According to a late-night report from the Ottawa Citizen's Allen Panzeri on Wednesday night, Ottawa Senators winger Jonathan Cheechoo isn't expecting to be back in a Sens uniform next year, but "is not naive" about the possibility (or maybe probability) of a buyout.
Jonathan Cheechoo’s short and unsuccessful stint with the Ottawa Senators will come to an end as early as Tuesday, when the annual two-week period to buy out unwanted contracts begins.
Even Cheechoo knows he’s on the way out.
The Senators have not yet spoken to Cheechoo about their plans for him, but the 29-year-old right-winger is a "realist," his agent said.
"I think Jonathan knows that when you’re making $3.5 million (US), you have to be seen to be justifying that salary," Thane Campbell said in an interview on Tuesday.
While it seems like an obvious reaction to Cheechoo's massively disappointing 2009-10 season (which saw him juggled through the lineup, and then out of the lineup, and then to the AHL) that he'd be bought out, it was only one of several possibilities for the organization to take in addressing the situation.
The main problem with a buyout is that, although it brings down the cap hit for Cheechoo, some remains, and in fact the $1M cap hit is extended beyond next season and into 2011-12. The benefit of this means that Melnyk won't have to pay money twice; if he buried Cheechoo in the minors, Melnyk would be on the hook for his salary as well as that of whoever that NHL cap space is spent on. With a buyout, that money's only spent one time; Bryan Murray has to work around the personnel issues he created in acquiring Cheechoo.
If the Senators were to keep Cheechoo on the active roster, he'd be owed $3.5M, but that would come up after the season, instead of lasting another. Obviously, it means that a player who's not beneficial, and may in fact be a liability when he's on the ice, remains on the active roster and prevents a younger and more dynamic player from getting some ice time. It also means Melnyk isn't paying someone not to play on his NHL roster, which I'm sure he'd rather--but he's proven time and again that he's willing to pay in order to increase the Senators' chances of winning, so that might not be his primary concern.
In terms of finding cap space, the 'best' solution would have been sending Cheechoo to the AHL (assuming, of course, that no one was interested in acquiring him via trade or waivers). His entire salary would come off the books, and--although he's not an elite player--Cheechoo still can compete in the minors, at least as a second-liner. But that means Melnyk dishes out $3.5M to the guy, instead of only $2M over two seasons.
Seems like a buyout is the best option. It gives Cheechoo a nice going away present, but he might have to make that money last a while; he's 29 years old, and it doesn't seem likely he'll get another good chance in professional hockey. Either way, it's been a steep decline for the former Rocket Richard winner.