Ranking the NHL's Top 10 Buyout Candidates

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistMarch 29, 2014

Ranking the NHL's Top 10 Buyout Candidates

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    Matt Slocum

    Every June, there is a brief window of opportunity for NHL teams to buy out the remaining value of player contracts that have proven unwieldy for their payroll. The buyout period begins either June 15 or 48 hours following the completion of the Stanley Cup Final (whichever comes last) and concludes June 30.

    For players 26 and older, the buyout is two-thirds the remaining value of the contract over twice the remaining term. For players under 26, it's one-third. The rule also applies to players who were 35 or older when they signed their contracts.

    Under this plan, the team takes a buyout cap hit over twice the remaining term of the contract. These amounts can vary from year to year, depending upon how the salary was structured. Players who are still recovering from injuries incurred as a result of game play or practice are ineligible to receive contract buyouts.

    When the current NHL CBA was implemented, teams were allowed two compliance buyouts over a two-year period. These fall under the same value calculation as regular buyouts but do not count against a team's salary cap. This year is the final one for general managers to use this option. It could provide additional incentive for some teams to free up additional cap space.

    Here's a listing of 10 NHL players who could become candidates for contract buyouts this June.

10. Rene Bourque, Montreal Canadiens

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    Rene Bourque originally signed his six-year, $20 million contract with the Calgary Flames in February 2010. The Montreal Canadiens acquired him midway through their disastrous 2011-12 season, believing the 6'2”, 217-pound scoring winger (he had three 20-plus goal seasons with the Flames) would address their need for a power forward.

    It hasn't worked out as hoped. Bourque managed only eight points in his 38 games with the Canadiens in 2011-12, had 13 points in 27 games last season and is on pace for only 17 points this season. He has two years left on his contract at an annual cap hit of $3.333 million. CBC.ca's Guillaume Lefrancois reports that the Habs must consider buying out Bourque this summer or retaining him for one more season, after which he'll have only one year left on his contract.

    The Canadiens currently have over $46 million tied up in 15 players and already used up their compliance buyouts. The cost of re-signing top defensemen P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov this summer could determine Bourque's fate.

9. Erik Cole, Dallas Stars

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    Once an effective power winger, Erik Cole's stock has plummeted in recent years. Signed to a four-year, $18 million contract in 2011 by Montreal, Cole tallied 35 goals and 61 points in his first season with the Canadiens. His numbers dropped significantly in last year's lockout-shortened season, resulting in his trade to the Dallas Stars.

    It was expected that Cole would rebound under a full season with the Stars. Unfortunately, the 35-year-old is on pace for 33 points in 79 games, his lowest output during a full NHL season since his sophomore campaign in 2002-03.

    Cole was the subject of trade rumors leading up to the March trade deadline. The Stars still have both compliance buyouts and could use one of them to shed the remaining year of Cole's contract.

8. Ryan Malone, Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Since inking a seven-year, $31.5 million contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008, Ryan Malone has done his best to play up to expectations. The 6'4”, 225-pound power forward has had three 40-plus-point seasons and played a key role in the Lightning's march to the 2011 Eastern Conference Final.

    Malone has paid a physical price for his hard-nosed style. Injuries have ensured that he's never played a full season for the Lightning.

    His performance has suffered over the past two years. He managed only eight points in 24 games last season and is currently on pace for only 17 points in 62 games.

    Malone has only one season left on his contract, but the Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson speculates that the 34-year-old could become a buyout candidate. With one compliance buyout remaining, the Lightning could use it on Malone.

7. R.J. Umberger, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    In 2011, the Columbus Blue Jackets re-signed R.J. Umberger to a five-year, $23 million contract extension. It seemed a good signing at the time. Since joining the Blue Jackets in 2008, he has consistently been among their best forwards.

    From a career-high 57 points in 2010-11, Umberger's offensive numbers have steadily eroded. He had 40 points in 2011-12, 18 points in 48 games last season and is currently on pace for 38 points in 80 games. That would be his lowest full-season total since his 28-point sophomore campaign in 2006-07.

    Three more seasons at an annual cap hit of $4.6 million is a lot to pay a fading two-way forward. The Blue Jackets have over $51 million invested in 16 players next season. They still have both their compliance buyouts and could exercise one of them on Umberger.

