Malone enters not guilty plea as Bolts mull buyout

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There are not easy times for Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Malone.

Malone, arrested on DUI and cocaine possession charges in April, entered a written not guilty plea at his arraignment on Monday in Tampa. Malone wasn’t in attendance for the hearing — he’d filed a waiver of appearance two months ago — and, per the Tampa Bay Times, his next court date will be on July 7.

But there’s no guaranteeing he’ll be a member of the Bolts at that time.

The NHL’s compliance buyout window opened today and, as the Times reported over the weekend, Malone is a candidate to be amenistied. The Lightning have one remaining after buying out Vincent Lecavalier’s contract last season and, should they go the compliance route with Malone, would save $4.5 million in cap space by paying two-thirds of Malone’s $2.5 million salary over the next two years ($833,333 per, according to CapGeek.)

Here’s more, from Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman:

“Obviously, injuries he’s had — some serious injuries over the past three, four years since I’ve been with the organization — have limited the number of games that he could play.

“It does take its toll on a player. We’re taking everything into consideration for the offseason in improving our team, and we’re looking at all different (options), whether it be the draft, free agency, trades, buyouts. We’ll take it all into consideration.”

Malone, 34, suffered a fractured ankle last season that cost him 16 games and, upon returning, appeared to be skating slower than usual (and Malone wasn’t the fleetest of foot to begin with.) He was a healthy scratch on numerous occasions prior to his arrest, and didn’t play in any of the Lightning’s opening-round playoff defeat to Montreal.

What could complicate a buyout, though, is Malone’s entry into the NHL’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program. Collective bargaining agreement language is unclear if this prevents a team from buying a player out — NHL clubs can’t buy out injured players, remember — but it’s worth noting the CBA doesn’t specifically address this issue.

The Times reached out to the NHLPA on the matter, but the union declined to comment.