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Sunday, May 22, 2016

With the Buyout Window Approaching, Five Veteran Flames That Could be Bought Out

Money for Nothing.

The hit song was the most commercially successful single for British rockers Dire Straits. Co-written by lead vocalist Mark Knopfler along with Sting, it peaked at No. 1 in the U.S. for three weeks back in 1985.

It won a Grammy, an MTV Video Music Award and now -- over 30 years later -- it is the theme song for some personnel decisions faced this off-season by Brad Treliving.

Defined as "a very bad situation that is difficult to fix", the dire straits the Flames general manager finds himself in is there are several players on Calgary's roster that make far too much money for what they contribute nightly.

With the NHL's contract buyout window coming up right after the Stanley Cup final concludes, does Treliving use this annual opportunity to move on from certain players and pay them to not play in 2016-17?

Or, does he suck it up for one more year knowing that in most cases, these troubling contracts will be off the books for good a year from now.


How it Works

For those not familiar with the buyout process, you can read about all the ins and outs on the salary cap-tracking website General Fanager, which has put together a comprehensive summary. It is the buyout calculator featured on this same website that generated the buyout numbers you'll see below.

In a nutshell, buyouts work like this:
  • If the player is 26 or older, their contract can be bought out at the penalty of two-thirds of the remaining salary of the contract. In terms of impact on the team's salary cap, that two-thirds is spread out over twice the remaining term. So if there's one year left, it's spread out over the next two years.
  • If the player is younger than 26, the contract can be bought out at the penalty of one-third of the remaining salary.
  • There is no limit to how many contracts can be bought out but there is a restriction on when it can happen. The main buyout window runs from after the Stanley Cup Final ends until June 30. In select circumstances, there is a second buyout window that teams qualify for if they have a certain number of arbitration cases. For those specifics, see the link above. 

Also, injured players cannot be bought out unless the player and team mutually agree.


Historically a Rarely Used Option

Going into this summer, Treliving has not before exercised a buyout in his short time on the job so we're still trying to determine where he stands philosophically on the idea.

What we know is it's never been something the organization has done a lot.

The most recent example was Shane O'Brien and that was part of a rash of buyouts that took place around the NHL that were categorized as compliance buyouts. An option of up to two per team were granted to GMs as a get-out-of-salary-cap-jail-for-free offering after the last CBA to help teams get out from under some bad contracts that could prevent them from getting under the new, lower salary cap. O'Brien had one year remaining at $2 million when Jay Feaster bought out the veteran defenceman.

Before that, you go back to Nigel Dawes, who was bought out by Darryl Sutter in the summer of 2010. That one came with Dawes having one year remaining at $850,000.

That said, demonstrating that he's not afraid to cut ties and perhaps serving as a sneak preview of what's to come, Treliving has already done the equivalent of a buyout this spring when he fired head coach Bob Hartley with one year remaining on his contract.


Top 5 Flames Buyout Candidates

Here's a look at five Flames that are buyout candidates. Included is why, pros and cons of such a decision and a prediction for what could happen.


1. LW Mason Raymond

Age - 30
Term Left - 1 year
AAV - $3.15 million

Team Cap Hit

(a) Bury in the Minors

2016-17 - $2.2 million

(b) Buyout

2016-17 - $1.05 million
2017-18 - $1.05 million


Considerations

Raymond's time under Hartley finally ran out in February when he was placed on waivers, cleared, and was demoted to Stockton. In his first action in the AHL in eight years, he put up 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists) in 15 games -- triple his NHL production in half the games.

But despite rediscovering his offensive touch, I still see no trade value for Raymond at his salary, even if the Flames were to retain up to half as they're allowed to do. That leaves two viable options, keeping him around for his final season or buying him out.

Hartley's dismissal could provide opportunity for Raymond to play in Calgary again but that doesn't seem all that likely. Nor does Treliving have the luxury of waiting to see how camp goes under a new coach, the buyout window will long gone by then.

