The National Hockey League is getting close to the draft and free agency as the annual contract buyout window opens up at 3 p.m. MT on Saturday afternoon. The window gives NHL clubs two weeks to decide whether to get out from under some bad deals by throwing money at them. The Calgary Flames could definitely use some cap wiggle room, but don’t expect Brad Treliving to go buying anybody out right away.
Could they use the cap space?
As we’ve established earlier this spring, the Flames are in a tight salary cap position:
Via PuckPedia – and our sweet math skills – the contracts for these gentlemen is $63.888 million, which leaves the Flames with $19.112 million of cap space to fill eight roster spots. They would need two goaltenders, a defensemen and five forwards to fill out a complete roster.
Among the restricted free agents the team needs to re-sign are Matthew Tkachuk, David Rittich, Andrew Mangiapane and Sam Bennett. Given the emphasis put on grit and being hard to play against, you can also imagine that the Flames would like to retain pending unrestricted free agent Garnet Hathaway.
In short: the Flames could definitely use some wiggle room.
Is there a logical buyout candidate?
Well, yeah. It’s not James Neal, who has four years left on his deal and would be on the books for eight seasons if he’s bought out. (As we discussed following the playoffs, Neal’s struggles seem more percentages-based than him suddenly becoming bad at hockey.)
The logical candidate is defenseman Michael Stone, entering the third year of a three year deal that earns him $3.5 million per season. Stone began last season as the team’s sixth defender, lost his spot in the rotation to Rasmus Andersson and then missed a couple months with a blood clot. At best, he’s the team’s seventh defender (and that’s if Oscar Fantenberg doesn’t return). While Stone is a solid hand and a very predictable player – in a way that coaches really like – $3.5 million is too much to be spending on a healthy scratch in a cap system.
Buying out Stone would save the Flames $2.333 million in 2019-20, then cause a $1.167 million hole in their payroll for 2020-21. Not ideal, but not awful.
When should we expect a buyout?
Not for a little while. There are two historical trends at play here, and both relate to Treliving’s personal buyout history.
|June 30/14||Shane O’Brien||No (inherited from Feaster)|
|June 29/16||Mason Raymond||Yes (signed as free agent)|
|June 30/17||Ryan Murphy||Yes (trade with Carolina)|
|June 30/17||Lance Bouma||No (inherited from Sutter)|
|Aug. 3/18||Troy Brouwer||Yes (signed as free agent)|
The first trend is pretty obvious: in four of five cases, Treliving used the first buyout window but waited until the last minute to axe the contracts. The reason for that is GMs don’t like to cut bait on assets without getting anything in return and even in the case of Stone – a player who was both a healthy scratch and had a pretty significant injury – the hope is to exhaust all other options before terminating a contract. (Murphy’s a unique case, in that he was basically acquired from Carolina for the purpose of buying him out as the Hurricanes were reportedly at the time rather cash-poor.)
The second trend is less obvious: Treliving’s already made two pretty big bets on free agents that didn’t work out. Raymond and Brouwer were brought in with the hope that they’d be useful veterans for the Flames. They weren’t, and neither finished their contracts with the Flames. It doesn’t look good on Treliving in ownership’s eyes if he keeps making bets that don’t pan out and then has to buy his way out of those bad bets. As with the asset management argument, it makes a lot of sense to explore as many other options as possible before asking Murray Edwards to write a cheque.
This window isn’t the only window for buyouts
The Flames have 13 pending restricted free agents. Nine of those pending RFAs have arbitration rights. Should any of those RFAs have an arbitration hearing scheduled, that opens up the second buyout window for the Flames.
If Treliving wants to explore all his options, he has plenty of time to do so.