As a new season fast approaches, it’s always nice to look back and reminisce on years and players gone by. Unfortunately for most NHL teams, those feelings of nostalgia are usually cut short by the realization that some of those past players are still on the team’s payroll. Retained salary is a fact of life in the National Hockey League, as buyouts have become commonplace and retaining a portion of an outgoing player’s cap hit is often a deal-breaker in many trades. Retained salary can last long past the playing days of a former player (see Rick DiPietro) or can simply be for just one year. One way or another nearly every NHL team has at least one guy who’s still being paid without having to perform. Below is a list of all the retained salary in the Metropolitan Division in 2016-17:
- Alexander Semin ($2.33MM cap hit from 2016-17 to 2020-21): The Hurricanes first signed Semin in the summer of 2012 to a one-year, $7MM “show me” deal. While they were paying Semin a good amount of money, they were not prepared to commit long-term to a player know to be one-dimensional and streaky. However, Semin responded with a point-per-game campaign in 44 contests. The Hurricanes bought in, renewing Semin’s $7MM price tag with a five-year, $35MM extension. Semin put up another 40+ point season in 2013-14 season, but then, inexplicably, the wheels fell off. In 57 games in 2014-15, Semin only managed to score 19 points while contributing little else for Carolina. The Canes had no choice but to get rid of him, and the only route was through a buyout. With $21MM over three years left on his contract, they were saddled with a six-year, $14MM settlement, and still have five years left to go.
- James Wisniewski ($3.5MM cap hit in 2016-17, $1MM in 2017-18): Carolina did not have much better luck with Wisniewski. After trading Anton Khudobin to the Anaheim Ducks last summer to get the puck-moving defenseman, the Hurricanes got to watch him skate for just 47 seconds in the regular season opener before he tore his ACL and missed the rest of the year. Wisniewski had one year remaining on a six-year, $33MM deal he signed in Columbus in 2011, but faced with the prospect of a $5.5MM cap hit for a defenseman coming off a serious knee injury, Carolina decided instead to cut and run. While the buyout hit of $3.5MM in 2016-17 is tough, it’s already better to pay Wisniewski that for not playing this season since they already payed him $5.5MM for less than a minute last season. Recent events imply that the Hurricanes may have been correct to distance themselves from Wisniewski, as the once top-pair defenseman had enough trouble locking down a guaranteed contract that he committed to a professional tryout deal with Tampa Bay last week.
Columbus Blue Jackets
- Fedor Tyutin ($1.2MM cap hit in 2016-17, $1.96 in 2017-18, $1.46MM in 2018-19 and 2019-20): Dissapointed in the sharp decline of long-time defenseman Tyutin, the Blue Jackets made the tough call to cut ties with the 33-year-old this off-season rather than continue paying him $4.5MM over the next two seasons. Tyutin failed to make much of a difference for Columbus last season, and though paying him into retirement is not favorable, the Jackets could not afford another three-point season frought with defensive lapses at that price. Things have turned out alright for Tyutin though; he signed a one-year, $2MM pact with the Colorado Avalanche and is set to continue his NHL career.
- Jared Boll ($567K cap hit in 2016-17 and 2017-18): Like Tyutin, the rebuilding Blue Jackets did not see a future with Boll and bought out the final year of his contract this summer. A grinder without much offensive upside who struggled with injuries in 2015-16, Boll didn’t fit with the young and fast core being built in Columbus, and at $1.7MM was simply an inconvenience. Unlike Tyutin, who had been a solid presence on the Blue Jackets’ blue line for a long time, Boll’s presence will likely not be missed and the sub-$1MM buyout hit won’t make much of a difference for Columbus. Boll has moved on anyways, signing a two-year $1.8MM deal with the Anaheim Ducks.
New Jersey Devils
- Ilya Kovalchuk ($250K cap hit from 2016-17 to 2024-25): In one of the more outrageous contracts in NHL history, Kovalchuk hit the open market for the first time in 2010 and the Devils signed him to a 15-year, $100MM contract. The league initially rejected the offer for too obviously circumventing the salary cap, but even after it was fixed, it was still ridiculous. The contract, which would have had the Russian star playing in New Jersey until he was 42, held only a $6.67MM cap hit. However, Kovalchuk was to be paid over $11MM in salary in years three through eight. After that, the salaries began to plummet. In fact, over the course of the 15-year deal, the salary ranged in value from a mere $1MM to a whopping $11.8MM (ironically in 2016-17). Thus, the Devils knew that the contract carried a very big threat of recapture penalties if Kovalchuk retired early. As we all know, Kovalchuk retired very early, heading home to Russia following the 2012-13 season. In a weird twist, the Devils were actually saved by Kovalchuk retiring very early, before the front-loaded salaries started to pile up. Had he retired nine or ten years into the deal instead of just three, New Jersey could have been facing over $4MM in recapture penalties each year, instead of just $250K. While having a chunk of cap space taken off each year for 12 years is a harsh reminder of a rogue superstar, Kovalchuk’s departure may have been a blessing in disguise for New Jersey.