Assuming he would end up in Stockton again, the annual average value (AAV) impact on the team salary cap would be $2.2 million as Calgary would get $950,000 in cap relief with Raymond in the minors. On the other hand, buying him out reduces next year's AAV by a million but then you need to pay back that million the following season.


Prediction - Buyout

While the cap impact nets out at the same, there are still cost savings in actual money for the team by going the route of a buyout. Considering the Calgary economy, a million dollars saved is a million dollars saved. That could be the tipping point.

Plus, if the player doesn't want to be back, that needs to be a consideration also. Faced with a choice between paying him $2 million to not play versus $3 million to play in the minors, I'd go with the former. That would also free up a contract as the team can only have a maximum of 50.


2. D Dennis Wideman

Age - 33
Term Left - 1 year
AAV - $5.25 million

Team Cap Hit

(a) Buyout

2016-17 - $1.25 million
2017-18 - $2 million

(b) Trade

2016-17 - Retain up to $2.62 million


Considerations

Before his suspension last year, there were rumblings of interest trade interest in Wideman. Whether or not that was really true, we are talking about a right-shooting defenceman that gives you a big shot on the power play, who can log a ton of ice time and who is just one year removed from putting up career high totals of 15 goals and 56 points.

Coming off a forgettable year for many reasons -- Don Henderson incident and suspension, season-ending triceps injury -- the reason there could be increased interest in the veteran this summer is simply the fact that his five-year deal has just one year remaining.

That AAV is a big number but if the Flames are willing to retain money, risk is minimal for a GM seeking some blueline depth to bring in Wideman for one season at around $2.8 million.

While paying him to play for someone else may not make sense to some, I would disagree. Retain $2.3 million in salary, replace him on the roster with Tyler Wotherspoon (pending RFA can be qualified at $875,000) and Calgary still enjoys a net savings of over $2 million and you're playing a prospect that is part of the team's future.

While on the buyout side, a $4 million cap savings this season is very attractive, the $2 million in 2017-18 instead of having Wideman off the books is a game-changer.


Prediction - Traded

While his best years are behind him, he's still a capable blueliner that can play special teams and has shown an ability over the years to ramp up his ice time to north of 25 minutes when needed.

Another trade scenario would see Wideman and potentially his entire contract jettisoned out in exchange for a bad contract at a different position from another team.

If the GM can't get anything done in the off-season, a deal could still happen closer to the trade deadline too.


3. D Ladislav Smid

Age - 30
Term Left - 1 year
AAV - $3.5 million


Team Cap Hit

(a) Buyout

2016-17 - $833,000
2017-18 - $1.3 million

(b) Bury in the Minors

2016-17 - $2.55 million

(c) Trade

2016-17 - Retain up to $1.75 million


Considerations

Often injured and limited to 53 NHL games the past two seasons, one wonders about Smid's future, especially after a mid-February season-ending injury again last year. This will sound familiar as his status last summer was also uncertain as he recovered from neck surgery. When he did make it back, his ice time was limited and he was a frequent scratch.

If he's deemed healthy and thus eligible to be bought out (he cannot be bought out if injured-- see Niklas Backstrom last summer), there are three options with Smid, who has one year remaining at $3.5 million: Buyout, a trade, or he remains with the organization. With the latter, mind you, there's no guarantee that is with Calgary. If he is beat out for that 6/7 job, he could easily end up on waivers and demoted to Stockton where he'd still count $2.55 million towards the cap. That would be over $300,000 more than what the net buyout price would be.

I don't see a trade as realistic. For what he can give you, $1.75 million is still a pretty hefty price tag for a depth D and that would be with Calgary retaining half of his salary. Sure, Smid is cheaper than Wideman, but he's also a less serviceable player. Wideman -- in addition to his offensive upside -- has averaged more than 10 minutes of ice time than Smid over the last two seasons.


Prediction Buyout

As long as he's healthy, the best option is to buy him out and move on with a young player like Brett Kulak in that depth role or re-signing Jakub Nakladal, who would come far more economically.

