Compliance buyouts are the magic erasers of the NHL
The compliance buyout is the giant eraser that NHL teams have at their disposal to smudge those mistakes that didn't really happen. It's the large broom, the handi wipe, the easy button, the key on the right corner of the keyboard that says, "Delete over-priced bad judgment." Oh, how the rest of life would be so much easier if we could all apply this to stock selections, paper cuts and traffic accidents. Call the compliance buyout hockey's giant "Oops" provision. It gives clubs two strikes, a pair of chances to hit the reset buttons on their most regrettable (and forgettable) contracts. Maybe a player doesn't ever reach his potential or live up that one magical season in his walk year with a previous team. Or maybe it just wasn't the smartest move in the world to sign an arthritic 50-year-old to a 20-year contract based on his All-Star season from the 80s.
First, here are some details from the agreement that owners and players reached when they drew the compliance buyout up in 2005: Players could be bought out at two-thirds of their remaining salary (it is now one or two-thirds, depending on tenure); the money would be paid to the player over the length of the contract; players couldn't re-sign with their old teams; the money from those bought-out players would not count against those teams' cap obligations.
That last provision is the money sentence, if you will. Especially for this upcoming campaign, with the salary cap actually deceasing by $6 million because of the revenue-depleting lockout, teams are especially compelled to hire and sign with restraint and due diligence. There are also penalties for trying to dance around the rules. When the Devils tried to sign Ilya Kovalchuk to a 17-year, $100 million contract, the league stepped in and penalized the Devils with a fine and lost draft choices for essentially making a mockery of the rules. Still, according to Forbes, there are 49 active NHL contracts for six years or more, totaling $2.822 billion.
Here are some moves that have been made already:
• The Lightning announced that they would buy out the contract of veteran center Vincent Lecavalier, a consistently strong performer over the course of his career in Tampa, posting 383 career goals and 874 points. Since he is just 33 now, the Hall of Fame is not out of the question for him. The team apparently doesn't want to rid itself of Lecavalier forever; it just wants to lose his contract that still has seven years and $45 million on it. Though rules don't allow him to re-sign with the Lightning yet, don't be shocked if ends up there again at some point for a lower price and less of a cap hit.
• The Flyers bought out a pair of players this week, including mercurial goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. The Flyers inked Bryzgalov based on two stellar seasons in Phoenix that, but the man with the interplanetary ramblings went into the tank this year, posting a .900 save percentage and 2.79 goals-against average. He had nine years and $51 million left on his generous deal and it will cost the Flyers $23 million to sit.
• Forward Danny Briere hasn't been an all-out flop like Bryzgalov. In fact, the diminutive forward has given Philadelphia some superb hockey, especially during the team's run to the Cup finals in 2010, when he posted 30 points in 23 playoff games. Briere's contract is back-loaded, so the final two years will only cost the team $5 million over two seasons. However, the cap hit was going to be $6.5 million. Big teams looking to add skill, especially teams looking for help on the power play, might jump at Briere.
• Re-signing Bryan Bickell for next year is Chicago's top priority, and if they do that, they'll need the remaining space to stay under the cap. With that math in mind, Rostislav Olesz simply didn't fit in with the Blackhawks. Olesz would have caused a $3.125 million cap hit unless the 'Hawks bought him out, a luxury Chicago doesn't have. The 'Hawks also used a buyout for defenseman Steve Montador, giving them $5.9 million more room of cap space.
And some that could go down in the near future:
• Brad Richards has a Conn Smythe Trophy on his resume, but the Rangers forward also has a lot of miles on his 33-year-old legs. The wear and tear showed in his game this season, when Richards looked especially slow. Richards has amassed 816 points in his career and could be a good fit somewhere, but as a first-line center, the Rangers now have a hard time justifying the remainder of his nine-year, $60 million deal.
• The Canucks have to do something besides change coaches. Roberto "My contract sucks" Luongo has been a buyout candidate for a while now, but GM Mike Gillis is still trying to trade him and is possibly asking for too much in return, given the remainder of a long-term deal that should never have been made in the first place. The Canucks should be able to get something for their up-and-down goalie, but it won't be what they anticipate, and the sooner the situation is resolved, the better for all parties. Could he end up in Philadelphia?
• Apart from Luongo, defenseman Keith Ballard has another contact the Canucks would like to shed. He was supposed to be a front-liner, but he has instead been getting leftover minutes that don't justify the two years remaining on his $5.6 million deal. At 30, Ballard can play a little yet, but giving a team a chance to sign him at a deal commensurate with his performance would make him a viable option.
• The Islanders still seem to be under the illusion that they can get something besides headaches in return for goalie Rick DiPietro. That will not happen. At some point it will be time to cut the losses of Charles Wang's fantasy deal that still has eight years to go. Considering all the young assets the Isles have on their roster, this would allow them to look at the future with a clearer perspective.