What We Learned: NHL’s buyout culture and its surprising benefits

What We Learned: NHL’s buyout culture and its surprising benefits

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

If nothing else, the fact that the new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and NHLPA allowed for another round of compliance buyouts at least let teams go value shopping at their competitors' expenses.

Since that first of the three rounds of compliance buyout periods, there have been 28 players who were shipped away from their teams for something as simple as money, and free of a potentially lengthy diminished cap hit. Two prior to the 2013 lockout-shortened season, 15 more last summer, and then 11 more this time around.

The reasons these players were bought out obviously varied from one to the next, but they can generally be put into a few different groups. There were the guys who were simply going to be paid too long and too much for what they provided at the time of their buyout (Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier). There were the guys who shouldn't have ever gotten the contracts they did (Ville Leino, Rick DiPietro, Mike Komisarek). There were the guys who just couldn't keep up in the NHL any more (Wade Redden, Steve Montador, Ed Jovanovski). And there were guys who had value even under their old contracts but were misjudged by their teams as being not worth it (Mikhail Grabovski, Tom Gilbert).

The reason these guys allowed for some discount shopping among NHL teams is that when players receive compliance buyouts, they're generally seen as being worth almost nothing, and are generally being brought aboard for very short term and money so that they can prove they're capable, even if it's plainly evident that they are. The players don't seem to mind this very much either, because while they probably don't deserve to have so little value in the open market, they also have that cushion of several hundred thousand dollars coming to them over the next few years if all else fails.

At the time of their buyouts, these 28 players had an average cap hit of more than $4.21 million, and an average of 2.46 years remaining on their deals. By cutting them without cap consequences, the teams getting rid of them saved a total $117.92 million against the league's limit. They were, as you might imagine, hired again for significantly less: About $2.31 million less annually, and for 1.06 years fewer.

That means that the typical player who was subject to a compliance buyout and then signed by another team carries an AAV of a little more than $1.9 million, and average term of 1.4 years. Both of those figures are being dragged up significantly by Vincent Lecavalier's laughable deal, signed last summer, that pays him $22.5 million over five years.

And that doesn't include all the players who were complianced and then never saw another second in the NHL. Of the 28 who were bought out, only 15 received contracts for the next season (and that number can obviously go up, because just four of the 11 this year have gotten new deals to this point).

What's interesting, though, is that just four that played on one-year deals — out of the eight who signed them — were then able to get a second contract. Those players are the two aforementioned “useful but misvalued” Gilbert and Grabovski, as well as Scott Gomez and Jeff Schultz.

Schultz didn't play a second in the regular season, but was apparently good enough down in the American league to get two years and seven playoff games out of Los Angeles. Gilbert and Grabovski both got significant raises, and Gomez got a slight raise from 2013 this past season, but is now out of a contract again.

There remain a few outliers in this bunch, of course. Richards, Grabovski and Christian Ehrhoff can certainly be considered “worth it” right out of the gate on their new short-term deals, and others are a bit more “wait and see.” Of the 19 bought-out skaters who played in the NHL in 2013-14, only nine had positive possession numbers relative to their teams, and most of those either got soft zone starts, easy competition, or both. Only Gilbert, Grabovski, and Anton Volchenkov fit the bill and were anywhere near getting tougher minutes. Only one complianced goaltender out of three (Ilya Bryzgalov) played, and given his overall numbers for a pro-rated $2 million, it's tough to say Edmonton and Minnesota didn't at least get what they were paying for.

It's best to use caution here, however. For every Gilbert and Grabovski who provide actual value to your team, there's several more who will drag their employers down, and these things have to be accounted for. David Booth, for instance, is currently without a contract but can help a team if used correctly. Someone who wants to shore up their bottom six should take a run at him.

It's also buyer beware, especially if the player is into his early 30s or beyond. Lecavalier and Daniel Briere were signed to the two richest post-buyout contracts by far, at multiple years north of $4 million per. The latter has already been traded after being a disaster in Montreal, and if Philly had any compliance buyouts left, it would have used one on him for sure.

Overall, it does seem that the market is more or less correct, which is interesting: Teams only start valuing players properly when other teams say they have such little value that they'd rather pay them not to play. Most guys who wash out of the league in this way deserve to have done so, probably long before the buyout came. Others can be valued more marginally and therefore correctly, because most bought-out contracts were massive overpays to begin with.

It does say something about this league, though. It shouldn't take so drastic a correction for players regardless of background — from star center to backup goalie and everywhere in between — to be valued reasonably. Unfortunately for a lot of teams in the league, they're not going to get another crack at compliancing their bad contracts for seven more years at least.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks made relatively quick work of one of their less notable but potentially interesting transactions of the summer, signing former Habs first-rounder Louis Leblanc to a one-year deal after getting him for a conditional fifth in mid-June. It's a two-way, though, and at 23 he might not have much time left to figure things out.

Arizona Coyotes: Just hours after he signed a deal with a Swiss club, David Moss also signed a new one-year deal with the Coyotes. Which probably means he's not going to Switzerland after all, or he's going to be really tired a lot.

