Every NHL team has a few contracts on the books that they’d like to somehow erase—that’s just the nature of the league. Players regress at different rates, and some of them hit the wall a little earlier than planned, and if there are a few years left on their contracts when that inevitably happens, they can end up bringing negative value to the club.
The buyout is an interesting option for NHL GMs, as what it actually does is it sacrifices the future in order to serve the present. Sure, when you buy out a player you can save on the cap for the duration of the contract, but once the contract is up you’re stuck paying a guy for another handful of seasons (depending on how many years were left on the deal at the time of the buyout).
For today’s list I took a look at some contracts across the NHL that GMs would surely like to get rid of, but it wasn’t all that simple; the structure of the contarct comes into play. Lucky for me, Cap Friendly has a fantastic tool on its site—the buyout calculator—so I can see just what it would cost a team to buyout some of their underperformers.
The Oilers would probably love to rid themselves of the Milan Lucic deal, for instance. However, the way the deal is structured, they’d hardly be saving money year over year, making it pretty much worthless in the long haul. Hence, Lucic doesn’t appear on this list. Luckily, GMs across the league aren’t great at their jobs, so I found plenty to work with:
16 Paul Martin
Defenseman Paul Martin signed a four-year deal with the Sharks in the summer of 2015. He was 34 at the time, so GM Doug Wilson probably expected a bit of a regression, but we’ve just completed the third year of the deal and considering how Martin spent much of the season in the AHL, surely Wilson would take this back if he could.
So, what are his options? With one year left, there’s a chance he could maybe trade Martin to a team hoping to reach the cap floor, but he’s still making $4.25M in real dollars (his cap hit is $4.85M), so that’s not too attractive for a penny-pinching owner. A buyout of the 37-year-old defenseman seems like the most logical course of action for the Sharks.
If the Sharks were to buyout Martin this summer, they would save nearly $3M on their cap for next year, and it would only cost them just shy of $1.5M for the following season.
The Sharks are reportedly going to be big game hunting this offseason, as they are a real possibility in the John Tavares sweepstakes. They might need every inch of cap space they can get, so a Martin buyout is logical. But where would Martin go, you ask?
15 Where He Should Go: Out to Pasture
Martin is the only player on this list today that I have retiring rather than signing on with a different team after his hypothetical buyout. Would there be a team out there willing to take a chance on Martin rebounding after his worst professional season at the age of 37? Probably, but that’s because—as I mentioned in the lead—general managers are pretty terrible at their jobs.
Martin is well-respected around the league, or, at the very least, he isn’t disrespected. He strikes me as the kind of guy who could transition into a scouting role for a team, or maybe a defensive coach. The guy has played nearly 900 NHL games in his day, so I could see the Sharks sending him to their farm club to help teach the young defensemen there.
Whatever Martin’s next move ends up being, it should follow the official announcement of his retirement. He’s had a good run, and he should be happy to sit on the sidelines and collect his buyout money until deciding on his next step. Do I think it’s a good idea to hire former players as coaches? No, but that’s what happens in the NHL and I simply expect that these days.
14 David Backes
While Martin should be bought out because he’s old and doesn’t have much left to offer, Backes is a buyout candidate because he’s simply too pricey for what he brings to the table. The Bruins signed Backes to a five-year deal back in the summer of 2016, and while he’s brought value to the club, they were undoubtedly hoping for more from their $30M ($6M AAV) investment.
Overpaying in free agency is just a fact of life in the NHL, and that’s what happened with Backes and the Bruins in 2016.
The way the deal is structured, an argument for a buyout can be made. If GM Don Sweeney and the Bruins were to pull the trigger on it this summer, they would save over $2M on the cap in each of the remaining three seasons of his deal, and it would only cost them $777,000 for the following three years—a sunk cost for sure, but miniscule.
In reality it may be wiser for the Bruins to wait another year on this one, but it’s a decent plan. With the cap going up and the Bruins entering what looks to be another era of perennial contending, this contract will look like a bigger anchor every year. So where should Backes go if he’s bought out?
13 Where He Should Go: Tampa Bay Lightning
Professional athletes are passionate people, and it would sting the pride of anyone who is bought out. If the Bruins act on a Backes buyout, he’ll have plenty of suitors. As I mentioned, he still brings solid value to most teams, only the price must be more palatable than the current $6M cap hit he carries. Backes is already 34 years old and still without a Cup, and since he’ll be collecting a fat paycheck from the Bruins for doing absolutely nothing after this hypothetical buyout, he’ll have one thing on his mind: winning.
