To paraphrase Dr. Witticism's comment from an earlier transaction, but it seems that every good and shrewd move the New Jersey Devils have made this offseason has been followed up by a strange and possibly poor move. Today marked a 48-hour buyout period for the Devils. I didn't think much of mentioning it because I just assumed no one was going to be bought out. Zach Parise signed a one-year deal at $6 million and after the Brian Rolston trade, the Devils were pretty much done for the summer with a decent amount of cap space.
So much for assumptions, Tom Gulitti confirmed this afternoon that Colin White and the recently acquired Trent Hunter have been placed on waivers with the intention of being bought out if they clear them. Should that happen, they'll become unrestricted free agents and two contracts come off the books worth a total of $5 million this season. As with any buy out, there is a cost incurred from doing so. As Gulitti noted, the Devils will have an extra $1 million of dead space for the next two seasons from White's buyout and $666,667 of dead space for each of the next four seasons from Hunter's buyout.
I have to say, I'm not a big fan of either move - assuming they will clear waivers and be bought out on Tuesday. I'll explain my feelings on each buy out in a little more detail along with what the ramifications of both buy outs for the Devils after the jump.
The Intended to Be Bought Out
Let's talk about Trent Hunter first. Buying out Hunter is more annoying to me since there will be a relatively small cap hit for nothing for the next four seasons. Looking at his basic and advanced statistics, I thought he would make a decent third line right winger. I suppose the Devils prefer David Clarkson in that role over Hunter. He at least has the advantage of not coming off of a torn MCL in his left knee like Hunter along with being a more aggressive player. Per CapGeek's buyout calculator, the Devils would have a net savings of $1,333,337 from the buy out, provided he clears waivers. If you factor that into trading Rolston, it's certainly some big savings in the short-term.
I have to say that I really don't like that Colin White was bought out. Per CapGeek's buyout calculator, the Devils get a net savings of $1 million out of this; yet I'm still sort of reeling from the decision to buy him out. White is a solid defensive defenseman, his salary has been comparable to his peers (and quite possibly more so after July 1, 2011), and he's got plenty left in the tank at age 33. This all makes White a useful player, not really someone who should have their contract bought out. Especially since he was in the last season of his deal. If the team didn't have him in their long term plans, then why not just let his contract run out instead of removing him altogether and incur a cap hit for the next two seasons? The bizarre thing is this bit from Gulitti's post at Fire & Ice about today's big news:
Lamoriello said he has been trying to move White since the end of the season.
"Colin and I sat down and the end off the season and after the discussion we decided just to go and get a bit of a change," Lamoriello said.
He tried to find a taker for White in a trade, but was unable. Lamoriello said White has been aware for a while that he was going to be bought out.
Lou has been looking to trade White and couldn't find any takers since April. Really? Someone was willing to give something for Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, who isn't much of a hockey player; and no NHL team came up with an offer for a useful defenseman like White? Not even teams like Edmonton or Colorado, who have had recent defensive woes and could use a $3 million boost in their quest to reach the salary cap floor? No one at all? Maybe someone's looking to pick him up for cheap off waivers; but if Lou couldn't find a deal for White, then he could really clear waivers and get bought out. I don't know about you, but I'm honestly baffled. No one in the NHL would want Colin White for just one season? I will say it's good that Lou laid this all out for White and both sides agreed to this mutual split-up. But I'm just not sure if it was smart to tack on some more dead cap space through 2012-13 on top of the Hunter buy out.
The Roster Ramification
The Hunter buyout clears up a little clutter among the bottom 6 forwards on the team. Hunter was either going to be the third line right winger ahead of Clarkson or the fourth line right winger behind Clarkson. Given that the top 9 is seemingly set, with Jacob Josefson, Mattias Tedenby, and Clarkson acting as a third line; this leaves Vladimir Zharkov, Eric Boulton, Cam Janssen, David Steckel, Rod Pelley, and Stephane Veilleux for the fourth line. Given Steckel is a center and a great faceoff taker, that's 5 other players fighting for two active spots on the roster. A $2 million/year player like Hunter would be too costly for such a role; so I can see him as surplus to the Devils' needs at forward.
