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Bargain Hunting: Looking at players recently bought out of their NHL contracts

Have you ever heard the phrase "One man's trash is another man's treasure?"  I am sure you have, but you are probably asking yourself why this is relevant on a hockey blog.  Well, the first buyout period of the NHL offseason (June 15th-June30th) ends today and per Bob McKenzie on Twitter here and here there are twelve players who will be available this offseason.

Buyouts are a result of the 2005 collective bargaining agreement. Here is an informative link that explains how buyout rates are calculated. You can also simulate the buyout implication of your favorite or least favorite Devil here from the awesome site  I won't go into too much detail on buyout rates, over age 35 implications, etc. as I want to focus on the new players to hit the open market and determine if they are viable options for the Devils' roster.

 If you recall last year (although it was during the second buyout period) Vinny Prospal was bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning and then subsequently signed with the New York Rangers.  He was making $3.5MM for another 3 years when Tampa Bay bought out his contract (they now have a cap hit of $1.17MM through 2014-2015 for buying him out). The Rangers signed him for $1.15MM and he had a productive season playing on a line with Marion Gaborik and posted 58 points.  Did I want the Devils to sign him after he was bought out?  Not really, but the potential bargains that result from the buyout process was something I wanted to keep an eye on this year.  After the jump you will see who is likely to be bought out and some analysis on whether or not the Devils should possible take a chance on one of these players.  Please set your viewing mode to 'wide'.

Can the Devils find the 2010-2011 version of Prospal for a bargain basement price?  Possibly.   To look at the players that are likely to be bought out, I looked at the players' position vs. our positional needs; their GVT (Goals Versus Threshold) both last year and previous years; and of course GVS (Goals Versus Salary).  Since we are prospecting for Devils I also looked at dGVT as well.  I used these figures to determine how much of their salary they earned last year and a potential GVS based upon a return to previous form.  I used $1MM as a base salary for any potential signing based upon the Prospal signing from last year and have tried to account for.  You will also see I did adjust salaries for certain players based upon a salary that is currently below $1MM.

OK, there are twelve players that are likely to be bought out.  I will include all of the GVT/GVS analysis below, but I am not going to speculate on the Devils signing certain players that don't fit their offseason plans.  Keeping that in mind I am going to exclude Donald Braschear and Aaron Voros because the Devils already have two ‘enforcer' types on the roster with Andrew Peters and Pierre-Luc-Lotourneau-LeBlond. 

  2009-2010 GVT Salary 2009-2010 2009-2010 GVS Salary 2010-2011 3 Year Previous Avg. GVS-2010-2011 Highest Season GVT (Career)
Jonathan Cheechoo -1.4 $3.5MM -10.4 $1MM 9.6 8.1 23.9
Ville Koistinen 1.5 $1.4MM -1.2 $750K 4.3 3.55 5
Jim Vandermeer 4.2 $2.3MM -1.2 $750K 3.3 2.55 7.7
Petteri Nokelainen -1.2 $950K -2.55 $750K 0.7 -0.05 0.8
Nathan Oystrick -0.3 $550K -1.8 $500K 2.3 2.3 2.3
Ethan Moreau -0.9 $1.75MM -4.65 $1MM 1.67 0.17 8.1
Robert Nilsson 1.5 $2.5MM -4.5 $1MM 5.85 4.35 9.5
Patrick O'Sullivan -0.1 $2.387MM -5.76 $1.5MM 6.16 3.16 11.5
Todd Fedoruk -1.8 $1.125MM -3.675 $500K -0.83 -0.83 1.1
Patrick Rissmiller N/A $1MM N/A $500K N/A N/A N/A
Aaron Voros 0.2 $900K -1 $500K 0.1 0.1 0.2
Donald Brashear -2.4 $1.3MM -4.8 $650K -1.8 -2.25 4.1


Additionally there are a few 3rd pairing/extra defensemen that I don't see the Devils pursuing in Ville Koistinen, Jim Vandermeer and Nathan Oystrick.  The Devils already have Rob Davison signed for next year on a one way deal along with Anssi Salmela for the depth spots on the defense.  Further I will exclude Petteri Nokelainen and Todd Fedoruk as both are 4th, possibly 3rd line, players who haven't produced enough in the NHL to be considered impact players.  Finally, I will exclude career AHL player Patrick Rissmiller as he is unlikely ever to play at the NHL level for the Devils - even though he could always be signed to Albany.

