Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY SPORTS
Thanks to the oddities of the NHL Rulebook, the Toronto Maple Leafs now have an opportunity to shed some contracts. Their arbitration-eligible players have now all been settled with, which means a second “buyout window”, lasting 48 hours, will open up on Monday. Seeing as the Leafs have less than $60,000 in cap space at this exact moment and a lot of potential rookie bonuses to deal with that can’t be thrown under Nathan Horton’s LTIR, this may be a good way for the team to optimize their cap situation for the next two seasons ahead.
General Fanager explains the second buyout rule here:
For teams with one or more arbitration filings in an offseason, an additional 48 hour buyout window is available starting on the third day after the team’s last arbitration filing is awarded or settled. For this buyout window, there is a minimum AAV requirement on the player being bought out that varies annually. The estimated minimum for the 2015 offseason is $2,985,625. In addition to meeting this minimum AAV, the player must have been on the team’s reserve list for the previous year to qualify for this buyout window. Teams can execute a maximum of 3 buyouts in this additional buyout window over the course of the entire CBA term.
With that considered, let’s look at our test subjects:
The case in favour of a buyout: From the sounds of it, the Leafs have no real interest in having Lupul play for them again. They think he’s done, he thinks he can play, and this could be a massive stalemate. I doubt anybody wants to trade for a broken man on the bad side of 30. The easiest way to get rid of that problem? Cut him loose.
The case against a buyout: Toronto is so, so close to being out of the woods in terms of bad contracts, save for Phil Kessel’s salary retention. By buying out Lupul, they’d have him on the books for two additional years. If you’re a believer in this team, you know that they could start doing damage in that timeframe, and every dollar is going to help once lottery chasing turns into trophy chasing.
The case in favour of a buyout: That’s a loooooooot of cap space coming off this year. $2.7 million pays off Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Nikita Zaitsev’s rookie bonuses, for example. Minimizing those is the name of the game, and if they’re going to hit next year’s cap anyway, you’re paying them off ahead of time at a 2 to 1 ratio.
The case against a buyout: The Leafs seem to like the idea of Laich being around as a locker room presence and a mentor to the kids. Is that worth a temporary cap gain, especially for someone who will have to be replaced in the lineup anyway? That remains to be seen.
The case in favour of a buyout: The exact same situation applies here. While Michalek’s pre-buyout cap hit is $500,000 lower, the structure means that his buyout hit is lowered too and is the exact same in 2017/18. Again, you remove significant worry regarding next year’s bonus overage by making a move like this.
The case against a buyout: There’s not really a ton here. Michalek is only a couple of years removed from being a useful forward, but even then, he was a shadow of himself. He’s 31 and more than a little broken down, so he’s a risk even towards the minimum salary, let alone at $4 million. I guess Leafs fans will have to have less reason to buy Czech Republic tickets at the World Cup? Even then, everyone loves Jagr.
The case in favour of a buyout: Greening’s contract structure is even more awkward, meaning that despite having an even lower hit than Michalek, you still save nearly 75% of the deal in year one and only add a million in year two. In both of their cases, too, it’s worth remembering that Toronto has a huge logjam at left wing, to the point where there might be ECHL players that you could argue could play on the Leafs in a pinch.
The case against a buyout: The Leafs aren’t great this year, but they’re decent enough and the Atlantic Division is pretty bad. They’re not just going to start dumping prospects for old guys to squeeze into the playoffs, but they’re also going to try to win a bunch of hockey games if they can. Colin Greening is a very solid defensive forward who improved the possession and efficiency rates of many of his linemates in Toronto and in Ottawa. His percentage driven breakout year with the Sens may have put too much expectation on him, but since being written off as a one-year wonder, he’s been perhaps underused as a depth forward who plays garbage minutes. The Leafs might feel otherwise, seeing a player who can contribute if they’re good or get a pick in a trade down the road if they aren’t. Is a pick worth more than the space, though?
The case in favour of a buyout: The Leafs wouldn’t save any cap dollars with a buyout, but hey would gain a roster spot. If there are still a few entry-level deals, or, you know, backup goalies left to sign, it would be nice to make sure the team stays under 50 contracts. They’re at 47 right now, which is manageable, but can evaporate quickly, which could even inhibit them in a quantity for quality trade down the road.
The case against a buyout: Because Robidas is injured, he’d have to approve of any buyout. If this was a “good soldier” situation, then I’m sure he’d do it, but there’s $1 million in real cash at stake for him here. With his career likely done, he’s likely not going to throw away seven figures to do a favour for a group that weren’t even the ones who signed him.
BONUS: Jared Cowen
The case in favour of a buyout: Speaking of career likely done players, there’s still this elephant hanging around the room. Cowen’s buyout process is independent of the second window, as it’s in the hands of an arbitrator. If it gets approved, the Leafs probably don’t have to shed any of these guys. If they get denied, they’ll wish they did. Nobody is expecting an answer by Wednesday at midnight, so for now, all anyone can do is stare and blink at all the cap space at stake.
The case against a buyout: There is none. The Leafs have already attempted to buy him out and now need to wait for confirmation that they were allowed to do it. The argument is that he was deemed fit to play when he was shut down for the year, whereas Cowen argues that the surgery he underwent between the public shutdown and the buyout might force him away from the game.
If I did It…
All things considered, I’d be buying out Milan Michalek for the $2.66M gained this year and I’d hold pat on the rest. Throw Lupul on waivers, I guess put feelers on how Robidas would feel about walking away entirely, let Laich and Greening play while hoping the Cowen buyout goes through. If it does, they’d save a total of $6.41 million; more than enough to sign a backup goalie and cover most if not all of Matthews, Nylander, Maner, and Zaitsev’s rookie bonuses at a combined cost of just over $2 million next year; a good return on investment.