In the old NHL, teams were free to spend their money willy nilly. Aside from a cap on rookie salaries that was introduced in 1995, there were no restrictions on how much money teams could throw at players in an effort to win. Being allowed to distribute their money any way they saw fit made it easy for large market teams to build a team, even if it didn't always prove successful. However, when the collective bargaining agreement expired in September 2004, it was time for a systematic change and the owners and players ultimately sat out an entire season before implementing a hard salary cap.
With the implementation of the cap, came the need for teams to rid themselves of their mistakes. One of the easiest ways for teams to get rid of a player's cap hit was to bury their contract in the minors. A player could be waived, demoted to the AHL and have their salary come off the team's cap. If a player was to be brought back up to the NHL they would be placed on re-entry waivers and made available to any claiming team at half their salary, with their original team retaining the other half. This led to a number of high profile, high-salaried players, who might otherwise be useful to a team, being buried in the AHL.
When a new collective bargaining agreement was reached to end the 2012-13 lockout, the rules for burying salaries was largely modified. In an effort to keep NHL caliber players in the NHL and likely to dissuade teams from signing bad contracts in the first place, teams could no longer receive full relief of a player's cap hit for burying their contract. Instead, the amount a team saves is only equal to the league's minimum salary plus $375,000. So for example, a player with a $4 million cap hit in 2015-16 who is buried in the minors, only saves his team $950,000 and keeps $3.05 million on the books.
Still, teams continue to bury many of their mistakes. So we've compiled a list of the top 15 players who've been buried in the minors.
15 Rostislav Olesz
It's anyone's guess what exactly the Florida Panthers were thinking in the summer of 2008 when they signed Rostislav Olesz, fresh off a career high 14 goals, to a six-year, $18.75 million extension. Olesz played three more injury plagued seasons for the Panthers and never scored more than 14 goals, before he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for Brian Campbell.
After being held pointless in six games for the Blackhawks, Olesz was waived and sent to Rockford of the AHL. He posted 41 points in 50 games for the IceHogs in 2011-12 and followed that up with 19 points in 14 games in 2012-13 before being bought out at season's end. He played briefly for the New Jersey Devils and their AHL affiliate in 2013-14 before the two sides parted ways and Olesz went to Switzerland to resume his career.
14 Ben Scrivens
Ben Scrivens looked like a very capable NHL goaltender during parts of two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the backup to James Reimer. After he was shipped to the Los Angeles Kings in the Jonathan Bernier deal, Scrivens put up a superb 1.97 GAA and .931 SV% in 19 games behind Jonathan Quick. His play prompted a trade to the Oilers where Scrivens played well enough to earn a two year, $4.6 million extension.
His game dropped off in 2014-15 behind a bad Oilers team and the team acquired both Cam Talbot and Anders Nilsson in the following offseason. At the end of training camp in 2015, the Oilers opted to send Scrivens to the minors, in favor of the two newcomers, where he's struggled to a 5.15 GAA and .827 SV% in five games for the Bakersfield Condors.
13 Mike Commodore
Mike Commodore played a key role in helping the Calgary Flames to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final and helping the Carolina Hurricanes win the Cup in 2006. In the summer of 2008, he signed a five-year contract, $18.75 million contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets and helped them to their first playoff appearance in franchise history in 2009.
Commodore's drop in play and a dispute with the coaching staff led to him being waived midway through the 2010-11 season. He played 11 games with the Springfield Falcons before being bought out. Commodore split the 2011-12 season between Detroit and Tampa Bay, played the following season on two separate AHL teams, and then played a season in the KHL before hanging up his skates.
12 Andrew MacDonald
Andrew MacDonald has never been a great NHL defenseman, although he garnered praise from some during his time with the New York Islanders for his supposedly strong defensive play. MacDonald was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers at the 2014 trade deadline and subsequently signed a six year, $30 million extension.
He played one full season with the Flyers and was then waived and buried in minors prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. MacDonald posted 18 points in 23 games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms before being recalled to the Flyers after Luke Schenn and Mark Streit went down with injuries.
