There has been a lot of talk that the NHL's new collective bargaining agreement will include a clause allowing each team to dispose of one contract without taking a cap hit over the course of the new agreement. The NBA had a similar clause in its latest CBA.
Here is a look at the player each NHL team is most likely to jettison if this rule is enacted. In some cases, there are no good fits for this description right now, but I included the player who would be the best available candidate right now.
In other cases, if there was clearly no good candidate for early termination, I included free agents who the team did not want back next season.
Please feel free to tell me who you feel may be a better candidate to fill each team's slot, but say why you feel that way.
The Ducks are actually pretty well set up and down their roster and don't have any active players they are eager to part with.
The closest I can come up with would be Jason Blake, who is already a free agent and is not likely to re-sign with the Ducks once play resumes.
Blake is a veteran who can probably help some teams if he can stay healthy, but he really doesn't fit into the Ducks' plans anymore.
In his prime, Bruins' center Marc Savard was one the premier set-up men in the NHL.
Savard had a career-high 74 assists with the Bruins in 2006-07, but post-concussion syndrome has all but effectively ended his career.
The Bruins are still paying more than $4 million per year for Savard against the salary cap, and he has five more seasons left on his contract (including 2012-13).
Boston would be more than happy to erase Savard from its payroll without cap penalty if it could.
It's not that Ville Leino is a bad player, but for what the Sabres paid for him, he hasn't produced.
Leino dropped from 19 goals and 53 points with the Flyers in 2010-11, to just eight goals and 25 points with Buffalo last season. Injuries certainly played a role in Leino's reduced production, but for a man with an average cap hit of $4.5 million for the next five seasons (including 2012-13), the Sabres need more offensive production from him.
If Buffalo can cut ties with Leino, it would probably do so. The Sabres may try to re-sign him at more favorable terms, but they would love to get out of their current deal with the Finnish forward.
The Calgary Flames are taking a cap hit of $3.5 million per year for Matt Stajan, and the 28-year-old forward has simply not produced much offensively in return for his paychecks.
Last season, Stajan was limited to 61 games, but he only produced eight goals and 18 points after scoring just six goals and 31 points in 76 games the previous season.
A team that struggled to score goals, like the Flames, needs more offensive production from a player like Stajan. While his salary isn't that high by NHL standards, the Flames would probably cut him loose if given the option to jettison one player on their current roster.
Tuomo Ruutu is the closest thing the Hurricanes have to a player they might want to cut loose if given the chance under a new CBA.
Carolina doesn't have much in the way of outrageous contracts that it would love to take back. Heck, even Alexander Semin's $7-million deal is a one-year contract.
Ruutu will have a cap hit of $4.75 million for each of the next four seasons (including 2012-13). While he is a good NHL player, he is slightly overpaid for the production he provides.
Winger Rostislav Olesz would be the Blackhawks' choice if they could get out of one contract.
Olesz played only six games with Chicago last season, spending the rest of the year in the AHL. He has a salary cap of $3.125 million per year for this season and next season. For a man not even able to crack the Blackhawks' roster, that's a pretty big salary.
Olesz is only 27, and it is possible he could help another team if the Hawks let him go. It's obvious right now that he is not part of the Blackhawks' plans, and they would be only too happy to take him off the payroll if they could.
The Colorado Avalanche are another team that really doesn't have a promising candidate to cut loose right now on their roster.
The Avs are full of young and talented forwards who have a lot of potential, natural talent and don't cost too much in salary, at least not yet.
Since I have to pick one player for the Avs, it would have to be Paul Stastny. It's not that Stastny isn't a good player—he definitely is important to the franchise.
The past two seasons, Stastny has scored 57 and 53 points respectively. Right now, his average cap hit is a hefty $6.6 million per season with this year and 2013-14 left on his current deal. As good as he is, that's just not enough production for a top-six forward earning that kind of money, and that is why Stastny is the closest thing the Avs have to a player who should be on this list.
The Blue Jackets signed defenseman James Wisniewski to a six-year contract last summer with an average cap hit of $5.5 million.
Last season, Wisniewski was suspended, injured and not all that effective when he was in the lineup. To simplify things, the Jackets are paying Wisniewski like he's a No. 1 defenseman, and at best, he's a good No. 2. They are overpaying for what he's worth and have him on the payroll for another five seasons (including 2012-13).
If the Jackets could cut loose one player's contract without cap consequences, Wisniewski is the most likely candidate to go.
The Dallas Stars are another team without any seriously bad contracts at the present time, so it was very difficult to pick anybody from their roster.
Radek Dvorak is presently an unrestricted free agent and produced only four goals and 21 points for Dallas last season.
Dvorak is simply not in the Stars' plans moving forward, and Dallas, in all likelihood, does not want him back.
