be well served to cut ties with one of Brian Burke's first big free agent signings, stay-at-home blueliner Mike Komisarek. A disappointment from day one with the Leafs, injuries and ineffectiveness have limited him to only 154 out of 246 games over the past three seasons, in two of which he finished below replacement level. Even though he will only have one year left on his $4.5 million cap hit, the Leafs could get far more bang (both for their buck and in general) by going with one of the younger D-men on the farm.
Buying out the contract of Tuomo Ruutu would serve to illustrate the growing dichotomy between salaries given to stars and those given to supporting players. The Staal brothers and Jeff Skinner will still receive big paydays from the Hurricanes, but solid all-around players like Ruutu may have to lower their sights. With his current cap hit of $4.8 million running through 2015-16, Ruutu no longer fits the mold of the well-paid NHL all-around forward. His recent hip surgery which looks to sideline him until April has also lowered his leverage.
Having brought in a few players on relatively high-priced contracts last year in a successful effort to reach the cap ceiling, the Panthers are now given an opportunity to shed some of that weight. Ed Jovanoski's two more years at a hit of $4.1 should him an easy choice to cut, both for the newly lowered cap, and his lack of general remaining NHL utility.
Tampa Bay Lightning
While they would love to move past the onerous Vince Lecavalier contract, with its cap hit of $7.7 million extending into 2019-20, $45 milion may be too much to swallow for one of the NHL's have-not franchises. Far easier to justify would be buying out the contract of veteran defenseman Mattias Ohlund, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. Already 36 years old, the prospect of Ohlulnd being good for another three seasons with a cap hit of $3.6 million until his age-39 season lacks credibility. The fact that such a buyout would only cost $6.8 million in real money makes the move even more likely.
While Alex Ovechkin is neither living up to his early billing as a hockey savior, nor to his contract that will see him eat up a $9.5 million cap hit until after the 2010-21 season, owner Ted Leonsis will be loath to swallow a $79 million buyout. A better candidate would be offensive blueliner Mike Green, who can be bought out of a cap commitment of $6.1 million for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. While the potential may yet remain for him to be one of the most productive defensemen in the NHL, injuries have limited him to a total of 81 games over the past two seasons. The upcoming season will be crucial in determining Green's true present value.
While not carrying an excessive contract, goalie Ondrej Pavelec has not yet proven himself as an above-average starting goaltender in the NHL. In fact, he has ended two of the past three seasons in the red,GVT-wise, including -5.4 GVT last season. The five-year contract extension he inked last June remains a mystery. Barring a season unlike anything he has yet demonstrated as a professional over the next few months, the Jets would be best to tether themselves to another goalie, such as Eddie Pasquale, putting together his best seasons yet as a 22 year old in the AHL.
Ryan Wagman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Ryan by clicking here or click here to see Ryan's other articles.
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