Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t expect the Flames to buy anybody out (right away)

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.

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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.

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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.

Date Player Treliving Acquired?
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.

  • Kevin R

    A lot of hype on potential star players buyouts & one of them was Corey Perry. Still dont understand Anaheim doing that. Anaheim arent that cap strapped & why wouldnt they wait a year before doing so? yeah no one would want to have to protect him over young up & coming players because of his NMC but he could rebound from his injury & be a pretty valuable player on your team. I know many hate this guy but put the emotion aside. Neal & Frolik for a Perry & one of their later 1st round picks could be a way better way to go for both teams. Yes it would cost us $$$ to buy him out next year. But we get a nice asset in an extra 1st rounder this June. We also gain almost 2.0 mill cap space that would be huge. I also really liked the idea of a Stone for Reimer & Florida eats 1/2 his salary for his remaining 2 years. We would gain another 1.8 mill in cap space & then suddenly we have almost $20 mill to resign Tkachuk, Rittch, Bennett, Magpie & even Hathaway. If Reimer sucks as backup, easy buyout next summer as well. I think Reimer is a better goalie than what he showed last year anyway.

  • freethe flames

    I want to make a case for keeping Stone. Buying him out saves $2.3m, what would the cost of replacing him be? Advantages of keeping him: he know’s the coaches system, he know’s what to expect from the coach, the coach knows what to expect from him, his teammates know what to expect from him. Bringing in someone from outside of the system will have it’s own issues. I’m not saying we should not buy him out but I’m not sure that anyone else from outside the system makes $ sense either. I would be happy to see Fatenberg resigned as he would bring that depth we need.

    • Puck Head

      I can’t see the Flames buying out Stone before the season starts. I expect that they will be cautious and try to trade him or see how he plays. If he’s playing well why move him? Or if he’s playing well they could move him before the trade deadline if they want to.

      • Kevin R

        Honestly, Stone will be lucky to crack our bottom 6. These threads will go bullistic & a chant of fire Tre & fire Peters will emanate if Stone was played ahead of Valamaki & Kyllington. Stone will be a healthy scratch on many game nights & you cant justify sitting 3.5 mill in the pressbox at the start of the season. Stone needs to get either traded or bought out.

    • everton fc

      It’s not a bad case. But you lose Fantenberg, and keeping maybe forces us to move Kylington, or send him to Stockton for another year, which, to me, makes no sense – Kylington can be a decent 5/6, in the NHL.

        • cberg

          Kylington has not gotten his due for a pretty good season last year. In the playoffs it was disappointing that he was not inserted with the assignment to shadow McKinnon. With his speed and physicality I thought it might be our only realistic option, but, alas he never got the shot. Hopefully he is not traded, as he provides a skill set we don’t have otherwise and can not afford to lose.

      • Kevin R

        Bergevin seems to be really craving a young high ceiling Dman in Montreal.
        For the right price I could see packaging up Neal & Kyllington to them for a package that might even score us the #15 pick.

        • super6646

          Lol, you’ve gotta he joking. If I was another team, I wouldn’t offer a 7th rounder with kylington and Neal. Moving his contract either starts with a first, or kylington +

    • Albertabeef

      The cost of replacing him? No cost. We already have the D to replace him, but to bring in a 7th D should be fairly cheap. He is at best our 7th or 8th D. He was not very good before his injury and will likely be worse from not playing much last year. We’ve been trying to trade him for two years, nobody wants him. Time to cut the cord and be done with it.

  • Budgie

    Trading is better than a buy out even if it means unloading a salary for a late draft pick, the money is needed to resign Rittich, Tkachuk and Bennett. Paying Brouwer to play in Florida is brutal. The money should come out of the GMs salary

    • Bawcos

      Bennett would be the only possible casualty. If the rumours are true (Frolik + Bennet for Zucker) then the Flames would have enough to sign Tkachuck, Rittich and Mangiapane (plus Hathaway and key minor leaguers) and add cheap veteran help. But very cheap – Brian Boyle? (13/14th F) What he go for?

  • BendingCorners

    The thing about buyouts is that they reduce the total cost of a toxic asset and spread the cost over more years, both of which have the effect of improving the owners’ ROI. Couple that with the deeper playoff run and larger profit that should result from proper usage of the cap saved, and there is no good argument to delay a buyout for even one year.
    In Neal’s case, this depends on assessing him as being washed up, which I think he is. It doesn’t matter if the buyout is executed in June or August, but it should be executed, unless somehow a trade opens up.

    • Albertabeef

      I am angry with Neal too but I can sympathize as well. It can’t be easy going to the finals, then spending the summer packing and unpacking, getting kids ready for school and all the stuff that goes into changing cities in the summer. Now do that two summers in a row. He said himself his offseason training took a big hit. He has stated that will not happen this summer. I expect him to be better next season. I am willing to give him two more seasons, then give Seattle a draft pick to take Neal in the expansion draft. Two more seasons of Neal is worth it to keep our good young Dmen from Seattle. With this we aren’t stuck on the hook for 8 seasons, only two.

  • MDG1600

    Just curious – Is anyone buying in to this idea from Ryan that Neals struggles are just percentage based and that he isn’t bad at hockey. He sure looked bad at hockey to me.