The Red Wings also don't have a lot of players with severely bad contracts. They appear fairly set and probably would not exercise their option to cut a player if the new CBA includes that option, at least not right now.
However, if I had to choose one player, it would probably be Henrik Zetterberg. It's not that Zetterberg still isn't a very good hockey player, he is. But he is 32, and the Wings have him tied up for another eight seasons at a cap hit of a little more than $6 million per year. As Zetterberg ages, his production will almost certainly be reduced and he will most likely not be worth the cap hit by the time he reaches his late 30s.
That being said, Zetterberg is a cornerstone of the Wings team right now and isn't going anywhere. He is just the closest thing they have to a long-term deal that perhaps they would like to renegotiate if possible.
The Oilers are also not in trouble with too many contracts. They are a young squad with a lot of talented forwards with very bright futures.
If they could cast aside one player, it might be defenseman Andy Sutton. The 37-year-old has taken too many suspensions recently for questionable hits and lacks the foot speed to be successful in the modern NHL.
He has a fairly modest $1.75 million cap hit this year, although bonuses are very possible based on his contract.
Sutton is the closest thing the Oilers have to an expendable contract right now.
The best player for the Panthers to cut loose right now would be veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski.
"Jovo Cop" is 37 and is far from the player he was in his prime during his first tour of duty in Florida. While he adds some valuable experience to the Panthers' defense corps, he is not productive enough to justify his salary.
He has three years left on his contract, including 2012-13, at a cap hit of $4.125 million each season.
The Kings are another team without major salary-cap issues.
The closest thing they have to a free agent they don't want back would be Trent Hunter. The 32-year-old former Islander finished the season in the AHL last year. He also has been injured often and has a lot of mileage on his tires.
The Kings have several younger, less expensive alternatives to Hunter, and he will not be back with the club once the NHL resumes play.
The Minnesota Wild just spent a lot of money to lock up free-agents Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to the type of long-term contracts the owners claim they don't want to permit under the next CBA.
If they could cut one player loose without cap consequences, it would be forward Dany Heatley, who has an average cap hit of $7.5 million per season and is just not producing the 40 or more goals per season that would make him worth that kind of money.
The good news for the Wild is that Heatley is only under contract for 2012-13 and 2013-14, and that makes it less likely that Minnesota would cut him loose.
Montreal's Scott Gomez may just be the poster boy for this option: a player making a lot of money and having very little production to show for it.
Gomez scored only 11 points in 39 games last season—not good for a playmaking center who is expected to pitch in on the power play and provide some offensive spark for his club.
Gomez has an annual cap hit of more than $7.35 million per season and is producing like someone worth less than half of that.
At least he has only two years left on his present deal. The Habs would love to take his contract off the books if they are allowed to do so without cap consequences.
David Poile and the Nashville Predators have usually been conservative when it comes to the salary cap. They recently had to overpay to keep Shea Weber when they matched the Flyers' offer sheet, but they really felt they needed to keep Weber after losing Suter.
The closest the Preds have to a contract they may want to cut loose (besides Weber's, which they won't do) is David Legwand. The former second-overall pick in the 1998 NHL draft has a cap hit of $4.5 million per season and hasn't topped the 20-goal mark in the last three campaigns.
Legwand is a solid performer, and there is no way the Predators would cut him loose, but he comes closest on their present roster to someone they would consider if they had to pick a player now.
Ilya Kovalchuk has the longest and most outrageous contract on the Devils, and it doesn't expire until 2025, but Kovalchuk is a cornerstone of the Devils' offense and isn't going anywhere.
The most likely candidate for the Devils to let go would be defenseman Marek Zidlicky. While he played fairly well during the playoffs, Zidlicky is not a fundamentally sound defensive player and doesn't really fit into GM Lou Lamoriello's system all that well.
Zidlicky has a salary cap hit of $4 million this year and is a likely candidate for a trade. If there are no takers, the Devils may just let Zidlicky go if they can do so without cap consequences.
Few people doubt the talent of goalie Rick DiPietro, but a spate of injuries, plus the absurd length of his contract, have made him an ideal candidate for a buyout if the Isles are allowed to do so without cap consequences.
DiPietro has worked hard to rehab has numerous injuries, but the Winthrop, Massachusetts native has played only 49 games total over the last four seasons.
His annual cap hit is a relatively modest $4.5 million per season, but his contract doesn't expire until 2021, and DiPetro's health remains a question mark.
The New York Rangers buried defenseman Wade Redden in the minors for cap purposes, and they would love to take his contract off the books if they could.
Redden has a cap hit of $6.5 million for each of the next two seasons, and he has not played an NHL game for more than two seasons as a result of his poor play and high-cap figure.
The best candidate the Senators have is veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar.
