Team-by-team buyout candidates, Pt. 1

There remains talk among some NHL agents that the league’s next collective bargaining agreement will include a provision allowing the opportunity for each team to “amnesty” one unwieldy player contract from its salary cap books without any penalty other than the financial buyout itself.

If the season ended today, which 30 NHLers should be most worried? And what’s the likelihood each franchise actually uses the amnesty? Those questions and no more are answered below. (For brevity’s sake, we’ll do 15 teams in alphabetical order this Thursday, and the following 15 next Thursday.)

Likeliest buyout: Lubomir Visnovsky. The 35-year-old has been sidelined by injury for 13 games already this year and missed at least nine games (and usually more) each year since 2007-08. He’s got one year left at a cap hit of $5.6 million and the Ducks may choose to split up that money to make a thin defense corps deeper.
Likelihood team buys him out (out of five, with one being highly unlikely and five being a virtual certainty): 2. He’ll be 36 next year, but Visnovsky’s actual salary is only $3 million, a number Anaheim GM Bob Murray can live with given the fact he still can contribute when healthy.

Likeliest buyout: Tim Thomas. A few weeks ago, making Thomas the choice here would have been unthinkable. But his outspoken political views are becoming a more regular occurrence – and with them, the more he potentially becomes a distraction.
Likelihood team buys him out: 1. Regardless of his outspokenness off the ice, Thomas still is one hell of a goalie and has just one year left at a $5-million cap hit (and $3-million payout). If he goes anywhere, it’ll be via trade, not amnesty.

Likeliest buyout: Ville Leino. If I need say more, you need read (and watch) more.
Likelihood team buys him out: 5. Owner Terry Pegula has cash to spare and he’d gladly spare the cash necessary to rid the Sabres of Leino’s $4.5-million cap hit in each of the next five seasons. Not a question of if here.

Likeliest buyout: Matt Stajan. Some might say Jay Bouwmeester’s $6.8-million cap hit is the more onerous drag on Calgary’s tight cap situation. But at least Bouwmeester averages 26 minutes a night. Stajan takes up $3.8 million of space for the next two years and averages a little more than 10 minutes.
Likelihood team buys him out: 4. Flames ownership doesn’t want to get rid of Jarome Iginla, but could throw aggravated fans a bone by ridding themselves of another reminder of the desperate last days of the Darryl Sutter Empire.

Likeliest buyout: Eric Staal. Hear me out before your lid flips, Canes fans. I realize Staal is a franchise cornerstone and he’s having an off year like just about every player on the roster. But he’s on track for his worst offensive year since his rookie season. If he put up two straight years of 57 points and had a cap hit of $8.3 million, would you be ready to consider a potential buyout? I think you would. Or at least, you should.
Likelihood team buys him out: 1. It’s a fairly moot point anyway, as the Canes are a budget team that wouldn’t dare pay out the four seasons remaining on Staal’s deal.

Likeliest buyout: Rostislav Olesz. He’s buried in the American League as it is and the team could free up a roster space for a prospect by cashing him and his $3.2-million cap hit.
Likelihood team buys him out: 2. Chicago ownership has been good about eating other contracts (e.g Cristobal Huet), but depending on their depth situation, they may want to keep the 26-year-old in case the injury bug bites hard.

Likeliest buyout: Semyon Varlamov. The Avs paid a hefty price for the goalie, but he hasn’t responded (3.00 goals-against average, .898 save percentage). With two years left on his deal at a cap hit of $2.8 million, it could be tempting for Colorado to cut bait quickly.
Likelihood team buys him out: 3. A better cap-improving target is Paul Stastny’s $6.6-million cap hit for the next two years, but the Avs aren’t raking in money like they used to and could be more willing to eat a smaller number like Varlamov’s. But they may choose to stand pat just as easily.

Likeliest buyout: James Wisniewski. On a team that likely will undergo a serious rebuild, Wisniewski’s five years and $27 million left on his deal isn’t a great fit.
Likelihood team buys him out: 1. The team is bleeding money and isn’t aching to pay out the $26 million in actual salary Wisniewski has left in order for him not to play.

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Likeliest buyout: Trevor Daley. It isn’t necessarily his play that makes Daley the pick here. It’s the term. No Stars player is locked up as long as Daley, signed through 2017.
Likelihood team buys him out: 1. Even with a new owner, the Stars aren’t in position to take advantage of the amnesty luxury.

Likeliest buyout: Jonathan Ericsson. The Wings don’t make many contractual errors, but when they gave Ericsson a three-year, $9.8 million deal last summer, they may have. He’s on pace for a 13-point season.
Likelihood team buys him out: 2. Detroit already has $24 million in cap space and their defense corps may be severely depleted if Nick Lidstrom retires and Brad Stuart signs elsewhere. Better the devil you know…

Likeliest buyout: Shawn Horcoff. He has a $5.5-million cap hit for each of the next three years and is a team-worst minus-19 this season. No debating this pick.
Likelihood team buys him out: 4. Oilers owner Daryl Katz buried Sheldon Souray’s contract in the AHL last season, so he’s not above giving the franchise a mulligan on his own dime. With Edmonton out of the playoffs this year and expected to undergo more growing pains, a buyout of Horcoff would represent an extended olive branch to frustrated fans.

Likeliest buyout: It’s a toss-up between Sean Bergenheim and Tomas Kopecky, two underachieving forwards who signed four-year contracts with the Panthers last summer. Kopecky’s cap hit comes in at $250,000 more a season than Bergenheim’s, but he also has 10 points more than Bergenheim in an injury-plagued season. Kopecky has a better history of regular-season success, so we’ll go with Bergenheim as our buyout guy.
Likelihood team buys him out: 3. Florida’s playoff drive could be the deciding factor here. If they qualify for the post-season, they’ve already got enough cap space ($23 million) next year to make important changes. But if they don’t, the fans could be hungry for a sacrificial lamb.

Likeliest buyout: The Kings have managed their cap situation well, making this one of the toughest calls yet. Simon Gagne has a year left on his deal at $3.5 million next season, but he’s still dealing with a concussion and couldn’t be bought out under current CBA rules. That leaves the target on a guy like Brad Richardson, who has another year left at $1.2 million and is on pace for just seven points after registering 27 two years ago.
Likelihood team buys him out: 1. Los Angeles has $14 million in available cap space next season. Unless they use all of it, Richardson’s deal is a relative drop in the bucket.

Likeliest buyout: If the Wild can’t move Marek Zidlicky before the trade deadline, his $4-million contract for next season would be the prime target. If they can deal him, the spotlight shifts to fellow defenseman Nick Schultz, who has only two points this season and a cap hit of $3.5 million for two more seasons. Yes, there’s a case to be made for amnestying Dany Heatley’s two years and $7.5 million cap hit, but he’s Minnesota’s top goal-scorer and point-producer and is an underachiever the Wild will likely have to live with.
Likelihood team buys him out: 2. The Wild’s playoff predicament is a factor here, but likely only a slight one. GM Chuck Fletcher will have nearly $21 million in available cap space this summer and he can’t give it all to Zach Parise. Schultz may be overpaid, but he averages enough minutes (19:33) to have him stick around.

Likeliest buyout: Scott Gomez. Beginning, middle and end of story.
Likelihood team buys him out: 5. Canadiens owner Geoff Molson could make the choice to send Gomez (and the final two years of his $7.3 million cap hit) to the AHL, but he would still be associated with the organization. If they amnesty his deal, both the player and the Habs would be better to wash their hands of what has become an untenable situation.

Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to His Power Rankings appear Mondays, his column appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature Fridays.

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