There’s a certain stigma attached to getting bought out at the NHL level, but it has become a simple reality of the salary-cap world. That fact was reinforced Tuesday, when two new players went on waivers for the purpose of a buyout:
Those two join ex-Dallas Stars defenceman Aaron Rome, who was waived Monday and bought out on Tuesday.
But if buyouts are a reality of the modern era of NHL hockey, another is that many of the players bought out of their deals are still going to be attractive to NHL teams, just at a lower price.
A non-exhaustive list might include Daniel Briere and Vincent Lecavalier, who both found homes on fairly pricey deals after being bought out last season. Ilya Bryzgalov had to wait a few months, but he ended up getting significant minutes in the NHL in the 2013-14 season. Tom Gilbert signed in Florida for a song and wound up on the Panthers’ top pairing.
Which of the above three buyouts has the best chance of being attractive to another NHL team this summer? Let’s look at each.
David Booth had a disastrous year, scoring just 19 points in 66 NHL games on a disappointing Vancouver Canucks team. Facing the prospect of paying him $4.75 million next season, Vancouver instead opted to buy him out.
But while Booth hasn’t produced in three years in Vancouver (he was a three-time 20-goal scorer in Florida, once topping 30), he has reasonably strong underlying numbers and brings the size that NHL teams look for in bottom-six forwards. It’s a very good bet that he’ll be signed by some team looking for a decent depth forward.
Ville Leino could be a different story. He went 58 games without scoring a goal last season and over three seasons in Buffalo managed just 46 points—seven less than he managed in the single season before the Sabres signed him to an inflated six-year contract.
He’s primarily an offensive player who hasn’t scored in years, and while he might be worth the risk of a cheap short-term contract, his best option might lie in a return overseas.
The first player to make the NHL’s buyout list is in a situation very different from that of Booth or Leino.
Aaron Rome, unlike those two, had a pretty modest contract. He would have earned just $1.6 million next year in salary and, at $1.5 million, his cap hit was actually even a little lower than that.
That’s a pretty damning indictment of his ability to find future NHL work. Dallas, doubtless, would have moved him for nothing in order to avoid buying him out, and $1.5 million isn’t a lot of money for even a No. 6 defender. If Rome gets another NHL contract, it’s hard to imagine that it will be for much more than the league minimum, and he might be hard-pressed to get a one-way deal.
Of these three, only Booth seems like a good bet to get another contract.
It’s virtually certain that more bought-out players will be part of this summer’s free-agent market, though. NHL teams have until June 30 to make compliance buyouts, and there is no shortage of speculation.
New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault acknowledged to NHL.com that the team had some difficult decisions to make when asked about centre Brad Richards, a player who would doubtless be of interest to multiple teams.
Additionally, The Fourth Period’s David Pagnotta tweeted that the San Jose Sharks are attempting to trade Martin Havlat rather than exercising a buyout, and it’s widely expected that if those efforts are unsuccessful, San Jose will spend the money to nix Havlat’s contract.
The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle adds that Jordin Tootoo, Ryan Malone, Erik Cole and Anton Volchenkov could all also find their way to free agency via buyout.
None of those players will make up for a weak unrestricted free-agent class, but those who do make it to market should add at least a little intrigue when the UFA signing period kicks off on July 1.
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.