Pittsburgh is one of 19 NHL teams that didn’t use a compliance buyout last summer and, according to new GM Jim Rutherford, the Pens aren’t likely to use one this summer either.
“I do not expect to use them,” Rutherford said on Sunday, per the Post-Gazette.
Rutherford, who took the GM gig 10 days ago, inherited a cap situation that, at first glance, might be aided by a buyout. The Pens have just 14 players under contract next season at $55 million, meaning they have roughly $15 million — depending on next year’s ceiling — to fill out the remaining roster spots. While Rutherford could save some space by bringing up players on their entry-level deals — Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington are all candidates on defense — the Pens have, at the time of writing, just seven forwards under contract for next season.
Thing is, the buyout isn’t much of an option for Pittsburgh.
Only players signed on or before Sept. 15, 2012 qualify to be bought out, meaning seven guys — Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Craig Adams, Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi and Jeff Zatkoff — aren’t eligible. (Note: this isn’t saying a guy like Malkin was a buyout candidate; it’s just worth noting he and the six others are ineligible.)
James Neal is buyout eligible, but Pittsburgh isn’t going to do that. Paul Martin’s eligible as well, but, given the Pens could be losing the services of veteran defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen, Martin isn’t going anywhere.
Which brings us to Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury has one year left on his seven-year, $35.5 million deal — a $5 million cap hit — and holds a limited no-movement clause. If the Pens were to buy him out, they’d pay him $1.9 million this year and the next while clearing all $5 million off their cap (per CapGeek).
The problem, of course, is the move would leave Pittsburgh extremely thin in net (Zatkoff is the only ‘tender under contract for next season) and while there are capable replacements available in free agency, they’d, y’know, still need to be paid.
It’s hard to speculate how much actual cap space the Pens would save by buying out Fleury and signing, say, Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller… and it’s also hard to speculate how much of an upgrade it would give them in goal.