- Anton Volchenkov (no cap hit): Following the negotiation of the past NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, in both 2013 and 2014 all teams were able to use a “compliance buyout” on contracts signed prior to the 2012-13 season. The compliance buyouts would still be used to make payments to players, but it would not count against the salary cap. The Devils used such a buyout on Volchenkov in 2013, who was no longer worth anywhere near the value of the six-year, $25.5MM deal he had signed with the team in 2010. Rather than keep him and his $4.25MM cap hit for the three years remaining or buy him out and face six years worth of buyout hits, the Devils took the opportunity for a “do-over” and used their compliance buyout. The teams still pays Volchenkov over $1.4MM every year, but it has no effect on the rest of the team. Volchenkov played one season in Nashville after departing the Devils, but had similar results and has been out of the NHL since.
New York Islanders
- Rick DiPietro (no cap hit): In the most obvious compliance buyout of all-time, the Islanders were able to rid themselves of Rick DiPietro’s infamous 15-year contract. Signed in 2006 after the 24-year-old goalie had shown signs of potential stardom, it was the longest NHL contract to date and carried a combined cap hit of 67.5MM. While 4.5MM per year for the entire career of a star goalie sounds pretty good, DiPietro had one more good year in him and then started to decline drastically and struggle year in and year out with injuries. In the five years leading up to his buyout, he played in 50 games total and had a save percentage under .900. Armed with the unique chance to avoid eight more years of the same without having to pay the price in cap space, the Isles jumped at the chance for a compliance buyout. Though they still pay the steep price of $1.5MM to DiPietro every year, and must do so until 2029, it has no effect on the current team and can be more or less forgotten.
New York Rangers
- Brad Richards (no cap hit): Not to the same extent of their cross-town rivals and their “franchise goalie”, but the Rangers were also very happy to get a chance at a compliance buyout when it came to Richards. While Richards would go on to have a couple of successful seasons with the Blackhawks and Red Wings after leaving New York, his production was not really worthy of what the Rangers would have paid him. In 2011, Richards was the “must-have” free agent of the summer, coming off back-to-back seasons of over a point-per-game with the Dallas Stars. The Rangers won the bidding, giving him a nine-year $60MM contract. The deal, like many long-term deals at that time, was very front loaded. It paid Richards $12MM in each of the first two seasons and only $1MM in each of the last three. The cap hit of $6.67MM was manageable for the Rangers at first, as Richards put up good numbers, but he was also showing decline and the threat of a big cap hit for an aging player and monstrous recapture penalties led to decision to use a compliance buyout on Richards. In retrospect, it was very smart, as Richards announced his retirement earlier this summer after two more years of declining production. New York paid Richards over $3MM each of the past two years in accordance with the buyout settlement and are set to pay a little more than $5MM in 2016-17 before settling in to a payment of just north of $1MM each year until 2025-16. Luckily for them, none of it touches the salary cap for a team that is constantly in a cap crunch.
- Ilya Bryzgalov (no cap hit): The Flyers make a trio of Metro teams that used their compliance buyouts wisely, as Philadelphia was able to escape from a nine-year, $51MM contract they gave to the eccentric Russian goalie Bryzgalov. After back-to-back stellar seasons for the Phoenix Coyotes, the Flyers jumped on Bryzgalov in free agency in 2011, giving him a monster contract. However, as it so often goes in Philadelphia, the goalie didn’t work out and after just two years, the Flyers were ready to dump his $4.65MM cap hit. Though a 14-year buyout plan with annual payments of $1.64MM is not fun, the Flyers were able to move forward with new goalies and no negative impact on the salary cap.
- R.J. Umberger ($1.6MM in 2016-17 and 2017-18): A recent buyout victim, Umberger simply stopped producing. After starting his career off strongly in Philadelphia, Umberger was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets, where he became a star. The Jackets rewarded him with a five-year, $23MM deal in 2012, but then watched his number gradually decrease each year. With three years left on his contract, he was traded back to the Flyers, but the homecoming did not lead to many points. After two brutal seasons, Philadelphia decided to let Umberger and his $4.6MM cap hit go before the final year of his contract. They’ll pay for it over the next two seasons with significant cap hits, but it’s worth it considering their tight cap space entering 2016-17. Meanwhile, Umberger’s career appears likely to be over.
- Rob Scuderi ($1.125MM in 2016-17): In one of the funnier circumstances of the 2015-16 season, the Penguins held on to one third of Scuderi’s contract when they traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks for fellow underperforming defenseman Trevor Daley. Then, the Blackhawks held on to another third of Scuderi’s contract when they traded him to the Los Angeles Kings for yet another underperforming defenseman, Christian Ehrhoff. Now going into 2016-17, the final year of four-year $13.5MM deal he signed when he returned to Pittsburgh, the Penguins, Hawks, and Kings will all pay $1.125MM of his contract. Maybe Scuderi will return to form this season and at least avoid being traded more than once.
- NONE. Right? The reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners will not pay anyone this season who isn’t on the ice for them. Cap efficiency, that’s the key to NHL success.