The Los Angeles Kings defeated Our Hated Rivals in five games to win the Stanley Cup early Saturday morning. Game 5 went into double overtime and Alec Martinez finished the job to earn his team a championship, lead Henrik Lundqvist to provide a new meme, and cause MSG to go back to airing retrospectives of 1994. I understand Los Angeles wouldn't normally garner a lot of love from the New Jersey Devils faithful, but any enemy not named the Flyers (Aside: No, Flyers fans, you can't claim a Cup because you really, really like Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Suffer the Andrew MacDonald experience) that is the enemy of the Rangers isn't that much of an enemy. In any case, the Kings' win was relevant not just for winning the greatest trophy in sports but also kicking off the offseason for everyone. Today, the buyout period begins.
For those unaware of how buyout works, CapGeek has an excellent overview explaining all of the requirements and steps. I'll provide a quick summary: Since it's 48 hours after the Stanley Cup Final, all thirty teams can buy out players until June 30. There is a second window once arbitration cases end, but the first one is more important. The whole point of a buyout is to pay a player to get him and his contract off of the team's books. There is a cap hit involved in buying out a player that lasts beyond the remaining length of the contract. Therefore, players with really bad contracts with not much term left and/or poor performance tend to get bought out. There is a new wrinkle from the 2012 CBA: teams can have up to two compliance buyouts. CapGeek has an excellent overview of those too. Basically, a team can use one to buy out any player signed before September 15, 2012 without the cap penalty. Yes, even players over 35 years old who were signed would have their cap hits erased. It'll still cost money, but it's a method for a team to create some cap space at the cost of real dollars.
Let's consider all of this with respect to the New Jersey Devils. They have one compliance buyout remaining and a very rich owner. They cannot make any buyouts right away. Any player to be bought out has to clear unconditional waivers. If none of the 29 other teams would claim the player after 24 hours, then they can be bought out. They do have plenty of time to make that decision. Based on what I've heard from fans throughout the season and offseason, there are two Devils they prefer to see bought out instead of playing out their current deals: Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov. They're defensemen, they're veterans, and with young defenders on the rise, space needs to be made for them. I can understand why they're popular targets. So let's go over both and figure out why the team should or should not them out.
Remaining Contract: 1 year at $3.25 million salary; $3.1667 million cap hit
CapGeek Buyout Calculator - Cost of Regular Buy Out: $1 million in 2014-15, $1.083 million in 2015-16
Why Should the Devils Buy Out Salvador?: Mike had an excellent post explaining the problems with Salvador back in February. They didn't change much by the end of the season. I'll go over the high (low?) points anyway. Bryce Salvador was arguably the worst defenseman on the team last season. On a very strong possession team, 50.4% Corsi isn't that good. Neither is a relative Corsi of -5.2%. Both are the worst among Devils defensemen per Extra Skater. By eye, Salvador has gotten slower both in terms of actual skating but also decision making. Against any opponent with even decent speed, he can get into real trouble. Salvador has never been a significant offensive producer. He also hasn't been a significant passer, so his contributions going forward are very limited. He's a defensive defenseman who's not all that good on defense as he once was. At age 38, he will not get better. Health is also a factor as he has a history of concussion issues plus missed 42 games due to separate injuries to his foot, collarbone, and groin. So even though he could be better than he was, he may not be able to play all that much anyway. Basically, as Salvador is the worst, the Devils should jettison him and the quickest way to do that is to buy out his contract.
Why Should the Devils Not Buy Out Salvador?: I don't think the Devils realize that he's all that bad. When he did play last season, he averaged over twenty minutes per game and nearly four minutes per game on the penalty kill. While Corsi percentages show the flaws of Salvador's performance, it hasn't necessarily shown up on the scoresheet. The goalies behind #24 have been good for several seasons now at evens. According to his player page at Hockey Analysis, his on-ice opposition shooting percentage since 2008-09 has ranged from 6.29% to 7.89% - which is really good. I could understand the goalies coincidentally being hot behind him for one or two seasons, but for five seasons, I'm wondering whether he has something to do with it. Even if you don't think so (I'm still skeptical), whatever his issues have been have not been killing the team on the scoreboard. The Devils' penalty kill was tops and while I agree with Mike pointing out he may not have much to do with it, I don't think the team will see it that way. On top of that, he is the captain. Since he didn't go Langenbrunner after a frustrating 2013-14 season, I suspect he's still the leader. If the team wanted to get rid of him, then they could have given the 'C' to someone else while injured as a precursor for a move like this. They didn't. So if the team doesn't think he's that bad, then why buy out the last year of his deal?
Do I Think It'll Happen?: As much as I'm not a Salvador fan, I would be surprised if the team did buy him out. I don't see the signs that the team thinks he's declined that much. The defense's results have been quite good, so the perception is that at least he's not hurting it. I don't agree with that, but it would provide a reason why he'll be around in 2014-15. Hopefully, he would just play out the end of the contract, receive sheltered minutes to limit issues, and that will be that by next July. I see a player near the end of the proverbial road. I just don't think he'll get paid to leave, that's all.