Boston Bruins: Everyone was delighted with this year's first-round pick David Pastrnak at Bruins development camp this week. Mainly because he's really good and fun to watch, but also because he's funny and lost his passport.

Buffalo Sabres: Start planning the parade: Ken Campbell thinks the Sabres will win the Cup in 2020. They have a lot of good prospects because of how long they've been bad, you see. I don't know if you knew that about the Sabres but it's true. Maybe someone might mention that someday.

Calgary Flames: Morgan Klimchuk and Sam Bennett were already real-life friends even before the Flames drafted them both in the first round in successive seasons. Aww.

Carolina Hurricanes: Chad LaRose wants to come back to the NHL! Boy is that a great idea just kidding.

Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks have pretty effectively set up a big roadblock for all their prospects because of how good the NHL team is overall. Now they know how the Red Wings felt in like 2008, but let's hope for their sake they don't also marry themselves to the idea that leaving all their prospects in the AHL until they're 24 is a “good thing.” Because it's not.

Colorado Avalanche: Seems like the buzzards are already circling Ryan O'Reilly, and for good reason.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Brandon Dubinsky is happy to have this new contract because he can finally buy a house. Before this his roughly $22 million in career earnings meant he could not buy a house.

Dallas Stars: Dallas avoided arbitration with Cameron Gaunce, giving him a one-year deal. You know he wasn't feeling great about his chances when he took a two-way deal that only pays him an extra $30,000 in the AHL, with no raise from the big club.

Detroit Red Wings: Come for Tomas Jurco doing crazy puck-flipping tricks, stay for the super slo-mo version of “Happy.”

Edmonton Oilers: Really interesting look at how the league no longer really has “cycle” teams, and everyone basically tries to play off the rush at this point. That's why more people are trying to track zone entries and exits, and Edmonton is getting just such an independent project this coming season.

Florida Panthers: No, there's no uncertainty in the Panthers' future goaltending situation: Roberto Luongo or bust for at least three more years. Book that.

Los Angeles Kings: If Anze Kopitar asks for an AAV north of $10 million I really wonder if he'd get it. It would be shocking if he did, but he'd probably be worth it. He's slightly better than Toews.

Minnesota Wild: Busy weekend for the Wild, who signed both Jordan Schroeder and Jonathon Blum. Two more good American boys on a team loaded with nothing but Americans and Finns. Schroeder brings extra value because he's from Minnesota and he went to The U.

Montreal Canadiens: It's nice to see someone use “adversity” in the right context with regard to a prospect, and not have it mean “was accused of a sexual assault” or “was suspended multiple times for using discriminatory slurs.” Zach Fucale just didn't have a good season after being a high draft pick. That's actual adversity for a hockey player.

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Another tough bounce in a bad week for Mike Fisher.

New Jersey Devils: All those people a little worried about Cory Schneider's relative lack of experience versus that big contract might wanna look at another pretty good goalie's games-played number. Tuukka Rask has only 13 more games the last four seasons and he just won a Vezina so I guess that is good news.

New York Islanders: Mikhail Grabovski took a good-natured Instagram run at Jeremy Roenick, who doesn't think Grabovski is worth the contract he got. Good for Grabovski. Roenick doesn't understand hockey in 2014. He shows it a few times a week on NBC Sports Net.

New York Rangers: Think Rangers fans are getting desperate?

Ottawa Senators: I think Kyle Turris is going to do well as a No. 1 in Ottawa. Not that it'll matter because the team is still pretty bad, but Turris is ready.

Philadelphia Flyers: Flyers “goalie of the future” Anthony Stolarz is having hip surgery, but basically every goalie ever gets the kind of procedure in question at this point, so it's not a big deal.

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins already gave Kasperi Kapanen a three-year deal. That's pretty surprising, but he's almost certainly going back to Finland next season.

San Jose Sharks: Now Doug Wilson is saying that “rebuild” talk he's been pushing for a while. What he meant by it was that they're rebuilding everything about the team BUT the players. Yeah, yeah, that's the ticket. They'll buy that. Good job Doug, you did it again. Hey is this recorder still on?

St. Louis Blues: Here's a pretty comprehensive look at the Vladimir Sobotka situation for the Blues, but a decent summary is: No good answer for St. Louis.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Brenden Morrow thinks the Bolts are a “hungry” team. Not until they sign Dustin Penner. By the way, they should sign Dustin Penner. Dude can help any team.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Brendan Shanahan is glad his team didn't give out any big crazy contracts to marginal players, like some teams he could mention. Such as the 2013 Maple Leafs.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks' AHL team might actually score some goals this season. Big change for them.

Washington Capitals: The implication that the Caps' brass wasn't on the same page with regard to player evaluation last season makes a lot of sense.

Winnipeg Jets: Oh just go ahead and trade Evander Kane for peanuts already. God.

Gold Star Award

Hahahaha oh man. “A healthy Dan Cleary ready for a chance to redeem himself.” Great stuff. I needed that.

Minus of the Weekend

Oh wait, they're serious. Ken Holland said Dan Cleary can contribute on the power play. Whose power play does he mean?

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “DLJB” has a bad idea for you.

Lecavalier (1M retained)


No one gets anything. I leave it all to my ghost.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here