Vincent Lecavalier is on pace for 30 goals and 65 points. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
There remains talk among some NHL agents that the league’s next collective bargaining agreement will include a provision allowing the opportunity for each team to “amnesty” one unwieldy player contract from its salary cap books without any penalty other than the financial buyout itself.
If the season ended today, which 30 NHLers should be most worried? And what’s the likelihood each franchise actually uses the amnesty? Those questions and no more are answered below. (We did the first 15 teams last Thursday; click here to read them.)
Likeliest buyout: David Legwand. Nashville’s longest-serving player, Legwand is on course for 19 goals and 49 points, which would be his best point total since he had 63 in 2006-07. That’s not bad, but for $4.5 million a season (for two more seasons after this one), it’s not exactly fantastic, either.
Likelihood team buys him out (out of five, with one being highly unlikely and five being a virtual certainty): 1. With youngsters Craig Smith and Colin Wilson behind him on the depth chart, Legwand’s opportunities may get more limited eventually. But the Preds, despite having new ownership partners who’ll give GM David Poile more money with which to work, aren’t flush with cash to give away. The family environment the team has created also isn’t conducive to giving Legwand the heave-ho.
Likeliest buyout: Henrik Tallinder. The Devils are another team that doesn’t have too many bad contracts and Tallinder has been a better-than-average defenseman for them. But he’s got some health concerns (a blood clot in his leg), hasn’t played since the end of January, has the second-worst plus/minus on the team and has a cap hit of $3.375 million for two more seasons.
Likelihood team buys him out: 1. In case you hadn’t heard, the Devils owners are feuding and the team is on the verge of bankruptcy. Although GM Lou Lamoriello has a history of being appropriately cold-blooded and burying contracts in the American League, I doubt he’ll have the green light to spend money simply to show a player the exit door.
New York Islanders
Likeliest buyout: Rick DiPietro. Unless you’re related to the oft-injured goalie or you’ve been residing in a Buddhist monastery the past decade, you have no right to a further explanation.
Likelihood team buys him out: 2. Isles owner Charles Wang isn’t drowning in profit from the team, still owes Alexei Yashin three more years at $2.2 million from the team’s last major buyout and DiPietro is signed through 2021. So a buyout isn’t an inexpensive proposition to say the least. But there’s something very unseemly about the fact DiPietro is still scheduled to be the second-highest-paid Islander next year. Wang has had crazier ideas than a buyout for his most injured employee.
New York Rangers
Likeliest buyout: Chris Drury. Yes, Drury has already been bought out, but the cap hit from it remains for this year and next so the Rangers could amnesty it. True, he’ll be only taking up a fraction ($1.67 million) of cap room in 2012-13, but the Rangers usually spend to the upper limit every season and could use that money for a helpful complementary player.
Likelihood team buys him out: 4. Rangers GM Glen Sather has managed his long-term cap situation very effectively. If the Blueshirts follow their more recent pattern of an early playoff exit, this is the least the team can do.
Likeliest buyout: Craig Anderson. If you’d asked the whom-to-amnesty question last year, the easy answer would have been Sergei Gonchar. But the veteran D-man has rebounded with a solid season. And although Anderson has stabilized Ottawa’s net somewhat, his numbers (.910 save percentage, 2.93 goals-against average) are rather ordinary and he’s got a cap hit of more than $3.1 million for three more years. If the team really believes in prospect Robin Lehner, does it make sense to pay Anderson that as a backup/tutor? I say no.
Likelihood team buys him out: 2. The Sens don’t have a wealth of goalie prospects on the horizon and backup Alex Auld is an unrestricted free agent this summer. With more than $28 million in projected available cap space next year, owner Eugene Melnyk likely will instruct GM Bryan Murray to stick with what he’s got.
Likeliest buyout: Say it with me: Il-ya Bryz-ga-lov (clap-clap, clap-clap-clap)! I know time flies as you get older, but eight years from now (when the inconsistent goalie’s contract expires) feels like a century away.
Likelihood team buys him out: 3. It sounds preposterous, the idea Flyers owner Ed Snider would cut a check for two-thirds of the $40 million the team owes Bryzgalov over the next eight years. But never underestimate Snider’s competitiveness (or his considerable personal fortune). If Bryzgalov belly-flops in the playoffs, there’s every chance the team could reverse course on its riskiest investment.
Likeliest buyout: Martin Hanzal. If I asked you who deserved to have the longest-running contract on the Coyotes right now, your answer should be either defenseman Keith Yandle or head coach Dave Tippett. But the reality is, Hanzal (on pace for 12 goals in 67 games this year) has a deal that runs one season longer than Yandle (who is signed through 2015-16). Among Coyotes under contract for next year, Hanzal’s $3.1-million cap hit is the team’s second-highest. For someone yet to break the 40-point mark, that’s unacceptable.
Likelihood team buys him out: 1. You and I both know the dire financial straits the Yotes are in. GM Don Maloney has done yeoman’s work on a league-mandated budget and even if a new owner appears sometime soon, he’s not likely to give out multimillion-dollar paydays to anyone, especially a young guy like the 24-year-old Hanzal.
