Burning Questions: Buyout Candidates

As part of the Burning Questions series, a look at which Senators could and should be bought out over the summer.

Eugene Melnyk cries poor, and as such, will not approve a single buyout. The end.

So I re-read that first sentence, and realized it didn't quite make a full article. So I'm gonna try to flesh it out a bit.

If you know what a buyout is, you can probably skip the next couple paragraphs. For those who don't know, a buyout is, simply put, when a player is paid to stop playing for a team. Their contract is terminated, and if they are under 26 years of age, they are paid 1/3 of their remaining salary over double the number of remaining years on their contract. If they are 26 or older, they are paid 2/3 of their remaining salary over the same time period. For example, if (please, never) Erik Karlsson were to be bought out, with 5 years remaining at $6.5-million, his pay out would $1.66 million each year over 10 years. Easy.

Now normally, this buyout counts against a team's salary cap, with some complex formula in the new CBA accounting for the cap benefit a team earns by having bought out a player. (According to CapGeek, this "benefit" can actually be negative, meaning the team gets cap space back. Additionally, the cap hit due to a buyout can vary from year-to-year.) Now, under the most recent CBA, each team was given two compliance buyouts, allowing them to buy out a player at the normal cost but without the cap penalties, in either summer 2013 or 2014. Some teams may look to use these this summer. Players like R.J. Umberger, or potentially even a monstrous compliance buyout like Kris Letang, may be worth watching for. However, with the Sens struggling to reach the cap floor already, I think it is far more likely that if a buyout occurs, it will be of the normal variety.

The entire list of NHL contracts for the Sens can be found here, courtesy of CapGeek, the source of all knowledge not found on Wikipedia.

There are guys who you can predict will not be bought out. I'm talking about Karlsson, Kyle Turris, and Clarke MacArthur as examples. Guys who have become leaders on the team and are definitely worth the money they make. It's also highly unlikely that someone going into their last year will be bought out, as the cost savings are minimal. Typically young players aren't bought out, as you would hate to give up on Jared Cowen just to watch him become amazing for any other team with another year or two of development. I think it's safe to say that only a handful of players could be bought out on the team.

Looking at the list, the first names I notice are Chris Neil and Chris Phillips, they of their respective $1.9-million and $2.5-million salaries for the next two years. Both guys are older and slower, and seem to offer far less than several young players who could take their spots. If I were given this team to GM with a limitless budget, I would look to trade these guys, and if that didn't work, I would buy them out. However, there is an argument to be made that after off-loading Sergei Gonchar, losing Daniel Alfredsson, and by all accounts trading Jason Spezza this summer, the Sens will need a couple veterans around. Additionally, the thought of trying to sell this team to its fanbase after losing two long-time players and the following year buying out two more seems impossible. Neil and Phillips are among the most community-involved Senators, and hence are also quite loved. Jersey sales would plummet. Probably some season ticket holders would stop renewing. And I can't see Murray signing Phillips to a two-year extension just to buy him out of it before it starts. Despite my thoughts about team improvement in terms of skill, neither of the Chrises are being bought out this summer.

Zack Smith could in theory be bought out, but I can't see it happening. He makes less than Chris Neil, and is far, far more useful (in killing off the penalties that Neil takes). Some fans love him, some fans hate him, but nearly everyone could agree that buying ZSmith out of the last two years of an inexpensive contract would have no benefit to the team. And based on how much Paul MacLean seems to love the guy, I think this is one area in which Murray and I may agree.

The only other name that sticks out to me is Colin Greening. He is about to start a three-year deal, paying him $2.65-million on average per season. He disappointed nearly everyone this past season. His points totals dropped, and he didn't justify his upcoming contract through possession, hitting, or nearly anything else a player can do to show value. As statistics suggest that he has reached the peak of his production by now at 28-years-old, a rising-value contract for the next three years looks pretty bad. Some have suggested trying to trade him for a late-round pick, or as part of a Spezza package, or as part of a Craig Anderson package. Personally, I think 28-year-old fourth-liners with career highs below 40 points have next to no value. I expect no takers, and I would rather buy him out and free up that salary for a good defenseman or a winger for Mika Zibanejad.

But the key word in that last sentence was "I". Penny-pinching-Melnyk would probably rather watch him sit in the press box every night than pay him to not show up while somebody else is paid to play in his spot. Also, most buyouts in general are done to free up cap space, which a) the Senators have plenty of, and b) Greening's buyout would hardly change. Guys who get bought out are like Vincent Lecavalier or Scott Gomez, having deteriorated massively since their contracts were signed. I can't see the Sens buying anyone out this summer, and given the restrictions of the infernal internal budget, I doubt it would be the best use of money. But if somebody has to go, well, I think it's safe to say that nobody will shed a tear over Colin Greening. The biggest stumbling block? Players entering new deals can't be bought out. That leaves the Senators with few options regarding Colin Greening.

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