6. Brooks Laich, Washington Capitals

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    Brooks Laich was only a year removed from his career-best 59-point season when he signed a six-year, $27 million contract extension with the Washington Capitals. At the time, the versatile two-way winger was a key part of a team still considered a serious Stanley Cup contender.

    Three years later, the Capitals are struggling to clinch a playoff berth.

    Laich's performance was significantly hampered over the past two years by groin injuries. He's currently sidelined for the rest of his season, having managed only 15 points in 51 games. NBC Sports' Jason Brough recently speculated Laich could become a buyout candidate.

    He cannot be faulted for his injury woes, but the Capitals are in decline and in need of a significant shakeup. They also still have one compliance buyout left. If Laich has fully recovered from surgery by June, he could be bought out.

5. Anton Volchenkov, New Jersey Devils

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    Anton Volchenkov seemed like a natural fit for the New Jersey Devils when they signed him in 2010 as an unrestricted free agent to a six-year, $25.5 million deal. The 6'1”, 225-pound Russian is a physical shot-blocking defenseman whose style of play was supposed to mesh well within the Devils' defensive system.

    Injuries, however, significantly hampered Volchenkov's effectiveness. The 32-year-old blueliner has been frequently sidelined during his tenure with the Devils. He's no longer as effective a shutdown defenseman as he once was.

    The Devils still possess one compliance buyout. They could use it to to cut ties this June with Volchenkov.

4. David Booth, Vancouver Canucks

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    Following a 31-goal, 60-point performance in 2008-09, the Florida Panthers signed David Booth to a six-year, $25.5 million contract. Unfortunately, he suffered a concussion the following season and has never been the same.

    The Vancouver Canucks acquired Booth early in 2011-12, hoping he could regain his scoring touch on a more talented roster. But injuries and inconsistency continue to hamper his effectiveness. Booth is on pace this season for only 18 points in 66 games, the worst totals in a full season in his NHL career.

    He has only one season at a cap hit of $4.25 million remaining on his contract. In February, The Vancouver Province's Jim Jamieson noted that Booth was regularly cited last summer as a buyout candidate. With the Canucks seemingly headed for a rebuild and with one compliance buyout left, they could use that option to remove Booth from their payroll.

3. Martin Havlat, San Jose Sharks

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    When Havlat's healthy he's among the NHL's most dazzling offensive stars. Sadly, he hasn't been healthy since joining the Sharks in an off-season trade in 2011. The 32-year-old winger appeared in a total of 79 games over the past two years, and is on pace to play only 49 games this season.

    Havlat has only one season left on his six-year, $30 million contract. Although the salary cap hit is $5 million, he'll receive $6 million in actual salary. He was expected to be a compliance buyout candidate last summer but was ineligible due to recovery from pelvic reconstruction surgery.

    The Sharks currently have nearly $60 million invested in 17 players next season. They'll need extra cap space to re-sign or replace free agents Dan Boyle, Jason Demers, Tommy Wingels and Alex Stalock. If Havlat remains healthy over the rest of the season, he could receive a compliance buyout in June.

2. Brad Richards, New York Rangers

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    When the New York Rangers signed Brad Richards in July 2011 to a nine-year, $60 million contract, they assumed he would address their need for a first-line center. At the time, Richards was only one season removed from a 91-point performance and coming off a 77-point effort in 72 games with the Stars.

    Since joining the Rangers, however, his offensive output has declined. He had 66 points in 2011-12, 34 points in 46 games last season and is on pace for 52 points this season. The additions of Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis failed to improve Richards' numbers.

    The 33-year-old has six years left on his contract at an annual cap hit of $6.66 million. That's a long time to invest in a play-making center whose best years are behind him. The Rangers currently have over $55 million invested in 14 players next season and one compliance buyout left. Don't be surprised if they use it to shed Richards' contract. 

1. Ville Leino, Buffalo Sabres

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    Ville Leino first made a name for himself with a 21-point performance for the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. He followed that up with 53 points during 2010-11. His versatility and play-making skills prompted the Buffalo Sabres, in an uncharacteristic fit of largesse, to ink him as a free agent to a six-year, $27 million contract.

    To call Leino a disappointment with the Sabres would be an understatement. He tallied only 25 points in 2011-12, played only eight games during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign and is on pace for only 14 points this season.

    The Buffalo News' John Vogl reports that Leino is "a candidate to be a compliance buyout this summer." Expect new Sabres general manager Tim Murray to avail himself of that option to shed the remaining three years and $11 million of Leino's contract in June.