Free Agency makes General Managers do stupid things. I don't know if it is the media attention, the klieg lights, the feeling of authority that comes with writing checks for several million dollars of other people's money, but time after time we have seen the likes of Sather, Snow, Holmgren, Nonis and the legend himself Mike Milbury hand out the most absurd of contracts to players. Eventually the chickens come home to roost.
This year there are a half a dozen candidates out there whose contracts will be wiped out by the giant eraser that is the compliance buyout. To quote from the classic 1980s film Spies Like Us, "an unused weapon is a useless weapon." There are 42 opportunities out there for GMs to recapture some of their mojo and move forward like the drunken sailors they are. And who could be sad about that? GMs get a second chance to make a dumb move with the reclaimed cap space. Players get a second chance to earn not one but two bloated UFA contracts.
On top of the 42 remaining "compliance buyouts," there is the ability contained in the previous 2005 Collective Bargaining agreement to perform a "normal course buyout." A normal course buyout takes either 2/3 or 1/3 of the remaining salary (depending on age) and pays it out over twice the remaining term. The cap hit for a buyout is based on a formula which accounts for the buyout amount and the difference between the cap hit and the salary for that particular year. It is a bit complicated, and players like David Clarkson that are paid heavily in signing bonuses are really not worth buying out in ordinary course buyouts, since signing bonuses cannot be bought out.
This brings up a new GM tool in the 2013 CBA for curing overpaid contracts: the retained salary trade. Because signing bonuses are not eligible for buyout, but they are moved with the contract in the case of trades or waiver claims, a GM is able to move the cap implication of signing bonuses via a retained salary trade. The club may trade the player with retained salary equal to up to half of the total compensation due, which will be accounted for in both the actual payment and salary cap accounting.
So who are the three most notable players due to undergo the potentially lucrative embarassment of a buyout, or the less lucrative possibility of a retained salary trade?
Brad Richards - Center 6'0" 196lbs 34 years old
The famed Rangers Playoffs fourth liner - Brad Richards was paid $33M in the first three years of his contract. $27M is left over the next six years. The Rangers need to get this money off the books, and his no movement clause allows Richards and the Rangers to avoid waiver claims, which would be unlikely anyway given the structure of his remaining contract, which requires $24M of bonus heavy compensation over the next three years.
2013-14: 20 Goals; 31 Assists; 51 Points; 29 PP Points; -8; 0.541CF%; 3.15 shots/game; 7.7 s%; 18:40 ATOI
Estimated Free Agency Value: 3 years/$16.5M - It is tough to believe someone won't overpay for Brad Richards, but at his heart he is a second line center that isn't very defensive, but can quarterback the powerplay. He will be the second best center available if Stastny makes it to free agency, but Olli Jokinen will probably provide similar production over the next few years for about half a million less.
Mike Richards - Center 5'11" 200 lbs 29 years old
The media attention to these first two free agents almost assuredly stems from their participation in the Stanley Cup Finals. While Brad got his name on the cup in 2004, Mike got his name on the cup - twice in 2014 and 2012. Mike going to LA, was a product of a Holmgren trade that moved Flyers Captain Mike Richards for Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn. Mike Richards will likely be bought out of the remaining six years and $29M he is due because this is the last year the compliance buyout is available and all but five of the players the Kings will want to keep long term have contracts expiring in the next two years.
2013-14: 11 Goals; 30 Assists; 41 Points; 12 PP Points; -6; 0.546 CF%; 1.9 shots/game; 7.0s%; 16:59 ATOI
Estimated Free Agency Value: 5 years/$23M; Mike Richards just has not been able to get back to the 60 point seasons he had with the Flyers, playing in the King's low-scoring system. He still is a solid two-way forward despite his +/-, and he should probably get a contract exceeding his value just on his name and playoff pedigree.
David Clarkson - Right Wing 6'1" 200 lbs 30 years old
This guy should need no introduction to Devils Fans. He went to Toronto for a ridiculous pay day and proceeded to get suspended ten games for leaving the bench during a fight. He never really showed up in Toronto and most Leafs fans are calling for his head. Unfortunately, his contract is so heavily based on bonuses it doesn't make sense to ordinary course buy him out, and Toronto is out of compliance buyouts.
2013-14: 5 Goals, 6 Assists; 11 Points; 2 PP Points; -14; 0.423% CF%; 1.7 shots/game; 4.9 s%; 15:06 ATOI
Estimated Value in Retained Salary Trade: 6 years/$19.5M; So if you trade for David you are going to get him through age 36, but you can probably get the Leafs to swallow a lot of his salary. He has been amazingly durable for a wizenheimer and instigator. Last year in Toronto is such a contrast to his years as a Devil, it is really beyond explainable, except to say, "well it's the Leafs." David has longtime links to Pete DeBoer coming up in the Kitchener Rangers, and it may just be that he is optimally suited to his aggressive forechecking system. Few teams besides the Devils will be looking at David, and there may be an opportunity to get 2013's third best Devil in corsi differential and a one-time 30 goal scorer back. Not to expect he will repeat those number, but with Patty as his center, he may very well be a big improvement over Monsieurs Brunner and Ryder.
So What Do You Think? Do any of these 3 players pique your interest at the values listed above? Thanks for reading.