11 Mike Komisarek
During his six seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, Mike Komisarek became widely viewed as one of the league's premier shutdown defenseman. He was voted into the 2009 All-Star game and was initially named to the 2010 USA Olympic team. In the summer of 2009, Komisarek left the Canadiens to join the rival Toronto Maple Leafs on a five year, $22.5 million contract, but his play quickly dropped off on a bad Maple Leafs team and an injury forced him to miss the 2010 Olympics.
Komisarek struggled through four seasons in Toronto and towards the end of his tenure often found himself sitting in the press box. He played just four games in the lockout shortened 2012-13 season before he was waived and sent to the AHL. Komisarek played seven games and six playoff games for the Toronto Marlies and was then bought out and joined the Carolina Hurricanes for one final NHL season before retiring.
10 Bryan Bickell
Bryan Bickell had never topped more than 17 goals and 37 points in an NHL season before he scored 17 points in 23 playoff games to help the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2013. The Blackhawks then gave him a four year, $16 million contract. Bickell failed to live up to the contract, posting just 28 points in 2014-15 and being held goalless in the team’s 2015 Stanley Cup run. He was waived at the beginning of the 2015-16 season and after going pointless in seven games, Bickell and his contract were sent to the AHL. He posted 14 points in 12 games for the Rockford IceHogs and was recently recalled by the Blackhawks.
9 Rick DiPietro
The New Yorks Islanders handed Rick DiPietro a 15-year, $67.5 million contract in September of 2006 after just two full seasons as the team's starting goaltender with moderate success. He only played two more full NHL seasons before a series of injuries derailed his career and from 2008-09 to 2012-13 DiPietro was limited to just 50 NHL games.
After playing just three games in the 2012-13 lockout shortened season, DiPietro was waived and sent to the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers. There he finished the season with a 2.93 GAA and .893 SV% in 18 games before the Islanders bought out the final eight years of his deal. DiPietro signed a tryout with the Charlotte Checkers for the 2013-14 season, but struggled through five games and was released.
8 Sean Avery
Former NHL agitator Sean Avery was at the height of his success during the 2008 playoffs when he posted eight points in seven playoff games and his disturbing Martin Brodeur played a key role in the New York Rangers knocking off the New Jersey Devils. Avery then signed with the Dallas Stars on a four-year, $15.5 million contract. However, after just 23 games and being suspended for comments he made about ex-girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert, the Stars grew tired of Avery's antics and waived him.
Avery was then loaned to the Rangers' AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, where he produced three points in eight games before he was placed on re-entry waivers and claimed by the Rangers. Avery finished the 2008-09 season strong with 12 points in 18 games for the Rangers and he played two more full seasons in the Big Apple but often butted heads with coach John Tortorella. Avery was once again waived at the beginning of the 2011-12 season and played 15 games for the Rangers and seven with the AHL's Connecticut Whale before retiring.
7 Mark Fayne
Mark Fayne played four seasons for the New Jersey Devils, helping them to reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 and drawing praise for his strong puck possession numbers. In the summer of 2014, Fayne signed a four year, $14.5 million deal to join the Edmonton Oilers, but his advanced stats quickly dropped off on a bad Oilers team. On December 9, 2015 Fayne was placed on waivers and after clearing he was sent to the minors where he'll presumably stay until the Oilers can find a taker for his contract or decide they need him again.
6 Wade Redden
Wade Redden's situation was the impetus for the change to the buried contracts rule in the new collective bargaining agreement. Redden became one of the team's top defensemen during his 11 seasons in Ottawa and helped the Senators to reach the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, but his play was clearly on the decline when he signed a six year, $39 million contract with the New York Rangers in the summer of 2008.
Redden's play continued to drop off in the Big Apple and he was waived prior to the 2010-11 season. He played parts of two seasons in the AHL, posting 62 points in 119 games, before being bought out after the 2012-13 lockout. Redden split the 2012-13 season between the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins and then retired.