Backes was captain of a lot of good St. Louis teams who always seemed to underperform in the postseason, but I’m not of the belief that’s it’s ever one player’s fault, even if they’re the captain. Contenders would love to have a guy like Backes, who can play middle-six on a good team and is versatile, having played both center and wing for the Bruins.
The Lightning wouldn’t have a lot of money to spend on Backes, but as I mentioned that’s fine. Heck, they could probably pitch him a two-year deal worth and AAV of $1.5M, and the allure of winning (coupled with the fact that he’ll be collecting money from the Bruins) would be enough for Backes to sign.
12 Troy Brouwer
When the Calgary Flames signed UFA Troy Brouwer in the summer of 2016, it was immediately after Brouwer and the Blues went all the way to the Western Conference Final. Brouwer had an outstanding postseason, scoring eight goals and 13 points for the Blues playing largely a third-line role. He did what anyone would do and parlayed that performance into a fat new contract—unfortunately for Calgary, it was GM Brad Treliving who bit first, and now they’re on the hook for two more seasons at $4.5M AAV.
Fortunately for Calgary, this deal is extremely buyout-able thanks to the way it’s structured.
If they pull the trigger this summer, they would only be on the hook for $1.5M for each of the next four years, rather than the $4.5M they’re set to pay for the next two.
The Flames faltered hard to finish 2017-18, and one of the biggest reasons is because they had absolutely zero depth scoring. Depth scoring was sort of what Brouwer was brought in to do, so that’s an issue.
The Flames need to fill out their bottom-six with players who can pitch in more regularly, and that means replacing Brouwer (and a few others). His contract is more or less untradeable, so a Brouwer buyout seems likely. But where will he go?
11 Where He Should Go: St. Louis Blues
Troy Brouwer is fairly unpopular in Calgary these days, but fans in St. Louis still probably have a soft spot for the guy, and they will be a team on the lookout for some cheap help this offseason. They’ve opened up some cap space thanks to the departure of Paul Stastny, but they’ll still need to get creative as they were right up against the cap this season, and Stastny is the only big deal that’s off the books since the start of 2017-18.
When a player is bought out, it’s always good to remember that the player still has potential value. The Edmonton Oilers bought out what was left of Benoit Pouliot’s contract last summer (probably a stupid move, by the way), and he landed in Buffalo, signing a one-year pact worth $1.15M. He ended up putting in 13 goals for the Sabres, which is decent return on that investment.
Brouwer has taken a step back since the last time he played with the Blues, but he can still play a fourth line role on a good team. The problem isn’t that the Flames don’t have a use for Brouwer; it’s that they can’t afford to pay him $4.5M to continue to bring what he brings.
10 Dion Phaneuf
The continuing story of Dion Phaneuf is a complicated one, because he’s been so hampered by his contract that fans probably think he’s useless with the way he’s been passed around. Phaneuf, contrary to widespread belief, does in fact have value still. Unfortunately, the value he brings doesn’t equate to the $5.25M he will cost the Kings against the cap for the next three years, and for that reason a buyout might be the best course of action for L.A.
The funny thing is that the Ottawa Senators are paying some of Phaneuf’s $7M salary, and even so I don’t think Phaneuf is worth it for the Kings. His recent performance levels suggest he’s a bottom-pairing defenseman who can fill in on the second unit, and would he even be on your second unit in L.A. over a guy like Jake Muzzin? Doubtful.
If they pulled the trigger on a buyout this summer, the Kings would save nearly $4M in cap space in each of the next two seasons.
The third year is where it would look bad, as they’d only be saving about $1.5M, but the window to win is closing in L.A. (if it hasn’t already), so I view this as a worthwhile risk. Where would Phaneuf go if this happens?
9 Where He Should Go: Nashville Predators
Phaneuf is on the wrong side of 30, and since he’ll be collecting a fat paycheck for doing nothing after this hypothetical buyout, he can probably go wherever he wants. Winning will be paramount to Phaneuf, as he’s yet to collect a Stanley Cup since breaking into the league over a decade ago. I have him playing a bottom-pairing role on the contending Nashville Predators.
When fans sour on a player, it’s always because they are costing too much against the salary cap, and that won’t be a problem for Phaneuf in Nashville. He’ll sign a very team friendly deal for the right to compete for a Cup, and I don’t see him demanding much more than $1M per season from the Preds should this transpire.
