With the NHL off-season now less than a month away, anticipation is growing over which players will receive compliance buyouts.
According to the Toronto Star, this year's compliance buyout period begins 48 hours after the completion of the Stanley Cup final and ends on July 4, the day before the start of unrestricted free agency.
Players 26 and older would receive two-thirds of their remaining salaries, while those under 26 receive one-third. Unlike traditional buyouts, compliance buyouts won't count against a team's salary cap.
Topping nearly everyone's list of compliance buyout candidates is New York Rangers center Brad Richards, who completed the second year of a nine-year, $60 million contract and is coming off a sub-par season.
The Rangers limited cap space ($13.5 million) for next season and the need to re-sign key players such as Ryan McDonagh, Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan could force management to buy out Richards.
ESPN.com's Katie Strang suggests the new “cap advantage recapture rule” - in which teams are penalized for players on existing long-term contracts (over seven years in length) who retire before their deals expire – could also factor into a Richards buyout.
That's because if Richards retires before his contract expires in 2020, the Rangers would be penalized a certain percentage against their cap for the leftover years of the deal.
ESPN.com's Neil Greenberg also made the case for the Pittsburgh Penguins to buy out the remaining two years of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury's contract.
Since backstopping the Penguins to the 2009 Stanley Cup title, Fleury's performance has declined to where Greenberg believes he's no longer worth the annual cap hit of $5 million.
Greenberg noted the Penguins need to free up cap space to re-sign Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla, as well as make it a little easier to re-sign Evgeni Malkin next year. He feels the Penguins can make do with Tomas Vokoun, who has taken over the starter's role in this year's playoffs.
While a Fleury buyout makes sense on paper, it wouldn't resolve the Penguins goaltending for the long term. Vokoun turns 37 this summer, meaning GM Ray Shero would have to add someone to eventually take over the starter's role.
Jonathan Bernier of the LA Kings and Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues are viable options, but it remains to be seen if Shero goes that route. He could be patient with Fleury and shed salary elsewhere if necessary. Ownership may also be reluctant to pay a player who is no longer on the roster, even if it doesn't count against their cap.
Philadelphia Flyers forward Daniel Briere could also receive a compliance buyout. Briere, who recently tried his hand as a TSN analyst, would prefer to remain a Flyer but understands the club's need for cap space next season.
Teammate Ilya Bryzgalov is also a buyout candidate, but it's rumored the front office is torn over making that move this summer.
Benoit Rioux of Le Journal de Montreal also listed Richards, Briere and Bryzgalov as buyout candidates, as well as Montreal's Tomas Kaberle, Toronto's Mike Komisarek, Vancouver's Keith Ballard, New Jersey's Anton Volchenkov, Minnesota's Dany Heatley, Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier and the New York Islanders' Rick DiPietro.
Kaberle, Komisarek, Ballard and DiPietro appear to be certain buyout candidates. Heatley, however, is recovering from late-season shoulder surgery and cannot be bought out if he isn’t medically fit by the buyout period.
Lecavalier (annual cap hit of $7.727 million ending in July 2020) and Volchenkov (cap hit of $4.25 million to July 2016) may be overpaid, but there's little indication their clubs intend to buy them out.
With 16 players under contract next season and more than $24 million in cap space, the Devils aren't facing a pressing need to shed salary. The Lightning, however, have a little more than $3.3 million in projected cap space and 17 players under contract.
While Lecavalier appears a logical buyout candidate, the Lightning would get an additional $3.6 million in cap relief if Mattias Ohlund remains on the long-term injured reserve next season. They could also shed salary via trades, though such moves could weaken their depth.
Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).