Reports: NHL, NHLPA agree to accelerated buyouts, may spark new wave of free agents

TORONTO – The NHL and its players’ association struck a side deal to allow for an accelerated buyout process according to several media reports on Tuesday.

“Compliance buyouts” were supposed to start next summer under the new collective bargaining agreement. They were included in that deal to help franchises get underneath the lowered salary cap that takes effect for the 2013-14 season.

However, after the Montreal Canadiens sent centre Scott Gomez home and the New York Rangers did the same with defenceman Wade Redden, the union reviewed the CBA to see if a new understanding of the buyouts could be reached.

Under the new side deal, any NHL team may buy out one player with a salary cap hit of US$3 million or more before the regular season begins on Saturday. The player must clear waivers by Thursday, and if he isn’t claimed by another team, sent to the minors or loaned to a European club, he will become an unrestricted free agent.

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The remaining years of the bought-out contract would not count against the cap in future years.

If the reports are correct, Gomez, Redden and other bought-out players would become free agents as soon as this weekend, allowing them to join new teams and not miss any part of the new season.

Gomez is currently owed nearly $6.5 million over the next two seasons. He had two goals and nine assists in 38 games with the Canadiens last season. The centre has scored 19 times in three seasons in Montreal, with 87 assists over 196 games.

Redden is owed $5.6 million over the next two seasons. He spent the past two seasons in the American Hockey League, scoring 12 goals and adding 50 assists over 119 games with a minus-9 rating.