It’s widely accepted that the Predators have the best top-four in the NHL with P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis, but their bottom-pairing in their two-round postseason run this year featured Matt Irwin and one of Alexei Emelin or Yannick Weber. Surely they would like a slight upgrade on those pieces, and Phaneuf would qualify as that. He’d even cost less to the club after his buyout, so it’s a win for all involved parties.
8 Matt Beleskey
Many casual fans probably don’t even know who the heck Matt Beleskey is, because he’s disappeared since signing a five-year deal with the Boston Bruins as a UFA back in 2015. The deal was a five-year pact that came with a $3.8M cap hit, and it quickly became clear that those numbers were both a little high for Beleskey. He spent much of his time with Boston in the minors, and the Bruins actually dealt Beleskey to the Rangers as part of the deadline-beating Rick Nash trade, but they ate half of his remaining salary.
While the Rangers are now only on the hook for $1.9M AAV over the next two seasons, there’s really no reason to keep him around if he’s not going to take a huge step forward over the summer. The Rangers are in rebuild mode (their words, not mine), so what’s the point of having a veteran who’s not good enough for the NHL to be around the club?
If the Rangers buyout Beleskey this season they’ll save about $3M off the cap over the next two years, but that’s not the main reason that a buyout is advisable. New York needs to have a long game in mind, and having Beleskey around for the next two years doesn’t fit that plan. Where will he go should this transpire?
7 Arizona Coyotes
The Arizona Coyotes are one of the few budget teams in the league, meaning that they have more trouble getting to the cap floor than they do managing their spending to remain within the cap ceiling. I’m not suggesting that GM John Chayka go and sign a player who hasn’t even been an NHL regular to a contract, but I am suggesting he bring Beleskey in on a PTO (professional tryout).
Veterans (if you can actually call Beleskey that) who fall out of the league have an extra ounce of motivation when it comes to proving that they actually belong there.
Beleskey will have the motivation to prove himself, and a PTO is probably the best deal he’ll get given the circumstances—the guy played more AHL games (35) than NHL games (15) this year, so teams won’t be lining up to grab Beleskey, regardless of cost.
This is a guy who managed 22 goals for the Ducks back in 2014-15, so he’s not too far removed from a productive NHL season. Even in his first season with the Bruins in 2015-16 he notched 37 points—not terrible by any stretch, and that was actually a career high. He’s fallen off a cliff since, however.
6 Jason Spezza
Jason Spezza is the second-highest paid forward on the Dallas Stars for 2018-19, and that’s a pretty serious issue given how poorly 2017-18 went for the aging star. Prior to last season, Spezza could be counted on to chip in about 60 points or so, but he dropped to 50 in 2016-17, and 2017-18 saw him fall all the way to just 26 points. What’s more is that he wasn’t even injured, playing in 78 games, so the drastic drop-off in production is mighty concerning.
Now 34 years old, it’s fair to ask if Spezza’s most recent season was just an off-year, or an accurate indication of what to expect from the veteran. I’d lean toward the latter, and that means it’s probably not worth having the guy take up a whopping $7.5M of cap space for the upcoming season, as that’s nearly 10% of the entire projected cap.
If the Stars do opt for the buyout, their savings will be substantial; $5M for the upcoming season. The problem here is they need to decide if it’s actually worth it to add a year of Spezza to the payroll, as if they suck it up and keep him for one more season, he’s off the books all together; if they buy him out, he’ll cost $2.5M in each of the next two seasons. So, where will he go if this happens?
5 Where He Should Go: Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers have absolutely no cap space to work with, and they still need help at every position on the roster, center notwithstanding. With that in mind, they should be one of the clubs with an eye on the league’s various buyouts over the summer, as reclamation projects are going to be one of the few avenues the Oilers can afford to help improve their club.
While it’s sad that we’re saying this about a team with Connor McDavid on its roster, it’s a reality. They’re overpaying a handful of players (no, McDavid isn’t one of them), and GM Peter Chiarelli doesn’t seem too keen on stopping the madness, as he recently signed an average KHL goalie, Mikko Koskinen, to back-up Cam Talbot, and he’s paying him $2.5M to do so. Yes, they already have Al Montoya under contract for next season as well, making it three one-way contracts in the crease for 2018-19.
