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Buyout Beware

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The other day, the buyout window for NHL teams was opened, and it lasts through the end of the month. In this post, we look at the situation of the Devils roster with a focus on potential buyouts, and we also look at who may be bought out elsewhere.

Clowe is a buyout option if he is given a clean bill of health.
Clowe is a buyout option if he is given a clean bill of health.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As of this past Thursday, NHL teams can begin buying out players on their rosters.  They may do this for several reasons.  A player may have outlived his usefulness on the roster, and there is nowhere else for that player to go and the team feels that simply getting rid of that player would be the best option.  Another reason is that a player may have become a cancer in the locker room, and the team feels that removing that player from the roster as soon as possible would be most beneficial for the upcoming season.  Also, a player may be making too much money, and the team in question may want to clear up some cap space by buying out that player's contract in order to use that cap space to sign someone else.

Whatever the reasons may be, let's look at potential buyouts that could be happening in the league, with a specific focus on the New Jersey Devils.  Will the Devils be buying anyone out?  Will someone else be bought out on another team that the Devils could use?  Let's take a look.

How do Buyouts Work?

This is a legitimate question, and it is not as easy as just paying someone to go away.  However, it is also not exactly easy to describe either.  The best description I could find was from the glorious Cap Geek and the late great Matthew Wuest.  On this FAQ page, he wrote:

Teams are entitled to buy out player contracts for a portion of the remaining value of the contract paid over a period of twice the remaining length of the contract. Following are the buyout amounts:

o   Younger than age 26 at the time of buyout, 1/3 the remaining value

o   Age 26 or older at the time of the buyout, 2/3 the remaining value

When a player is bought out, the team still takes a cap hit for the player over a period of twice the remaining length of the contract. The amount of the cap hit (by year) is determined as follows:

1.    Take the actual salary due for each remaining year

2.    Take the Averaged Player Salary (cap hit) for the current contract

3.    Calculate the buyout amount (as described above)

4.    Spread the buy-out amount evenly over twice the remaining years of the contract

5.    Take the number in No. 1 and subtract the number in No. 4. This is the "buyout savings."

6.    Take the cap hit from No. 2 and subtract the buyout savings from No. 5.

So basically, buyouts still count against the cap, but over the course of a longer period, which spreads out the cap hit and lessens it per year.  This is one of the major benefits of buying someone out.  I could try to describe further, but I will more than likely just make it seem more confusing, so let's go with what we have and move on.

Would NJ Buy Anyone Out?

Now, let's look at the Devils' roster and see if it would be worth it for the Devils to buy anyone out.  For salary information, I will be using the websites General Fanager and NHL Numbers.

Before going into who should be bought out, however, we should look at the team's overall cap situation first.  The Devils have considerable cap space at this current time.  Several contracts came off the books at the end of the season.  Here is a list of players who are becoming RFAs or UFAs on New Jersey and what they were making last season:

Player

Age

Status

Previous Cap Hit

Michael Ryder

35

UFA

$3.5 million

Martin Havlat

34

UFA

$1.5 million

Steve Bernier

30

UFA

$775 thousand

Scott Gomez

35

UFA

$550 thousand

Bryce Salvador

39

UFA

$3.16 million

Peter Harrold

32

UFA

$800 thousand

Mark Fraser

28

UFA

$550 thousand

Adam Larsson

22

RFA

$900 thousand

Eric Gelinas

24

RFA

$900 thousand

There are also some players who are coming off the books but who mostly spent time in Albany, and therefore do not affect the big club's salary cap as much.  Stefan Matteau becomes an RFA this summer, as does Seth HelgesonScott Clemmensen also becomes a UFA.

Looking at the above list, some of those players will most definitely be re-signed by the Devils.  Larsson and Gelinas will almost undoubtedly be tendered, and will be given contracts to keep them in New Jersey (unless of course a trade is in the works).  For the UFAs, I could potentially see Bernier, Gomez, and even Harrold coming back on team-friendly contracts, although if none of them come back I would not be completely shocked either.  I would be surprised if Ryder or Havlat are brought back, however.  I feel that it is a good bet that the $5 million in cap space between the two will be used on other players.

Before anyone is re-signed, however, the Devils have a cap hit of $47,895,833 according to General Fanager.  This gives the team just over $23 million in cap space, and in fact has them under the cap floor for the time being.  In comparison to the rest of the league, only four teams have a smaller cap hit at this current time.  So clearly, the Devils do not need to clear up cap space.

That, to me, answers one of the questions about why the Devils would buy someone out.  There is no need to clear cap space, as $23 million is more than enough to get whoever Ray Shero and John Hynes are looking for in free agency.  So in those terms, do not expect the Devils to buy anyone out and use the cap as an excuse.

The reason why the Devils might buy someone out, however, would be because of on ice performance.  Seeing as New Jersey was not a good team this past season, there could certainly be potential players that the front office may want to consider buying out.

Devils Who Could be Bought Out

The most obvious, in my opinion anyway, would be Ryane Clowe.  At 32 years old, Clowe is due to make $4.85 million per season over the next three years.  He will not become a UFA until after the 2017-2018 season.  That poses a major problem for the Devils.  $4.85 million is far from a cheap salary, and that can easily become a cap issue if the owners allow Shero to spend to the cap.