As for White getting bought out, another spot on the blueline will be open for one of their many young defenders in their system. On paper, the Devils could absorb his loss. White has been very reliable in his own end and has done a good job killing penalties. However, Anton Volchenkov can certainly do what White has been doing and even with more minutes if necessary. Henrik Tallinder proved last season that he can be a big minute defenseman, and the re-signing of Andy Greene gives the Devils another veteran who can do it. Should all three stay healthy - and that's not a guarantee for Volchenkov - the Devils may not be hurt too badly without White. It'll be even easier to take his loss should Bryce Salvador be able to play hockey and play like he once. Likewise, if Mark Fayne shows that he regularly play like he did when he was alongside Tallinder for the second half of last season. It's when the veterans start getting hurt that when we'll begin to miss White.
Which young defensemen benefit from White's departure? Certainly, Mark Fraser, Matthew Corrente, and Matt Taormina have to be pleased that they all could conceivably be on the active roster in 2011-12. With White gone and the possibility Salvador can't play, there are two open spots on defense and possibly a 7th defenseman role. All three have on the bubble between the AHL and NHL, and so the opportunity could be there for all three to make a leap. The Devils may go in another direction and decide Adam Larsson (who I would not like in there because I don't want his ELC burnt at age 18) or Alexander Urbom (who I would prefer since he's 20, has a year of AHL hockey under his belt, and has played a few NHL games before) would be more suited for the extra spot. Training camp will still feature this competition, in my mind; but now the Devils have more flexibility as to who they want to pick.
Incidentally, with the addition of Veilleux and the eventual subtraction of White and Hunter that the Devils will have 14 forwards and 7 defensemen up in New Jersey. They'll have an additional roster spot with additional cap space to fill it with, should they choose to do so. I wouldn't get my hopes up, though. There's not a lot left in free agency, and the Devils eventual penalty of giving up a first round pick prevents them from giving an offer sheet to any restricted free agents. Another trade may be done, but it could be something minor to just clear up another roster spot or two.
Budget? There's A Budget?
The most curious word from Lou's quotes about the buy outs in Gulitti's post is "budget" - as a reason why these moves were made. One of the under-the-radar issues with the Devils over the past few months is that one of the minority partners in Devils ownership, Mike Gilfillan and his company Brick City Hockey, has decided to sell his stake in the team back in February. Since that news came out, nothing much has happened since; and it's entirely possible that Jeff Vanderbeek could buy out Brick City Hockey's stake. Still, the ownership situation has caused a few fans to wonder if it is factoring into the Devils' transactions. I didn't think it was given last season and prior moves. I didn't think it was the case this summer until he dropped that b-word today.
"Budget" being a factor implies that the team now has a budget other than "spend to the cap ceiling." That's actually a major departure as the Devils have spent up to and even over the salary cap ceiling since the lockout. They were definitely over last season ($63.88 million per CapGeek), though it was acceptable due to players being on long term injured reserve. Clearly, that's not going to happen again this season. While the Devils spent over $11 million on players this summer, they've managed to move Brian Rolston's salary ($5.025 million) to a different team and when you include the buy outs of White and Hunter, they come close to evening out for this summer. I don't think that's a coincidence.
I do not expect the Devils to suddenly drop to the cap floor, but that may not be going to be spending close to $64.3 million for another season either. After their buyouts, their total salary payroll would be around $55 million; that may be a lot closer to what they want to spend as a team. Should that be the case, I doubt the Devils will do anything with their potential $6.1-ish in cap space resulting from both of these buy outs. They could just keep it open for flexibility during the season, and save on salaries either until the ownership situation is resolved or ownership allows for more spending. Of course, this is just a guess; for all we know, the Devils are doing this as a precursor to something else surprising.
While the Devils may be able to carry on without White and Hunter on the ice; and the budgetary decision behind it make sense, I still think the Devils shouldn't have bought out White. I'd prefer his veteran presence and stable defending for another season than to throw someone younger into a larger role and risk suffering because of it. Besides, his contract expires after this season; so even if White wanted out, he could put up with it through at least part of 2011-12 and could be moved during the season. Essentially, I'll miss White and what he's done for the Devils since 1999-2000.
Of course, the buy outs will only happen should the player pass through waivers. If they get claimed, then it'll just be another surprise in an offseason that's had it's share of them in New Jersey. In any case, those are my thoughts on the matter. What do you think of these buy outs? Do you think they were each the right moves to make? Do you think the Devils will be fine without either player in 2011-12? Do you think ownership changes are at play, or is cut in salary for other reasons? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading.
P.S. Thank you to Jacob Sheperd, Zelepukin, and SinDonor for FanShotting this through the day.