So who do we have left?  Out of the four players left, we have two potential RFAs, a team captain, and a Rocket Richard winner.  The four remaining players the Devils should at least consider are Patrick O'Sullivan, Robert Nilsson, Ethan Moreau, and Jonathan Cheechoo.  

Ethan Moreau

#18 / Edmonton Oilers



Sep 22, 1975

The Copper and Blue website has a great article sending off Moreau here listing all the pros and cons of Moreau's time with Edmonton and his captaincy.  Moreau is a left winger who primarily played a checking/penalty kill role with the Oilers last season.  The Devils really don't need another left winger considering they already have Zach Parise, Patrik Elias, Brian Rolston and possibly Ilya Kovalchuk (though unlikely).   While he never lit the world on fire from a scoring perspective I was hoping his dGVT (Defensive Goals Versus Threshold) would be pretty sound but unfortunately  he has averaged only a 0.67 dGVT over the last three years (in comparison Manny Maholtra has averaged over 4.0 dGVT over that same time period)  while only accumulating a total of 3.1 GVT.  He did face the a tough level of quality opponents and his quality of teammates wasn't very strong, but the Edmonton Journal  gave him a D+ rating for the year.  Edmonton.  He is only 34 so he might have another good year or two left in him, possibly inspired by playing for a winning franchise.  Does he fit in New Jersey though?  At his age and production he is comparable to Jay Pandolfo but do we really need another Pandolfo type player as a 4th liner even a bargain price of $750K? 

On the positive side being a former captain and adding him to the locker room with Jason Arnott should provide a few different leaders for the younger players to follow.  Is it likely that he is signed?  Probably not as it would be a stretch for a veteran to move his life across country for a one year shot with the Devils.  That being said, who expected the Devils to sign Rob Niedermayer as a third line presence last year.

(Editor's note:  Per Kevin Allen of USA Today Moreau was claimed off of waivers today by the Columbus Blue Jackets.)


Robert Nilsson

#12 / Edmonton Oilers



Jan 10, 1985

Another Edmonton left wing expected to be bought out by the club.  Considered to be a bottom six forward by excellent writer Derek Zona of Copper and Blue, Nilsson can play either wing and if he can stay healthy for a full season could be a 3rd line/4th line right wing for a team like the Devils.  He has offensive skill, no one is questioning that he just needs some consistency.    Let's look at his various levels of GVT/GVS over the past few years.


Nilsson seems to be a  frustrating but serviceable player per the Edmonton Journal:

Nilsson doesn't crash the net. He doesn't screen the goalie. He rarely takes or gives a hit. But he's still smart enough defensively, generally backchecking the right player in his own zone. He is also somewhat capable on offence. In his 742 even strength minutes last season, Nilsson helped the Oilers score 24 goals, and made some mistake on 17 goals against. This isn't a great record for a winger, who has all kinds of chances to put up points and much more limited defensive responsibilities than the other players on the ice. You would want a winger to be +15 or +20, not +7.

The one thing that jumped out at me here was that he was per the quote above:  'smart enough defensively'.  That's a prerequisite for being a Devil and backchecking shows that the effort is sometimes there. 

In a January article about the Oilers forwards Derek Zona had this positive assessment of Nilsson's game:

I'm a huge Robert Nilsson fan and have been since the day he came to Edmonton.  He's one of the most talented men on the team and has shown it in spades over the last three years.  If the team were to make a highlight reel of the top ten plays each season, Nilsson would have three per season.  His passing skills are second-to-none on this team.  It might be heresy to say that he can surpass Hemsky in this category, but it's true.  His skating skills are also top-shelf and he brings a world dipsies and doodles to the ice. 

So from all the information I can find about Nilsson, his profile comes across like this:  Offensively gifted, terribly inconsistent.  A former first round pick of the Islanders, if he doesn't go to Europe as some have speculated I wouldn't mind the Devils trying to work him into the lineup.   Now will they invest $1MM for a year or two to see if he can find his potential?  I would be surprised if they did, as the Devils have never been big on reclamation projects, but as I have said -and will say- many times in posts and comments:  After trading for Ilya Kovalchuk I refuse to rule anything out with the Devils.  They can always surprise you. 