Clowe, however, is a unique situation.  Given his serious concussion issues over the last couple seasons, Clowe may never play hockey again.  If he is deemed fit by doctors to get back on the ice, however, and he decides that he does want to, the buyout question is real.  With so many concussions and a record of missing time, what would he actually provide to this team?  How many games would he actually play?  On the other hand, he was not unproductive while he suited up in the red and black, he just rarely did so, missing 69 games this past season.  So there is debate there.

Another option could be Tuomo Ruutu.  He only has one year left on his deal at $3.8 million, but this past season he produced nowhere near that number.  In 77 games, he had 7 goals and 6 assists with just under 11 minutes of ice time per game.  Many players with considerably smaller salaries outperformed him easily, such as Jon Merrill, Jordin Tootoo, Damon Severson, Eric Gelinas, and Scott Gomez, who all made under $1 million.

The positive of buying him out would be that said roster spot could be opened up for someone that Shero and Hynes believe would be better suited to play there.  Someone else could be a better fit, or they may want to bring in someone younger who could develop into a better option.  However, Ruutu does only have one year left on his deal, and at 32, his skills should not be declining considerably yet.  As long as the Devils do not reach the cap ceiling, there is no reason that his contract should be a major issue this season.

Someone else in a very similar position to Ruutu is Dainius Zubrus.  He had one of the worst seasons of his career this past year, scoring 4 goals and 6 assists in 74 games played.  He even had more ice time than Ruutu despite the worse production, averaging 14:39 per game.  He is due to make $3.1 million next season.  If the front office has a better idea with how to spend some of that money, or has a better idea with who to play in Zubrus' position, he could get bought out.  But just like with Tuomo, he is only on the books for one more season, so they may just choose to wait it out.

That is really it for serious potential buyouts.  Some fans will still clamor for Travis Zajac to be bought out, as his lack of production on the score sheet bothers them, but he will not be bought out.  He is a team leader and a central figure; he will be here through the rebuild, along with his $5.75 million cap hit per year.

Other Potential Buyouts Around the League

Before I get into this, I first need to say that I in no way have any clue who the Devils would be interested in targeting if these players do get bought out.  My goal here is to simply list players who may potentially be bought out this summer.  From there, we can discuss who the Devils should be interested in and why.

One bust in Philadelphia so far has been R.J. Umberger, and he could potentially be bought out if Philly is not willing to deal with his $4.6 million cap hit over the next two seasons.  Umberger is 33, and produced only 15 points in 67 games this year for the Flyers.  He was fairly productive in Columbus, and if Philly does buy him out and he finds the right home, he could be decently productive again.

Alexander Semin was another major bust this year with a big contract, quite bigger than Umberger's actually.  With Carolina, he is slated to make $7 million per year over the next three seasons.  Despite this huge deal, Semin produced only 19 points in 57 games for the Canes.  If he is bought out, he could be had for a considerably cheaper price than $7 million per year, and at only 31 years of age, is not at the point where he should be in a major decline.  Once upon a time (2009-2010), Semin produced 84 points in 73 games for Washington, so he has proven that in the right situation he can really shine.  Others have debated whether he should be bought out as well.

Mike Richards has also been rumored as a potential buyout.  Despite winning two cups with Los Angeles, he has not been the same player since coming over from Philly.  It has gotten so bad that this past season, he produced only 16 points in 53 games, and was placed on waivers during the season.  At 30 years old, Richards is due to make $5.75 million per year through 2020, which is a monster deal for someone who was playing so bad that he was placed on waivers.  If he is bought out, I would highly doubt that the Devils would be interested, but you never know.  A return to Philly would seem more likely, at least to me.

Up in Buffalo, the Sabres have been reported as possibly buying out the contract of 25 year old Cody Hodgson.  He has not been good for the rebuilding Sabres, producing only 13 points in 78 games played this season.  This is way down from the lockout shortened 2013 season, when he gave Buffalo 34 points in 48 games.  The intriguing aspect about him is his age.  At only 25, he is still young and has a lot left in the tank.  If he can land in the right spot, he could shine, especially given that he was the 10th overall selection in 2008.

While I could go on with players, I feel like these are 4 good buyout options.  In order to not make this long article even longer, others that I will mention but not go into depth with are Stephen Weiss, Viktor Stalberg, and Ondrej Pavelec.

Conclusion and Your Take

In the end, there is a chance that the Devils do buy someone out.  With a new general manager, it is hard to say exactly what he will do as this is not his roster yet.  If he does decide to buy anyone out, the players listed above are most likely the best options given their contracts, ages, and production this past season.  As to who the Devils may be interested in if other players around the league are bought out, that is way more difficult to say.  However, the players listed above do have a chance to be bought out.  Whether or not Shero would like any of them in New Jersey is anyone's guess.

What do you think? Should the Devils buy anyone out?  If so, who should they buyout, and why?  If not, why should they not buy anyone out?  Is there anyone out there that the Devils should be interested in if they are bought out by their team?  If so, who, and why?  Is there anyone else out there that could be bought out that I did not mention?  Please leave your comments in the section below, and thanks for reading.