Ah, the buyout.
A team’s “out” to a bad contract, often one that said team signed and one they regretted at some point after the ink hit the signature spot on the contract sheet.
It’s an out with a catch. You can shed cap space, but only some. While mistakes can be forgiven, they’re not forgotten for some time. The length varies from case to case. It’s like getting a divorce but still living with your ex-spouse. You’re free, but not really. It’s not ideal.
The fact is, some relationships end up in that spot, and in hockey, when a usually-high-paid player becomes unwanted — a surplus to requirements — or he’s a square peg that can’t be fit into the round holes of a team’s salary cap, it’s one way to trim off some fat.
The buyout window opens today and will remain open until June 30.
First, a short primer courtesy of the fine folks at CapFriendly, who are doing God’s work:
Teams are permitted to buyout a players contract to obtain a reduced salary cap hit over a period of twice the remaining length of the contract. The buyout amount is a function of the players age at the time of the buyout, and are as follows:
- One-third of the remaining contract value, if the player is younger than 26 at the time of the buyout
- Two-thirds of the remaining contract value, if the player is 26 or older at the time of the buyout
The team still takes a cap hit, and the cap hit by year is calculated as follows:
- Multiply the remaining salary (excluding signing bonuses) by the buyout amount (as determined by age) to obtain the total buyout cost
- Spread the total buyout cost evenly over twice the remaining contract years
- Determine the savings by subtracting the annual buyout cost from Step 2. by the players salary (excluding signing bonuses)
- Determine the remaining cap hit by subtracting the savings from Step 3. by the players Annual Average Salary (AAV) (including signing bonuses)
With that out of the way, let’s look at five candidates (in no particular order) who may be bought out over the next two weeks.
Dion Phaneuf, Los Angeles Kings
The once powerful Kings have been reduced to kingdom more befitting of Jurassic Park. They have their share of stars from yesteryear on that team, and a couple making premium coin for regular, unleaded performance.
Phaneuf is a shade of the player he used to be. It’s understandable, given he’s 34 and on the back nine of his career. He’s got two years remaining on a deal that the Kings will be on the hook for $12 million.
Trading Phaneuf isn’t likely. He had six points in 67 games last year and the Kings, who were dreadful, healthy-scratched Phaneuf down the stretch.
Using CapFriendly’s handy-dandy buyout calculator, we see Phaneuf’s buyout would save the Kings just over $2.8 million, including a ~$4 million savings next year and a more modest $1.583 the following year.
Phaneuf’s cap hit over four years would be a total of $8.375 million, with the Ottawa Senators retaining 25 percent or $2.791 million per the transaction the two teams made in 2018.
Scott Darling, Carolina Hurricanes
A lesson in a team throwing way to much money at a backup goaltender with decent numbers.
Darling has fallen out of favor in Carolina after signing a four-year, $16.6 million deal during the 2017 offseason.
Darling was placed on waivers and was unsurprisingly not claimed and seems a shoe-in for an immediate buyout. The Hurricanes will save $2.366 million, taking a total cap hit of just under $6 million over the next four years.
Those savings can go to toward trying to re-up both Mrazek and McEhlinney, a duo that helped the Hurricanes to the Eastern Conference Final.
Dmitry Kulikov, Winnipeg Jets
The Jets bet on Kulikov’s lingering back injuries being behind the Russian defenseman when they signed him two years ago in the offseason. The bet was wrong.
Kulikov’s back has a durability rating that would be frowned upon by Consumer Reports.
But his back isn’t the biggest issue Winnipeg has. General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has a money issue. You see, he needs to spend a lot this offseason on guys named Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, and he has more than one contract he’d like to dispose of. But while a guy like Mathieu Perreault would find suitors in the trade market, Kulikov won’t.
So while Kulikov has one year left on a deal that hits the cap for $4.333 million, a buyout would save Cheveldayoff close to $3 million in desperately needed cap space for the coming season.
Drafting well in the first round has caught up with the Jets.
Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks
Like Phaneuf not far down the I-5, Perry has seen his production nose-dive at 34 years old. There’s a lot of mileage on Perry’s skates, and regular oil changes aren’t cutting it anymore.
Perry has two years left on a deal that hits their bottom line for $8.625 million over the next two seasons.
The Ducks would have $6 million this year alone by buying out Perry, who is essentially trade proof with a full no-movement clause.
Perry’s cap hit would jump up to 6.625 mill the following year with a signing bonus of $3 million still owed, but then would only hurt for $2 million over the two added buyout years. In the end, the Ducks would save $4 million and open up a roster spot for a younger player.
Alex Steen, St. Louis Blues
I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, this guy just hoisted the Stanley Cup and played a hell of a role on the fourth line to help the Blues to their first title in franchise history.”
Indeed, Steen did all of those things. But interim coach Craig Berube put Steen on the fourth line, a role he relished in but one that can be replaced for much, much cheaper.
Steen, 35, has seen his production plummet over the past several seasons — far away from the realm of money he’s making with a $5.75 million cap hit. That’s too much for a fourth line player.
Buying out Steen would come with a cap savings of $3 million, including a $6 million savings over the next two seasons. The Blues have $18 million and change to play with and a host of RFAs that need to get paid.
The above five came in no particular order. This list could extend for a while.
Some other notable names that could see their contracts bought out are:
- Ryan Callahan, Tampa Bay Lightning
- Karl Alzner, Montreal Canadians
- David Backes, Boston Bruins
- Milan Lucic, Edmonton Oilers
- Loui Eriksson, Vancouver Canucks
- Brendan Smith, New York Rangers