The Toronto Maple Leafs avoided salary arbitration with defenseman Matt Fraser, inking him just hours before his hearing to a one-year, $1.275-million contract.
Fraser's new contract pushes the Leafs cap payroll above $59.7 million and leaves less than $5 million to re-sign restricted free agents Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson.
Kadri, 22, is coming off his entry-level contract worth an average annual cap hit of $1.72 million, while the 25-year-old Franson made $1.2 million on a one-year deal last season.
The two are seeking significant raises that will provide a challenge for the Leafs to keep both and stay under the $64.3 million salary cap.
The Leafs can go over the cap by 10 percent during the summer, but must be cap compliant before the season begins in October.
The Toronto Sun's Lance Hornby writes that many observers suggest Toronto’s only option is to trade either Franson or John-Michael Liles. Hornby, however, suggested two other options: demoting players with contracts worth $1 million or less to the minors (Paul Ranger, Joe Colborne), or getting Franson and Kadri to accept more cap-friendly deals.
Another option is a buyout. Under Article 11-18 of the new CBA, a team that had a player elect for salary arbitration is allowed a 48-hour buyout window three days following either the arbitration award or the player re-signing prior to his hearing.
For the Leafs, that buyout period would begin on Aug. 2 and end on Aug. 4.
Such buyouts are limited to players who were part of the team's roster prior to the previous trade deadline making more than $2.75 million per season.
The buyout would be two-thirds the remaining salary spread over twice the remaining tenure for players 26 and older, or one-third if they're 25 and under.
Some observers suggested Liles, who has three seasons at $3.875 million against the cap per season left on his contract, as a buyout candidate.
As per CapGeek.com, a Liles buyout would be affordable during the first two years (costing only $875,000 per season against the Leafs’ cap), but the cap hit would jump to $2.375 million in Year 3 and drop to $1.25 million per season over the final three years.
Buying out Liles would free up $3 million for 2013-14, which may be enough to re-sign Kadri and Franson.
VANEK, MILLER TOUGH SELLS AROUND THE LEAGUE
Buffalo Sabres GM Darcy Regier admitted earlier this summer he'd spoken with other clubs about Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller, but couldn't find any takers without having to pick up part of their remaining salaries.
Vanek has one season remaining on his contract that will pay him $6.4 million in actual salary with a cap hit of $7.142 million, while Miller has one season at $6.25 million (in both salary and cap hit) remaining on his. Miller also has a partial no-move clause.
Vanek, who lives in Minnesota during the off-season, told KSTP-TV in Minneapolis he was preparing for another season with the Sabres, but admitted returning to a rebuilding team wasn't the best-case scenario for him.
With the Sabres in rebuild mode and Vanek and Miller slated to become unrestricted free agents next summer, trade rumors will dog the duo throughout the off-season and into 2013-14.
Vanek's ties to the state of Minnesota (where he played his college hockey and met his wife) led to speculation he might be dealt to the Wild this summer.
The two clubs have a recent trade history, as the Sabres shipped former captain Jason Pominville to the Wild at last season's trade deadline.
The Wild, however, only have $2.79 million in cap space for 2013-14, leaving them without room to take on Vanek's cap hit.
If the Wild have interest in Vanek, they'll have to wait until he becomes a free agent next summer and hope he'll accept less than market value to play in his adoptive home.
INTEREST IN HEMSKY NON-EXISTENT
As previously noted in this space, the Edmonton Oilers aren't having much luck shopping Ales Hemsky.
A combination of his $5-million salary, lengthy injury history, glut of second-tier talent in the free agent market and declining salary cap for 2013-14 has conspired against the Oilers attempts to drum up interest in the playmaker.
The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson expressed concern over what could happen if Hemsky's still an Oiler when training camp opens in September.
Matheson wondered where the Oilers could shop Hemsky. He cited the Ottawa Senators, Nashville Predators, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets as trade possibilities, but noted teams either don't want to add salary or already have sufficient depth at right wing.
Unless the Oilers are willing to absorb a hefty chunk of Hemsky's salary, they'll have to wait for an opportunity over the course of the season to find him a new home.
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.).
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