Jonathan Cheechoo

#41 / Ottawa Senators



Jul 15, 1980


A former 50 goal scorer anyone?   Since his 2005 season of 56 goals and 93 points Cheechoo has slipped dramatically for someone who should have been entering his prime.  While he is a right wing and I wouldn't mind having the 2005-2006 version of Cheechoo playing alongside Elias/Arnott his production on ice has dropped to the point that Ottawa hid him in the minors last year for salary cap purposes.  He appeared in one playoff game, but only because of Alexei Kovalev's injury.   His GVS as evidenced by the chart above was in negative double digits at -10.4.  His previous 3 year GVT average is 9.6 but that number was regressing steadily and he bottomed out last year.  At a $1MM salary if he could possibly regain his scoring touch he would be a major bargain, but his regression has to be accounted for and that makes him a risk for even a one way minimum salary contract.  

Cheechoo's time in Ottawa wasn't exactly well received either as most fans per this link are happy to see him go.  He was officially bought out by Ottawa yesterday.  I would be shocked to see Cheechoo in a Devil's uniform, maybe the Albany Devils, but even then I would be shocked.  


Patrick O`Sullivan

#19 / Edmonton Oilers



Feb 01, 1985


 (Editor's Note:  Patrick O'Sullivan was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes for James Vandermeer early this afternoon, per this post from Five For Howling he is still expected to be bought out as the move was made by Phoenix to free up cap space this year.)

O'Sulivan is another left wing, but he has played all three forward positions in the past.  A former 2nd round pick of the Minnesota Wild in 2003, he put up 53 points for the Los Angeles Kings in 2007 before being traded to the Edmonton Oilers the following year.  He has had an underwhelming performance in Edmonton but only a few years ago was a highly regarding prospect per Hockeys Future:  

O’Sullivan has a quick release shot that is extremely accurate and it has served his goal scoring well in his junior career. He is also an excellent skater and stick handler. Completing the offensive package, O’Sullivan has developed into a skilled playmaker, often setting up the muscle on his line for easy tap in goals. The IceDogs eventually double shifted him at even strength most games along with assigning him to first power play and penalty killing units. The bigger the game the better O’Sullivan seems to play, and he thrives on a leadership role. O’Sullivan’s personal problems were the primary reason he slipped to the second round, not his skill.

Could a fresh start for O'Sullivan in New Jersey be the thing he needs?  His GVS over the last few years?  Surprisingly positice (although his salary dragged down his GVS, so he was overpaid) 

That said, there is talent there as he was projected in some 2003 mock drafts to go in the first round.  Could this be a mental block because of the pressure that was put on him in Edmonton?  Perhaps, in New Jersey he could be rather anonymous and re-focus himself.  Unfortunately, he might be one of those players who never fulfills his potential and that would be a shame because of all he has had to deal with in his past.   Despite his less than thrilling metrics last year (via and sorted by Oilers who played at least 10 minutes a game and at least 60 games last year) e will still get a few more chances in the NHL because of his potential.

Plus, his agent is probably going to push for a longer term deal since O'Sullivan does have potential and is still young at the age of 25 (about the same age as Devils prospect Tyler Eckford).   I don't see New Jersey as a fit for O'Sullivan but he is one player that I have always rooted for (unless he was playing the Devils of course) and I hope he finds a good fit in the offseason and can have a positive career.  He is a very high reward/medium risk at this point.   I could see the Florida Panthers or the New York Rangers giving him a shot, but that is just a guess. 


As an aside, I was really hoping the Flames would buyout Ales Kotalik's contract because I had thought he might make a good target.  Alas, per Matchsticks and Gasoline it looks like the Flames plan to bury Kotalik's contract in the minors instead of buying him out.

So, could any of the players being bought out provide value to the Devils?   Out of the available players I wouldn't mind taking a shot with Nilsson on a short term deal.  Maybe even two years at $750K-$1MM a season.  Check out this goal vs. the Red Wings he scored last year.   As the announcer in the video said "Can he just put it (skill) to use?"  A former first round pick from Sweden, I say give him a chance to play with some of his young countrymen in Jacob Josefson and Mattias Tedenby

So Devils fans, out of the players I went over do any strike you as players the Devils will go after?  Would Nilsson be a good fit on a 3rd line with Rolston and a center or even on a second line with Elias/Arnott?   Can Cheechoo regain his old form?  Do  Did you want to bring in Moreau for his leadership and penalty killing ability?   Do you feel that O'Sullivan can turn it around in New Jersey?  Anyone I didn't review that you want to talk about? Sound off below!