Remaining Contract: 2 years at $4.25 million salary and cap hit per year.
CapGeek Buyout Calculator - Cost of Regular Buy Out: $1.416 million per year from 2014-15 through 2017-18
Why Should the Devils Buy Out Volchenkov?: Just look at that contract. The Devils signed Volchenkov to a six-year contract worth $25.5 million back in 2010. Instead of a big, nasty defensemen opponents loathe to face, the Devils have used him much more on the third pairing. It's good that the Devils aren't trying to justify the money. It still gives me a little pause that someone who has the defense's lowest time on ice per game average and didn't face tough competition last season is getting more money than any other defenseman on the Devils. Like Salvador, Volchenkov brings very little offense to the table. He's never been a scorer, a shooter, or a passer of any note. Like Salvador, Volchenkov has never been swift in skating. While he's not as slow at picking up plays, his limited mobility does get him into trouble. If that wasn't enough, the man known for his big hits and shot blocks has a tendency to pick up a number of minor injuries during the season. Last season, he missed a total of 21 games from a variety of "lower-body" injuries. All of this doesn't add up to be worth $4.25 million and so the Devils should seriously consider parting ways with him before July 1.
Why Should the Devils Not Buy Out Volchenkov?: While Volchenkov has been kept away from the Devils' top four for several seasons, he hasn't been bad at it. Despite bringing very little offense to the table, he managed to post a 55.0% Corsi with a +0.3% relative Corsi at even strength last season. He wouldn't get such positive values if he wasn't doing his job whenever the play went into his own end. Volchenkov was often paired with Salvador on the first penalty killing unit for the past several seasons. As the penalty killing success rate has been good, someone who plays in excess of 3:30 per game on the PK probably has something to do with that. Last season, Volchenkov was actually positive in penalty differential (drawn - taken), something he didn't do in the prior two seasons. So his physical play hasn't made him pay the price in PIM. Lastly, a buy out of Volchenkov would be costly in real dollars given he's got two years left at $4.25 million. While it may not be a good look to have your highest-paid defender on the back end of the blueline, the fact he's been good while providing some value to a special team dulls the pain of the cost. As he hasn't been awful, then the team may be able to live with him sticking around at least one more season.
Do I Think It'll Happen?: I do think if anyone is getting bought out from the Devils, then Volchenkov is a prime candidate. While he wasn't bad last season, it's not terribly difficult to replace his spot in the lineup. Andy Greene can and, due to injuries to Volchenkov and Salvador, did perform well on the Devils' top penalty killing unit. His limited minutes at even strength could be filled in by Salvador moving down or a younger defender like Eric Gelinas or Jon Merrill, as they try to improve on defense at the NHL level. Lastly, freeing up $4.25 million from the cap would be useful if the Devils plan to be active in free agency this summer. While a regular buyout would leave a dead cap hit of about $1.4 million, the Devils can use their compliance buy out on Volchenkov to leave no penalty behind. I think they should do it and I would not be surprised if that's the plan.
Other Buy Out Possibilities
Sure, Volchenkov and Salvador are the hot names from New Jersey regarding buy outs, but there are a few other players who could be considered for a buy out. I don't think any of these will happen, but I wouldn't be surprised if the team at least thought about it for a bit. In my mind, Dainius Zubrus could be a darkhorse candidate for a buy out. Earlier this month, Mike raised a very good question: how much in the proverbial tank does the Lithuanian Freight Train have left? He's now 36 and his usefulness appears to be fading. If the answer to Mike's question is not much, then should the Devils suffer dropping him in the lineup as he gets $3.1 million per season for the next two? They can't use a compliance buy out on Zubrus, but could they live with a cap penalty for $1 million for the next four years to not suffer that? It's not impossible to think they could. Yet, I think he may be more of a candidate for a buy out next summer, though. As further long shot candidates, if the Devils have soured on Michael Ryder and/or Damien Brunner, then they could use a regular buy out on either winger. Both aren't too bad when they're scoring; it's when they're not, their value is minimal. I think they may possibly have trade value as neither are all that old or entirely bad. I'd prefer the Devils explore those routes instead. If they aren't good again, then the Devils can just let them walk next summer. So I don't think either winger really will be, but it would be a quick way to make some space at forward if needed for whatever reason.
Now that you read my take on the Devils' buy out possibilities, I want to know yours. Do you think Salvador and/or Volchenkov will be bought out, and why? Will the Devils use their remaining compliance buy out? They have to use it or lose it, if I recall correctly. Do you think there are other candidates who could be bought out? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Devils played who could potentially bought out of their contracts by June 30 in the comments. Thank you for reading.