Today's the day the NHL's general managers make their problems go away.
Some of them, anyway.
Monday marks the opening of the NHL’s compliance buyout window, an opportunity to part ways with cap-clogging contracts as negotiated in the most recent CBA. Each team was given the option of two penalty-free contact buyouts to be used in either the summer of 2013 or 2014. This year, general managers have until July 1, when free agency begins, to pull the bat chain and waive good-bye to costly underperformers.
Any player, depending on his age (younger or older than 26) who has his contract bought out will be paid either one-third or two-thirds of his remaining salary respectively over twice the remaining duration of his deal. After he clears waivers, he then becomes an unrestricted free agent and has the opportunity to sign with any of the NHL's other teams. Capgeek.com has an FAQ about buyouts and all the fine print.
Buyouts are no treat for ownership--they're the ones paying out real cash for no future services rendered--but for the league's GMs, it's the salary cap stain remover.
Last summer, 16 players were sent packing via buyouts, including Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa Bay), Ilya Bryzgalov and Danny Briere (Philadelphia), and Rick DiPietro (New York Islanders). Four teams (Chicago, Montreal, Philadelphia and Toronto) have already used up their pair, and there likely won't be quite as many buyouts this year, but there are several big names who could be headed to free agency with stacks of unearned cash in their pockets.
After a sluggish playoff performance that saw him ultimately relegated to fourth line duty in the Stanley Cup Final, it's inevitable that Richards has come to the end of the line in New York. Getting his $6.67 million commitment through 2019-20 off the books would give Glen Sather the room he needs to deal with his choice of 11 Rangers who are headed to restricted, or unrestricted, free agency this summer.
Richards may have played his last game for Los Angeles as the Stanley Cup champions look to re-sign leading goal scorer Marian Gaborik this summer. The bigger issue for the Kings, though, is his long-term cap impact. Dean Lombardi may make the call with an eye on creating space for next summer when the team will have seven key players looking for new deals, including Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll, Jake Muzzin and OT Cup hero Alec Martinez. Richards still brings plenty to the table in terms of grit and leadership, but committing $5.75 million through 2019-20 to a fourth-line center is tough to justify from a cap management perspective.
Leino in Buffalo is another no-brainer. The Sabres may need to take on salary to ensure that they get to the cap floor next season, but they don't want to waste money on a non-performer. Leino's been an empty sweater (10-36-46 in 137 games) since signing a six-year $27 million deal with the team back in 2011.
Other near-certain candidates include Aaron Rome in Dallas, Jordin Tootoo in Detroit, Martin Havlat in San Jose, Erik Cole in Dallas, Anton Volchenkov and Bryce Salvador in New Jersey, and Ryan Malone in Tampa Bay. R.J. Umberger (Columbus), Tyler Myers (Buffalo) and Ondrej Pavelec (Winnipeg) are also in the mix, but with each having trade value, it's likely their teams will fully explore those options before going nuclear.
For specifics on how each potential buyout could affect a team's salary structure, check out this buyout calculator over at Capgeek.com.
Here's a complete list of teams and how many buyouts they have left:
Anaheim Ducks: 2
Boston Bruins: 2
Buffalo Sabres: 2
Calgary Flames: 2
Carolina Hurricanes: 2
Chicago Blackhawks: 0 (Steve Montador, Rotislav Olesz)
Colorado Avalanche: 2
Columbus Blue Jackets: 2
Dallas Stars: 2
Edmonton Oilers: 1 (Eric Belanger)
Florida Panthers: 2
Los Angeles Kings: 2
New York Islanders: 1 (Rick DiPietro)
New York Rangers: 1 (Wade Redden)
Ottawa Senators: 2
Philadelphia Flyers: 0 (Ilya Bryzgalov, Daniel Briere)
Phoenix Coyotes: 2
Pittsburgh Penguins: 2
San Jose Sharks: 2
St. Louis Blues: 2
Tampa Bay Lightning: 1 (Vincent Lecavalier)
Winnipeg Jets: 0