Gonchar has just one season left on his contract at a cap hit of $5.5 million. Last season, Gonchar produced five goals and 37 points, not great numbers for his cap hit but passable numbers overall.
Perhaps the most important thing the 38-year-old Russian did was mentor young teammate Erik Karlsson. With Karlsson firmly established as an NHL defenseman, the Senators would gladly cut Gonchar's contract off their payroll if they could.
Chris Pronger's return from post-concussion syndrome is more and more doubtful, and it is increasingly possible that the Flyers' captain has played his last NHL game.
Pronger still has five more years on his current contract at a cap hit of just under $5 million per year. If the Flyers know Pronger is unable to come back, erasing his salary from their cap would give them some more flexibility to try to improve their blue line and/or goaltending.
Daymond Langkow has been a steady veteran presence for the Phoenix Coyotes, but as of right now, the 36-year-old Edmonton native is a free agent and may not be back with the desert dogs.
Last season, Langkow scored only 11 goals and 30 points while adding just one goal and seven points in 16 playoff games.
His experience helped some of the younger Coyotes' players, but unless he is willing to accept a deal close to the veteran minimum, he won't be back.
Otherwise, the league-owned, low-budget Coyotes don't have any players with outrageous contracts they are eager to dispose of.
The Penguins are in pretty good salary-cap shape, assuming that Sidney Crosby is healthy and able to fulfill the terms of his long-term contract.
There really isn't a strong candidate for a buyout, but the closest the Penguins have is defenseman Paul Martin. Martin isn't even a good candidate for the Pens to let go, but he has a cap hit of $5 million per year with three seasons left on his current deal.
He had an off year in 2011-12 and needs to bounce back to justify his contract.
At 38, Jason Arnott added leadership and experience on a young Blues team that is just learning how to win.
He also added 17 goals and 34 points, not bad numbers for a role player. But, at this point, Arnott is an unrestricted free agent, and the Blues are unlikely to ask Arnott back once the season finally gets underway.
Other than that, the Blues are not really overpaying anybody and don't have many good candidates for early-contract termination.
While the Sharks have several high-priced veterans they may be willing to part with, their best candidate to cut loose under this proposed new rule would be winger Martin Havlat.
Havlat was injured for much of last season and was not very productive. The native of the Czech Republic scored only seven goals and 27 points in 39 games last season.
Havlat still has three years left on his contract with a cap hit of $5 million per year. The Sharks could certainly use more productivity from these cap dollars if Havlat's injuries don't allow him a full recovery.
The 31-year-old had a career-best 77 points in 2008-09 but hasn't come close to that point total since then.
Vincent Lecavalier is a former Rocket Richard Trophy winner and the captain of the Lightning, but his most productive days are behind him, and he has a very high $7.727 million cap number each season until he becomes a free agent in 2020.
Lecavalier has missed close to 20 games in each of the past two seasons, and his productivity is well below his cap hit.
The Bolts have allegedly tried to trade their captain and if given the chance, may cut him loose and try to bring him back on better terms.
The Toronto Maple Leafs' best candidate for contract termination would be captain Dion Phaneuf.
Phaneuf scored 12 goals and accumulated 44 points last season while still delivering many of the thundering hits he is known for. But his cap hit is $6.5 million for the next two seasons, and the Edmonton native is not worth the exorbitant salary he is being paid.
There have been rumors that the Leafs were willing to trade Phaneuf, and he is their best candidate for early termination if that option becomes available.
The Vancouver Canucks will almost certainly find a trade partner willing to take their former starting goalie off their hands shortly after the lockout ends. But if they can't, Luongo remains the most logical candidate to be set free by the Canucks.
Luongo has 10 more years left on his contract with a cap hit of more than $5.33 million per season—too large a number for a backup goalie.
It would also be problematic to have Luongo in the Vancouver dressing room for too long if he has to serve as the backup goalie.
While it is nearly a given that Luongo will be dealt, he would be the best candidate for a buyout on the Canucks roster if the new CBA rules allow it and no team makes a decent offer for the veteran netminder.
Veteran forward Mike Knuble won't be back with the Capitals once the season gets underway.
The 40-year-old former University of Michigan star may have reached the end of his NHL career or may find a new team to sign with, but Caps' GM George McPhee indicated Knuble is no longer in his team's plans.
Knuble scored only six goals and 18 points last season playing mostly fourth-line minutes.
Veteran forward Nik Antropov started the season getting top-six minutes for the Winnipeg Jets, but poor play and a lack of production soon landed him on the fourth line.
Winnipeg takes a cap hit of over $4 million this season, the last of Antropov's contract. The Jets may wish to buy out Antropov or dispose of his contract if the new CBA allows it. Simply put, $4 million is a lot to pay a player to take the ice for six or seven minutes per game.