Just as the 2016-17 NHL season ended so quickly, the 2017-18 one is just beginning.
Perhaps we have our different definitions, but when the buyout window opens on June 15, it gets the ball rolling. It’s the first piece of excitement and drama after the Cup is awarded. Sure, not as exciting as the draft and free agency, but there’s always intrigue.
The Flames are in a situation where they could certainly shed some money and open up some spots. With a young core ready to win, being burdened with expensive anchors is not in the interest of the team’s long-term health. There is the possibility that the Flames are one player lighter before the expansion draft even starts.
So how will they proceed after the window opens?
Will the Flames buy out anyone?
What? Why not?
Well there’s a few reasons:
- They bought out a player (Mason Raymond) last year and still have money on the books because of it.
- Ownership is notoriously stingy with money.
- There’s no player worth buying out right now.
But there’s Troy Brouwer! Surely his poor performances and really bad contract merit a buyout?
In a vacuum, absolutely and immediately, but I said a player “worth buying out.” If you look at the current landscape of the team and the league, you’ll see the reasons why that qualifier isn’t true.
We can’t stop here, this is Brouw country!
First off, the expansion draft is just a few more days ahead. Why would the team buy out Brouwer when there’s a possibility that Las Vegas would take him off their hands minus $1.5M over six years? Given Brouwer’s connection to George McPhee, you feel that there’s at least a 20% chance that McPhee can’t resist the player he traded for and paid over $15M to during his tenure with the Capitals. The connection is there and he fills a lot of needs for the start-up team. Stranger things have happened.
If there was no expansion draft, the Flames would have to at least strongly consider the option of buying him out in the first window. Las Vegas gives them the chance to ditch Brouwer without paying him or giving up any more assets, but they take the gamble (appropriate) of the Knights not picking Brouwer and sticking with his contract. But that’s not much of a gamble when they still have until the 30th to buy him out. They can dangle him and then let him go anyways.
But even if Vegas doesn’t go for Brouwer, there’s still the chance they don’t buy him out in this window because…
There might be some value left
It sounds strange, but there still might be someone wanting Troy Brouwer.
Of course, there isn’t any GM in the league who will throw everything at Brad Treliving for Brouwer. He’s just not that valuable anymore.
Rewind to last Canada Day though and you’ll remember that Brouwer was one of the big free agency grabs last year. Perhaps one of the teams the Flames outbid for Brouwer’s services could be interested in a second chance at the right winger (albeit, at a discount). GMs are weird that way.
This might be a shoddy argument, but look at what the St. Louis Blues did post-Brouwer. Just on the eve of the regular season, they went and acquired Nail Yakupov, a guy who shares a lot of buzzwords with Brouwer and has produced similar numbers at this point in his career. The Blues replaced Brouwer with Russian Brouwer.
Granted, there were other factors involved in St. Louis’ decision (Yak is younger, cheaper, and still has reclamation value), but the archetype of the player still holds some value. Teams have always (over)paid for big veterans, even more so if they are a right-handed shot. If the Flames feel that there’s another team who will make that same overpayment, why would they buy him out? If they really want him off the team, the Flames can retain salary and even the 50% maximum won’t be as pricey as a buyout right now ($2.25M/3Y versus $1.5/6Y).
If the team feels they can get assets back for Brouwer, they aren’t going to buy him out. Sure, it kept Dennis Wideman on the team for two years, but that’s their thinking sometimes. If you can even pry out a mid-round draft pick from a bad player on a bad contract, it might be worth it in the end.
Okay, the contract is not that bad
This might be a bit of a doozy. Certainly, he hasn’t had a $4.5M performance this past season, and we’ve certainly roasted him for it. Given Brouwer’s age and past results, it’s unlikely he’ll ever have one during the next three years.
But it’s just three more years at $4.5M. That’s just a tad over 6% of the current salary cap, and will diminish as the years go by and the cap goes up. Yes, it’s going to make you groan. It’s a bad contract, but it’s digestible, and that’s what matters to the franchise.
Remember that the team just finished year five of Dennis Wideman’s gargantuan $26.25M/5Y contract. They do not mind sitting on these bad deals. Wideman was arguably the worst player – or at least treated like it – over the past two years and the team ate it. They survived David Jones’ $4M/4Y contract, despite him being a fourth liner for his entire time in Calgary (and it wasn’t even their contract, Colorado signed it. They could’ve bought him out scrutiny free). Ladislav Smid barely played for the team and they lasted out that contract (mostly for the juicy LTIR money they barely used).
Contracts like these are standard fare in the hockey business. The team hopefully acknowledged the risks of age, injury, decline, what have you, when they signed the contract and agreed that the price was fine if the worst case happens. They never prepare to buy out a contract in the first year, or even the second or third year. They’re going to pay that price for that long.
The Flames can survive through this deal. Unless it becomes unbearably bad (oh just you wait) or the other party wants out, the Flames are going to sit on this contract for four years. They have no problem doing that.
Not a good look
As silly as it sounds, egos and optics are at stake here. The Flames don’t want to be the team that disposes of a player after one year, no team does. There’s a lot of potential for embarrassment here, and that’s something that actually matters.
First off, the team would have to consider how it looks to other possible free agents if the Flames dumped a guy in year one. Why would a UFA want to sign in a place where one bad year could get you the axe? When a player signs a contract, they plan to be there for every year, and I imagine they expect the team to at least meet them two-thirds of the way. No premium free agent wants to be in a situation where they can be immediately ousted.
It also reflects poorly on Brad Treliving and management. To err is human and whatever, but teams still don’t like to admit it. Paying $9M to get rid of your mistake doesn’t inspire much confidence: from fans, from the media, from the owners, and so on. Imagine, if you will, how bad would it look if the Flames paid Brouwer not to play for them due to bad performances, and then he goes and has good performances. That’s the other edge to this sword. It can completely backfire on them.
So there’s a lot to lose just by attempting to make the team better. The NHL is a hockey business, but there is also a lot of PR involved.
So not Brouwer, but are there any other candidates?
Sure, Matt Stajan and Lance Bouma aren’t worth their money. They could easily be buyout candidates.
But everything else for Brouwer applies here. Vegas could be interested. Someone else could be interested. There might still be some value in these players.
But these two are different. There’s actually a point to buying out Brouwer; his production is likely to continue declining from an already low point and the money will be even more of a burden. The team actually gains something by buying him out.
Not true for the rest of the $10M fourth line. First up, both of these guys only have one year left on their deals. Buying them out spreads out the problem for another year, as we see with the Mason Raymond buyout (before you ask, it’s because neither side wanted anything to do with the other. Not applicable here). All the team has to do is wait a season and the problem disappears. The Flames can even bury one or both of them in the AHL for a reduced cost if they’re that desperate for space on the team.
By buying one or both of these guys out, all the team is doing is saving pennies and opening up a spot for those pennies to be immediately spent at the cost of being less able to spend next season.
Wrap it up
The Flames aren’t buying out anyone. Yes, that includes the most obvious candidates for a buyout.
The team could certainly benefit from a buyout, but there are many more reasons not to do it. The buyout isn’t a “get out of jail free” card, nor is it addition by subtraction. It’s an admission of failure and bad judgement with a price attached. You have to forfeit all potential future value for a not-cheap price tag over a pretty long period of time.
If the team should reach the point where there is no future value possible to leverage from a player, then they’ll splash the cash. Until then, you’re going to have to enjoy the ride.