Back to my point here; the Oilers should look at signing Jason Spezza to a one-year deal worth around $2M if he does get bought out by the Stars, and playing him on the wing. It would be a low risk move, and Spezza is a likely candidate to bounce back—at least to around a 45-50 point pace—as he converted on just 5.8% of his shots (his career average is 13%).
4 Brandon Dubinsky
The Blue Jackets have a lot of depth up front, so it’s especially unfortunate that all but Artemi Panarin are making less than Brandon Dubinsky. The 32-year-old has three years remaining on a deal that carries with it a $5.85M cap hit, and that’s simply too much for what Dubinsky brings to the table these days. The 2017-18 season was especially rough for Dubinsky, as he managed a career-low six goals and 16 points.
That was a startling drop off, as he was good for at least 40 over a full season’s worth of work since arriving in Columbus from New York in 2012.
With three years left on the deal, a buyout should be a decision that’s not taken lightly by the Jackets management team, as it will mean he’s on the books for six more, years but the dollars saved on the cap over the next three years could make it worth it.
Considering that the cap is constantly climbing, the nearly $2M per year it will cost Columbus from 2021-22 to 2023-24 will likely be manageable. Over the next three seasons, the buyout will save the Jackets $3.9M per season against the cap, and with a few key players ending their ELCs in that span, it will be useful. Where should Dubinsky go once the Jackets pay him to leave?
3 Where He Should Go: Washington Capitals
Brandon Dubinsky is a player who’s on the wrong side of 30 and has yet to win a Stanley Cup. As such, after this hypothetical buyout by CBJ, Dubinsky will have one thing in mind, and that’s a championship. So why would he sign in Washington, you ask? Well, despite what history tells us, the Caps are indeed a good team, and does anyone truly believe that Alex Ovechkin will NEVER win a Cup?
Dubinsky is the same age as Ovy, meaning they’re both on the back nine of the careers. The Caps are already a veteran team, and if they don’t win the Cup this season, the window closes just a bit more. Furthermore, the cap is a bit of an issue for Washington, and they are constantly in need of inexpensive help—which is something Dubinsky could certainly supply.
If the Caps were to sign Dubinsky, I really don’t see them needing to pay more than $1M. Call me naïve with that projection, but how much more do you think he could get elsewhere? When teams pay players just to leave, their stock drops drastically. Couple that with the fact that he scored just six goals last season, and there’s reason to believe $1M might be a high guess.
2 Ryan Callahan
Whenever I look at how Steve Yzerman has managed the Tampa Bay Lightning during his tenure, I’m always impressed—and jealous—that my favorite team’s manager isn’t nearly as smart. That said, they need to find some way to clear up space to extend Nikita Kucherov after next season, and with the way he’s playing that may cost them about $9M—and that’s a conservative estimate, considering how he took a bridge deal as a favor to the club a few years ago.
So, where do you look to clear up space? I look no further than Ryan Callahan’s $5.8M cap hit. That’s way too much for a player like Callahan, who’s really just a third liner who kills penalties. If the Bolts bought out Callahan this summer, they would save over $3M in cap space for each of the next two years, which is all that remains on his deal.
Steve Yzerman is such a wizard that I wouldn’t be surprised if he found a sucker GM (again, they’re out there) to actually take on Callahan via trade. He’d likely be retaining salary in any Callahan deal, but like I said, the Yzerman wizardry knows no bounds. What team would be willing to take on Callahan if this went down?
1 Where He Should Go: Calgary Flames
There’s a lot of chatter around Calgary these days, much of it involving the “culture” issues. I personally feel like changes in the name of culture are almost always a bad idea, but the 200 hockey men disagree and some of those men are running NHL clubs these days. Despite his gradual drop off in play, Callahan is still respected among these hockey men, and he’s one of the guys on this list who could probably earn around $3M per season on his next deal if Tampa buys him out.
That’s not to say signing Callahan is a bad idea for any team looking for help in the bottom six, as Callahan is very much capable of that still.
The Flames (who appear earlier on this list with the hypothetical Brouwer buyout) could be the perfect fit for Callahan, as they’re a team who desperately needs help in that area.
It’s not as if the Flames will have oodles of cap space, but they can definitely afford Callahan at around $3M—especially if they trim Brouwer from the scenario. Can Callahan strengthen the bottom-six in Calgary, AND have a hand in shifting the “culture”? It’s a tall order, but worth the risk for Calgary.