2011 Offseason: Who Should the New Jersey Devils Consider Buying Out?

Would you consider buying out David Clarkson this summer? (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The New Jersey Devils do not have a lot of cap space for this summer; it's going to be tight just to retain the team's restricted free agents.  Moreover, I don't think it's not written in stone that they'll have a lot of cap space for the 2012 offseason.  Therefore, I believe it's in the team's best interest to try and create some more cap space in the immediate future.  It will allow the Devils to have some more versatility with respect to their roster both short-term and long-term, it will make easier to call up players for injury replacement purposes, and it will give them more pro-rated space for in-season trades.   I'm not saying the Devils need to have monster piles of space, just some so they're not right up against the ceiling, which can prevent them from making the moves they want to make.

Today, I want to focus on one way the Devils can do just that: buying out a player's contract.  NHL teams have two periods in the offseason where they can get a player off their books for a reduced penalty that lasts as long as the remaining part of the contract.  According to the current CBA, the first period runs from June 15 through June 30. The second is conditional; 48 hours after a team's last salary arbitration award or settlement - which only applies to arbitration cases. For the sake of this discussion, let us consider only the first period.

CapGeek has a very clear definition of the buyout process in their FAQ.  More importantly, CapGeek has a buyout calculator to determine the cost or savings that would result from such a decision. (Aside: Oh, CapGeek, whatever would we do without you? A lot more math, at least.)  Based on both, I ran the calculator for a few Devils players that Lou may want to consider buying out.  The results and additional thoughts come after the jump.

For the purposes of this post, I'm assuming all buyouts will happen on June 15, the very first date of the period.  Though, given the ages of the players I'm going to mention, it won't matter.  Also: all cap information comes from CapGeek. 

One final note, you won't see Brian Rolston among this group. Since he signed his deal when he was 35, a buy out would only save the Devils from his actual salary.  His cap hit would remain on the Devils' books. Therefore, there's no real point to buying out his contract.

Bryce Salvador

Current Cap Hit: $2,900,000, 1 season remaining

Why Would the Devils Buy Him Out: Bryce Salvador is essentially not necessary to the team.  Salvador is a physical defensive defenseman on a team that had Colin White on it's roster, Mark Fraser and Matthew Corrente in the system, added Anton Volchenkov last summer, and is high on Alexander Urbom.  The Devils don't really need three veteran players of this type, and certainly not at a cost of $2.9 million to their cap.

Why Wouldn't the Devils Buy Him Out:  Salvador didn't play one iota last season due to a cochlear concussion he suffered in preseason.  He didn't even practice with the team.  Per this Rich Chere post in mid-February, Salvador said he would make an attempt at coming back in 2011-12.  I doubt the Devils are going to undercut his attempt at a comeback unless both he and the team mutually agree to a buyout. I believe the Devils will allow him to make a sincere attempt at it rather than just cut him loose and hope some other team gives him a chance.

Buyout Calculation: Based on the CapGeek calculation, the Devils will save $1,933,333 in 2011-12 by buying him out.  The cap will be hit with a cost of $966,667 in 11-12 and 12-13.

David Clarkson

Current Cap Hit: $2,666,667, 2 seasons remaining

Why Would the Devils Buy Him Out: I thought the Devils should have considered trading David Clarkson at the deadline.  He's a bottom six forward who isn't quite effective.  He's great at getting shots on net, but he's not a particularly good defender, he doesn't help much on the power play, and he's had several nights last season where he's on a line with Tim Sestito and Rod Pelley and he struggled to even stand out.  For a player getting paid this much, he's got to bring more to the table.  The Devils should consider just ending it now if there's no reason to believe he'll get better.

Why Wouldn't the Devils Buy Him Out: Clarkson had a really bad 2010-11 season and he's only entering his fifth NHL season.  He could bounce back next season, and if he's placed with better linemates, he could flourish.   When he's on, his mix of physical play on the wing along with his flair is certainly useful.  The Devils really don't have any players who can bang bodies up front and have some offensive skills.  Not to mention that the Devils only have Travis Zajac and Nick Palmieri as NHL forwards with right-handed shots other than Clarkson.  From that standpoint, he fills a need of sorts.    Basically, if the Devils feel he'll do better in 2011-12, then he should remain.

Buyout Calculation: Based on the CapGeek calculation, the Devils will save $2 million in 2011-12 and 2012-13 by buying out Clarkson. The cost to the salary cap will be $666,667 in 11-12 and 12-13 and $1 million in 13-14 and 14-15.