5 Devan Dubnyk
Devan Dubnyk played well enough during the 2011-12 season to take over the starting goaltending job with the Edmonton Oilers from Nikolai Khabibulin and earn himself a two-year, $7 million contract extension. He continued to play well in the first year of the deal, but struggled mightily through the second and was traded to the Nashville Predators. He played just two games with the Predators while starter Pekka Rinne was out with an injury before being waived and sent to the minors. Dubnyk was once again traded, this time to the Montreal Canadiens, but stayed in the AHL and finished the season playing eight games with the Hamilton Bulldogs where he posted a 3.33 GAA and .893 SV%.
Dubnyk then signed a one year deal with the Arizona Coyotes and bounced back with a strong 19 games before being dealt to the Minnesota Wild where he went 27-9-2 with a 1.78 GAA, .936 SV% and five shutouts while winning the Bill Masterton Trophy, finishing third in voting for the Vezina, and earning himself a six-year, $26 million extension from the Wild.
4 Michael Nylander
Michael Nylander produced the best two seasons of his career alongside Jaromir Jagr with the New York Rangers where he posted 79 and 83 point seasons. In the summer of 2007, after the Rangers had signed Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, it was announced that Nylander had signed as a free agent with the Edmonton Oilers, but he ultimately snubbed the Oilers in favor of a four-year, $19.5 million contract with the Washington Capitals.
Nylander posted 37 points in 40 games in an injury shortened 2007-08 season, but tallied just 33 points in 72 games the following season. Seeking cap relief, the Capitals waived and demoted Nylander to the minors. Over the next two seasons, he posted 24 points in 31 games for the Grand Rapids Griffins and Rochester Americans and also played 14 games in Sweden. Once his contract expired he returned to Europe and finished his career in Sweden where he got the opportunity to play with both of his sons, William and Alex, before retiring.
3 Dany Heatley
Dany Heatley potted 50 goals in back-to-back seasons with the Ottawa Senators as one of the game's top snipers, but his play slowly dropped off and by the time he finished the 2013-14 season with the Minnesota Wild he had scored just 12 goals and 28 points in 76 games.
He signed with the Anaheim Ducks on a one year, $1 million deal prior to the 2014-15 with the hope of bouncing back alongside Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, but that didn't happen and after being held scoreless in six games, Heatley was waived and sent to the AHL's Norfolk Admirals. There he scored just seven points in 25 games and was eventually traded to the Florida Panthers. Heatley finished the season with their AHL affiliate, the San Antonio Rampage and scored 13 points in 18 games and then signed in Germany.
2 Sheldon Souray
Sheldon Souray scored 26 goals and 64 points while playing the point on the power play for the Montreal Canadiens in 2006-07. The following summer he joined his hometown Edmonton Oilers on a five-year, $27 million contract. Souray was limited by injuries to 26 games during the first year of the deal, but bounced back with 23 goals and 53 points in 2008-09, before more injuries resulted in him playing just 37 games the following season.
Frustrated with how the team was treating his injuries, Souray demanded a traded out of Edmonton, but the Oilers were unable to find any takers for his contract and waived him and loaned him to the AHL's Hershey Bears. Souray posted 19 points in 40 games for the Bears in 2010-11 and then had the remainder of his contract bought out. Souray then returned to the NHL and played two more seasons, one with the Dallas Stars and one with the Anaheim Ducks, before injuries put an end to his career.
1 Alexander Mogilny
When he was at the top of his game, there were few goal scorers better than Russian sniper Alexander Mogilny - his 76 goals with the Buffalo Sabres in 1992-93 make him one of only six players to score more than 75 goals in a single season. After his time with the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks, Mogilny played parts of two seasons with the New Jersey Devils and played a role in their 2000 Stanley Cup victory.
He left to join the Toronto Maple Leafs in the summer of 2001 for three seasons, but returned to the Devils after the 2004-05 lockout on a two year, $7 million contract. Mogilny posted 25 points in 34 games in 2005-06, but was hampered by injuries and the Devils, needing cap space, waived and sent him to the minors.
Mogilny's 473 NHL goals were the most by any player making their AHL debut. He played 19 games for the Albany River Rats, posting 14 points to end his illustrious career.