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The NHL Needs a Mid-season Buyout Window

The NHL desperately needs to take a page out of the NBA's playbook. Adopting a mid-season buyout window might be just the thing.
Claude Giroux

Player movement is the lifeblood of professional sport. 

It's why ESPN dedicates approximately 95 percent of its programming schedule to the ninth-seed Los Angeles Lakers instead of, you know, a team that occasionally wins. It's not as if the Lakers deserve this attention. Rather, it's because they're a full-on mess. And thanks to the NBA's never-ending offseason, the Lakers have the ability to swap out every non-LeBron asset on their roster for a cavalcade of stop-gap veterans at a moment's notice. 

The constant threat of seismic player movement breeds endless speculation, which then breeds intense coverage, which then breeds increased fan interest, etc, etc. 

Simply put: as a sports fan, nothing hits like some sweet, sweet transactions. 

As tends to be the case with practically everything, the NHL does not benefit nearly enough from this cycle. They hold an annual trade deadline just like the rest of their (more popular) sister sports, sure. But the league's hard salary cap and deeply ingrained conservative team-building ethos work to keep the hot-stove only lukewarm, and leaves a potential goldmine of takes and speculation completely untapped. 

When headlines are pegging yesterday's Tyler Toffoli trade as a "blockbuster", my point starts to become clearer. 

Look, I'm not going to sit here and advocate for the integration of a luxury tax into the NHL's salary cap for the umpteenth time. That's a pipe dream that can only come true once Gary Bettman does everyone a favor and relinquishes his hold on the sport he's held back for 30 years. 

What I will do, though, is plead my case for the NHL to copy a different page out of the NBA's playbook -- one that, when applied to its current framework, could heat that stove right back up again. 

I want to argue for the buyout window. 

Now, for those who don't know what the NBA buyout window is, let me offer a quick refresher. 

Let's say you're a mid-level star with a big contract stuck on a listless team. You're Blake Griffin on the 2019-20 Detroit Pistons, basically -- .effective enough to contribute in an NBA lineup but not good enough to build around anymore. 

What do you do? Do you waste the remaining years of your prime on a sinking ship? Does your team resent you for withholding its ability to rebuild thanks to your massive contract? 

Of course not! That wouldn't benefit anybody! 

What you do instead is ask your team to buy you out of your deal in order to pursue your championship dreams elsewhere. The lone hitch in that plan is you'll have to negotiate that buyout, one that likely requires you to forfeit some of the money you're set to earn back to your employer in exchange for your freedom. 

But that's fine, right? You've made a boatload of cash already and a ring is all you want. 

And once that buyout is complete, you're a free agent, eligible to sign with the team of your choosing prior to Mar. 1 (to maintain playoff eligibility) while your former team charts a new path ahead. 

It's a win-win. 

Now, the bulk of the NBA's most prominent buyouts come after the trade deadline, when teams that might have struck out on a blockbuster deal or two look elsewhere to bolster their lineup. 

Look me in the eyes and tell me that that wouldn't benefit the NHL right now. You can't. Because that would be a lie. And you're not a liar, right? Yeah, I thought so. Stay in school. 

Take Claude Giroux, for example. 

The guy is still a quality top-six forward but no longer the franchise staple he once was, signed for $8.25 million per year, and set to become a free agent this summer. The Flyers are going to lose their captain for nothing if they can't trade him by the deadline. And Giroux's cap hit is so massive that contending teams might not have the requisite space to add him and keep their roster intact. 

We've reached an impasse. Does it benefit anyone for Giroux to waste the final month of the season on a moribund roster while the array of capped-out contenders who wanted to acquire him enter the playoffs worse than they could've been? 

No! Of course not! That would be incredibly dumb! 

In my new and fun reality, Giroux could simply negotiate a buyout with the Flyers in the event they can't find a worthy package at the deadline, instantly creating a bidding war among the league's best teams for his services at a near-league-minimum rate. 

"But he'd have to relinquish some of his guaranteed salary, Mike. You moron."

That's fine. Are you telling me Giroux wouldn't be willing to give up, say, $2 million of the $3.5 million he's set to earn through the end of the season for a shot at an elusive Stanley Cup? Really? 

Who does this hurt? The Flyers save millions in both real and cap dollars while Giroux gets a chance to redefine his legacy that staying in Philly wouldn't have granted him. 

The buyout window would be a particularly beneficial framework for the NHL's smaller market teams to pad their bottom lines, too. And we all know how much help they need. 

The real-life dollars saved by Giroux's hypothetical buyout might not make a big splash for a mega-franchise like the Flyers. But put the Arizona Coyotes in that situation, for instance, and recouping $2 million from a player that didn't fit their rebuild timeline anyway might be what keeps the lights on. 

This, from top to bottom, benefits all parties; heightening the on-ice product, benefiting player legacies, lining owners' pockets, and creating the type of post-deadline news cycle that the NHL desperately needs. 

If luxury tax is a bridge too far for Gary, fine. I'll let him die on that hill -- as pointless a death as it may be. But adopting a mid-season buyout window just makes too much sense to ignore. 

Give the people what they want, baby: those sweet, sweet transactions. 

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