The Vancouver Canucks and other National Hockey League teams will have two compliance buyouts instead of one for the 2013-14 season.During negotiations with the league and the Players’ Association this week, the NHL agreed to a request to allow teams two of them. The NHL had proposed only one buyout in their December 28 collective bargaining proposal.
These buyouts will help teams comply with the salary cap drop from $70.2 million next season. The NHL is calling for a $60 million cap while the NHLPA has been asking for a $65 million cap in negotiations. These buyouts will not be charged against a team’s salary cap, but will count towards the players’ share of hockey-related revenue.
Who do the Canucks use these two buyouts on?
» Keith Ballard – The defenceman has vastly under-performed during his two seasons as a Canuck. With the Phoenix Coyotes and Florida Panthers, Ballard was a top-pairing defenceman who played in all situations and lead the offense from the backend. In Vancouver, he has been a sixth defenceman on a short leash.
We have seen flashes of his shotblocking, hipchecking, and puckmoving abilities, but we have yet to see Ballard put it together for an entire season or even a stretch of games. We have seen it in spurts for a game or two at a time.
After spending his entire career playing the left side on defence, Ballard was told to learn how to play the right side by the coaching staff and he has struggled to adapt. He has looked lost and unable to make decisions with the puck quickly when on the right side. Ballard has only looked steady playing the left side with Chris Tanev on his right.
Whether it is a lack of confidence in himself or the coaching staff, he has not justified the $4.2 million salary he is earning. It makes him a prime buyout candidate with two years remaining at $8.4 million. The cost of the buyout will be $5.6 million.
Even if he has a sensational shortened 2013 campaign, one has to wonder if the Canucks are willing to have five defencemen earning over $4 million a season on the team—assuming Alexander Edler is re-signed.
» David Booth – Like Ballard, Booth has under-performed in Vancouver—maybe not the same extent though. Brought in to stabilize the second line, he has been woefully inconsistent.
In 56 games as a Canuck last season, Booth put up a respectable 16 goals and 29 points, but more can and should be expected from him in terms of production. It is fair to expect at least 25 goals and at least 50 points for a second-line player of Booth’s calibre.
Booth struggled at the tail end of the season last year. He managed only seven points in the last 25 games and had only one assist in the team’s first round loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs.
The physical game of Booth has also been inconsistent—if not nonexistent. He showed fans what kind of physical presence he could be when he combined with Maxim Lapierre for this thundering Game 1 hit on Kings defenceman Drew Doughty, but that part of his game was not prominent during the regular season and for the rest of the playoffs.
After the 2012-13 season, Booth will have two years remaining at a total of $9.25 million. The buyout would cost the team just over $6.1 million, but will the Canucks pull the trigger? Are there better and cheaper options for the second line? It would really depend on whether Zack Kassian can emerge as a top-notch NHL player in a potential shortened season and if Booth’s production sags.
» Roberto Luongo – As we outlined in an earlier article, Luongo is a candidate not because he is not tradeable, but because of the potential ramifications of his contract down the road. The NHL has proposed that mega-deals such as the ones signed by Luongo to continue to count towards the cap even if the player retires.
Under the league’s “cap advantage recapture” formula, any player that has an existing contract in excess of five years will have their cap hit continue to count towards the salary cap even if the player retires. If a player gets traded, the cap hit will be tacked on to the salary cap of the team that originally signed the player. In the case of Luongo, even if he is traded, the Canucks will end up incurring a $5.3 million cap hit if Luongo does not play to the end of the 2021-22 season.
It won’t be cheap to buyout Luongo as he will have nine years and $40.57 million in unpaid salary remaining. It will cost the team over $27 million to buyout the contract, but the Canucks won’t have to worry about his contract “rearing it’s ugly head” down the road so to speak and affecting the team’s competitiveness.
» Jason Garrison – There is a slim chance that Garrison becomes a candidate since his 2013 campaign would really have to go down the drain to make this a possibility.
The White Rock, BC native had career-year last season with the Florida Panthers putting up 16 goals and 33 points in 77 games. That placed him third in the league for goals among defenceman and second in powerplay goals.
After signing a six-year contract worth $27.6 million with the Canucks this past offseason, he will have to prove he is not a one-hit wonder. If he does not, Garrison will be fast tracking himself to becoming a buyout candidate.
Canucks general manager Mike Gillis does not appear to be the type that will just buyout a player—especially a recently signed player like Garrison, but on a team like the Canucks, who are salary cap strapped, tough decisions will need to be made.
According to CapGeek.com, the Canucks have committed nearly $60.3 million next season to 13 players. Key free agents include defenceman Alexander Edler, Chris Higgins, Maxim Lapierre, and Chris Tanev.
Forgotten in this talk about the compliance buyouts and the top teams needing to clear salaries is the possibility of teams looking to add salary to meet the salary cap floor. Will the Canucks need to use their compliance buyouts?
They could just trade players to clear cap space. The next collective bargaining agreement is expected to include the ability to “trade” cap space by allowing teams to retain parts of a player’s cap hit in transactions. The Canucks might not be able to trade all of Ballard’s $4.2 million salary, but could trade at least part of it.
By clearing the salaries of Ballard and Luongo through a trade, it could clear up $9.5 million which is likely enough to resign Edler, Higgins, Lapierre, and Tanev and for the Canucks to round out the roster for the 2013-14 campaign.
The Canucks could surprise us and use not use their two compliance buyouts at all.