Likeliest buyout: Paul Martin. It isn’t as if Martin has been a full-on bust since he signed with the Pens in 2010. But he is their highest-paid defenseman (with a cap hit of $5 million for three more seasons) and has the second-worst plus-minus (minus-7) of any Pittsburgh blueliner. To top it off, he’s on course for another season of fewer than 30 points and hasn’t topped the 37 points he posted in 2005-06.
Likelihood team buys him out: 2. Although he’s clearly not spectacular, Martin is a minute-muncher (averaging 23:38 a game, second only to Kris Letang) and solid citizen. That said, Pittsburgh has just $9.7 million in available cap space next year and only 17 players under contract. If something’s got to give, he could be that something.
Likeliest buyout: B.J. Crombeen. The Blues are paying Crombeen a cool $1 million this year and next to be an enforcer who barely plays (he’s been in only 21 games this year and averages eight minutes a game). That cap space could go to someone who could contribute in many areas rather than just the punching areas.
Likelihood team buys him out: 1. St. Louis has more than $30 million in cap space for next season and still has yet to confirm a new owner for the franchise. That’s a recipe for standing pat and not using an amnesty option.
Likeliest buyout: Martin Havlat. To purge themselves of Dany Heatley, the Sharks had to take back Havlat, a guy who, when healthy, is capable of putting up 50-70 points every year. Problem is, he’s not the most durable guy – prior to 2008-09, he hadn’t played more than 70 games since 2001-02 – and his $5-million cap hit runs until 2014-15, one season longer than Joe Thornton’s and Patrick Marleau’s. This year, he’s on pace for four goals, 31 points and 54 games.
Likelihood team buys him out: 3. The Sharks don’t spend to the upper cap limit and aren’t known for extravagance. Still, the pressure on the team to do something of consequence in the playoffs is stronger than ever and GM Doug Wilson has just $8.7 million in cap space this summer.
Likeliest buyout: Vincent Lecavalier. Tampa’s one-time franchise untouchable would be extremely touchable were it not for the contract that lasts until the summer of 2020 and carries a $7.7-million cap hit each season. Ryan Malone has been more of an underachiever this year, but his deal ends three seasons from now. And Mattias Ohlund, who has had serious health issues, has a cap hit of $3.6 million for four more years. Term means a lot in these decisions and it is the reason why Lecavalier is the choice here.
Likelihood team buys him out: 2. Bolts owner Jeffrey Vinik has deep pockets, but it’s hard to see a scenario in which he forks over the eight-figure check it would take to say sayonara to the face of the franchise. Still, the Bolts have a porous defense that needs serious sprucing up. And with just $17.9 million to spend (and only 14 players signed) in 2012-13, they may need to consider what once was the unthinkable.
Likeliest buyout: Mike Komisarek. One of the first big-name signees under GM Brian Burke’s watch was the former Canadiens blueliner, who asserted himself with solid, physical play. But he’s been an out-and-out flop through the first two-and-a-half years of his five-year, $22.5-million deal, either being injured or a healthy scratch as often as he was a positive contributor on the ice. With new contracts due for the likes of Mikhail Grabovski, Cody Franson, Keith Aulie and Jonas Gustavsson, the Leafs can’t afford to pay him $4.5 million for two more seasons to be a sixth or seventh defenseman.
Likelihood team buys him out: 3. In his search for an elite first- or second-line forward, Toronto GM Brian Burke likely will have to deal some of his accumulated depth on defense – and since it’s unlikely Komisarek will be a part of one of those trades, the team may yet have space for the 30-year-old. But if there’s still some concern about cap room, don’t doubt for a second Burke would send Komisarek packing.
Likeliest buyout: Roberto Luongo. I don’t care how well Luongo is playing this season or how close he brought them to a Stanley Cup championship last year. He’s signed through 2022. HE’S SIGNED THROUGH 2022.
Likelihood team buys him out: 3. Vancouver has only $9.3 million in cap room for next year (and only 16 players signed) and everyone knows goalie Cory Schneider is a restricted free agent after this year. It’s going to be difficult to find a trade partner to assume Luongo’s remaining term, meaning the best the Canucks could hope for might be a “trade” of ownership’s money for the $5.3-million cap hit Luongo carries each season. If Vancouver falters badly in the playoffs, that may be an easier decision for management to make than some imagine.
Likeliest buyout: Jeff Schultz. The temptation is to pick Roman Hamrlik, who has been a bad fit and still has another year at $3.5 million on his deal. But Schultz, a favorite of former coach Bruce Boudreau, has become a regular healthy scratch under Dale Hunter. His contract runs two more seasons at a $2.75-million cap hit.
Likelihood team buys him out: 4. If Caps GM George McPhee has been trying to find Schultz a new home without success to this point, it’s unlikely he’ll do so before the trade deadline. And although Washington has more than $20 million in available cap room next year, you get the feeling owner Ted Leonsis will want significant change if the Caps continue underachieving.
Likeliest buyout: Ron Hainsey. Many sneered when Hainsey signed a five-year, $22.5-million deal with Atlanta in 2008. Those sneers have been completely justified, as Hainsey hasn’t reached the 40-point mark or scored more than six goals in any of his three seasons with the organization.
Likelihood team buys him out: 2. Hainsey has one year remaining at a $4.5-million cap hit, but he is the Jets’ top plus-minus man (plus-11) this year and averages more than 20 minutes a night. Winnipeg also has nearly $30 million in cap room next year, lessening the need for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to buy out the 30-year-old.
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