The $1.3 million Calgary would still owe Smid in 2017-18 will sting but coming at the same time as contracts for Wideman and Deryk Engelland come off the books, it's manageable. Meanwhile, that opens up over $2.6 million in cap space for the upcoming season and that could come in very handy in the club's goalie search.


4. C Matt Stajan

Age - 32
Term Left - 2 years
AAV - $3.125 million


Team Cap Hit

(a) Buyout

2016-17 - $958,000
2017-18 - $1.958 million
2018-19 - $833,000
2019-20 - $833,000

(b) Trade

2016-17 - Retain up to $1.56 million


Considerations

Stajan's situation is similar to the others in that he makes far too much for what he shoulders in responsibilities as a fourth line player.

Where his status differs is he's got two years remaining while the others have just one year left. In some ways that makes a buyout even more appealing but when you see the payout being spread out over four seasons, it becomes less palatable.

With that term, I don't envision a trade happening either. Even at half of his salary, he's past the point in his career where he would get the volume of ice time with a new team to justify that amount of money.

If a buyout is pursued, I'd think it would probably happen next summer. Two more years is long enough to pay a bought-out player, doubt there is an appetite to have Stajan being paid for the next four years. While the $833,000 those final two years aren't killers, the $2 million owed in 2017-18 would be awfully stiff to pay someone no longer on the team.


Prediction - Back for another season

My guess is Stajan remains on the team for another year as a veteran leader, penalty killer and depth forward. You saw him moved to the wing for a short time at the end of the season and we could see more of that also. I don't think he's a lock to be in the line-up every night.

Depending on how the season goes, a buyout remains an option a year from now when the term remaining makes it more favourable. If done in 2017, the buyout cap hit would be:

2017-18 - $1.8 million
2018-19 - $666,000

It's still not great money but it would be more manageable. But that's a discussion for a year from now.


5. LW Brandon Bollig

Age - 29
Term Left - 1 year
AAV - $1.25 million


Team Cap Hit

(a) Buyout

2016-17 - $383,000
2017-18 - $433,000

(b) Bury in the Minors

2016-17 - $300,000

(c) Trade

2016-17 - Retain up to $625,000


Considerations

It's questionable whether or not Bollig does enough to be employed in this era of the NHL. In the evolution of fourth lines, he's more of an example of how that trio used to be built versus what is most effective in the league today. Treliving vowing to be a better possession team doesn't bode well for him either.

Considering how frequently he was scratched when games mattered, it's easy to envision Calgary moving on from Bollig in some way. While a buyout seems logical on the surface, when you dig into it, you see that there are better ways to deal with the final year of his three-year deal that pays him an AAV of $1.25 million. By that, I don't mean a trade either.

The only way there's a remote chance a team trades for him is if it comes at around the trade deadline when the money means nothing and it's to a contending team that is looking for a character veteran with a Stanley Cup ring to add to its reserves.


Prediction - Assigned to Stockton

It just doesn't make sense to use a buyout on Bollig.

Rather than buying him out to save a modest amount of 'real' money, the better way to handle it in terms of cap management would be to assign him to Stockton to be a veteran presence with the up-and-coming kids. In that respect, I think he could bring a lot of value. It wasn't all that long ago -- 2012-13 to be exact -- that he was a regular in the AHL with Rockford so it's not new terrain.

Meanwhile, only a thrifty $300,000 of his salary would count against the Flames salary cap.


Final Word

Forty-eight hours after the Stanley Cup Final ends, the buyout window opens and will remain open until June 30 at 3 pm MT.

That said, of all the off-season priorities for Treliving -- and with the draft and free agent courting period going on during part of that time -- I assure you his focus will be on other things.

If buyouts are going to happen and I'd bet on at least one, maybe a couple, those decisions will happen quickly. Heck, they may have already been made and are just waiting to be announced.

For Raymond and Smid, it could indeed be money for nothing. As Knopfler would add, "Now that ain't workin', that's the way you do it. Let me tell ya them guys ain't dumb."



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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