Dainius Zubrus

Current Cap Hit: $3,400,000, 2 seasons remaining

Why Would the Devils Buy Him Out:  Dainius Zubrus just can't fully justify his contract. He's played on scoring lines, checking lines, and he's likely to top out at about 15 goals, 40 points, and about 120 shots on net at most per season.  He's a tweener between a center and a winger; and more so between an attacking and checking player.  Essentially, Zubrus does some nice things, but he tends to leave you wanting more.  At age 32, he's not going to suddenly change for the better; so I don't see how his play is worth $3.4 million per year.

Why Wouldn't the Devils Buy Him Out: Zubrus provides some serious size at forward.  He uses it well, especially when battling for pucks along the boards. While he has not and will not rack up points, Zubrus has been a positive possession player at evens per Behind the Net. Also, he's better at draws than Patrik Elias and his positional versatility allows him to take the draw and then shift to right wing without much of an issue.  Zubrus is useful on the attack and there aren't too many people who can do what he does without looking seriously out of place on a second line.

Buyout Calculation: Based on the CapGeek calculation, the Devils would save $2,266,667 in 11-12 and 12-13 by buying out Zubrus' contract.  The cost to the Devils' cap would be $1,133,333 for the next four seasons starting from 11-12.

Colin White

Current Cap Hit: $3,000,000, 1 year remaining

Why Would the Devils Buy Him Out:  While some fans seem to have it in for Colin White, the main benefit to buying him out is basically to get some immediate savings to make it possible to sign some other defenseman (e.g. Andy Greene).  He's 33, he's near the end of his prime, he's not as physical as some may like him to be, he's not fast, and he's only a defensive defenseman.   Should Salvador make a successful comeback, the Devils could possibly do without White.  Hence, buy him out and get those savings instead of letting him walk.

Why Wouldn't the Devils Buy Him Out: The above section is biased against it.  White is a very reliable defensive defenseman.  A solid #3, if you must classify him earlier.  You know what he's going to give you, he can handle tough competition, he can kill penalties, and he knows where to position himself so he's not constantly being torched by faster players. The Devils defense would suffer without him. While I've included him in this post because I know his name will come up if I don't, I would have to say it wouldn't be a smart idea to buy him out.  If you really don't like him, then just hope he doesn't re-sign after next season.

Buyout Calculation: Based on the CapGeek calculation, the Devils will save $2 million next season by buying out White. The cost to the Devils' cap will be $1 million in the next two seasons.

Your Take

These four Devils are the ones I could see possibly getting bought out this summer.   Rod Pelley is entering the final year of his contract, but I don't see the Devils bothering to buy him out for a savings of $383,333 next season.  I think David Steckel and definitely Travis Zajac will be quite useful to the Devils next season, so I didn't consider a buy out for them.  Likewise, I didn't bother with one for players signed long-term or for Martin Brodeur.

At the same time, I could see the Devils not buying anyone out.  It's not unreasonable to think Clarkson can have a better 2011-12; the cost of the buyout for Zubrus isn't small and he's not easily replaceable; and I think White's too important to just buy him out.  Then there's the case of Bryce Salvador. The Devils may want to give Salvador a real chance to play again, and in the case that he doesn't, then Salvador will have to either seriously consider retirement or go back on injured reserve.  Both would make his cap hit irrelevant. 

I feel bad about Salvador due to his medical situation.  I certainly don't want his career to end like this, and I'd like to think the Devils don't want to let him loose without at least giving him an opportunity to play again. So unless both sides mutually agree to one, I doubt it'll happen; even if it makes more sense than a buy out of Clarkson, Zubrus, or White. Incidentally, that's my preference of who to buy out in order - and I'm definitely not a fan of buying out Zubrus (at least this season) or White (not at all) at this juncture.

Regardless, I want to make the final point that the savings from buying out a contract aren't big.  Don't misunderstand, an extra million of cap space would be fantastic for the Devils.  It's just that it's not a supremely great option.  While the savings are immediate savings, the resulting cost lasts longer as dead cap space.  Therefore, it only makes sense to keep buyouts to a minimum and to do it only for players with one or two seasons left on their deal.   The Devils really should only do one of these this summer, if they do it at all.

What do you think the Devils should do with respect to buying contracts out this summer? Should they do it at all? If not, why not?  If so, then who do you want to see the Devils buy out? Please leave your answers and other thoughts on this subject of buying players out in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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