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 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. We’ve already examined the Metropolitan and the Pacific; below is a list of all the retained salary in the Central Division in 2016-17:
- Rob Scuderi ($1.125MM in 2016-17): In one of the funnier circumstances of the 2015-16 season, the Pittsburgh Penguins held on to one third of Scuderi’s contract when they traded him to the Blackhawks for fellow underperforming defenseman Trevor Daley. Then Chicago 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.
- Brad Stuart ($3.6MM cap hit in 2016-17): If you’re scratching your head about that cap hit, you’re not alone. For all intents and purposes, the Avalanche are just paying Stuart not be around this season. They signed the veteran defenseman to a two-year, $7.2MM contract extension before he ever took the ice in Denver, after giving up a second-round pick to get him from the San Jose Sharks in the summer of 2014 with one year left on his previous deal. In 2014-15, Stuart had 13 points in 65 games and showed his age. In 2015-16, he missed all but six games with a back injury and had 0 points. In 2016-17, he’s gone. However, because the contract that was bought out was a “35+” veteran contract, the team faces the full blow of the cap hit in year one of a two-year settlement. Brad Stuart could have stayed with the club, but it seems as if he was healthy enough to play, which means that he would have cost $3.6MM and would have taken up a roster spot that the Avalanche would prefer to give to a defenseman that they actually want on the ice. Instead, the buyout simply means that they pay him the full amount this year, but he does not interfere with their active roster and depth. Stuart’s career is likely over.
- Ryan Garbutt ($900K cap hit in 2016-17): After signing a three-year, $5.4MM extension with the Stars during the 2013-14 season, Garbutt was traded last summer, alongside Trevor Daley, to the Chicago Blackhawks for Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns. In what was essentially a salary dump for the Hawks, they asked for the Stars to retain 50% of Garbutt’s contract and $1.8MM yearly cap hit. Though Dallas was likely hesitant to pay for anyone on a division rival to play against them, they can rest easy now. Garbutt was flipped to the Anaheim Ducks for Jiri Sekac midway through the season, lessening the burden on the Stars of having to consistently face a tough competitor who was also on their payroll. Garbutt is entering the final year of his contract, leaving the stars without any retained salary (as of now) for 2017-18.
- Matt Cooke ($1MM cap hit in 2016-17): An NHL villain and career grinder, Cooke finished a long stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins and signed on with the Wild in July of 2013 (just months before he could have signed a veteran’s contract at 35 years old) for three years and $7.5MM. While Minnesota was looking for the grit that Cooke was known for, they were also hoping for some of the scoring punch and reliability that he brought to the table. More offensively-talented than the average grinder, Cooke had scored about 30 points per season throughout his career and he also rarely missed games, playing in at least 75 games in all but three of his 13 seasons as a full-time NHLer. So, when Cooke had just 10 points in just 29 games in his second season in Minnesota, paying $2.5MM for another year of an aging enforcer became too much of a chore for the Wild. They bought out the final year of his contract last summer, and will finish paying off the settlement in 2016-17 with a $1MM cap hit.
- Thomas Vanek ($1.5MM cap hit in 2016-17, $2.5MM in 2017-18): The Thomas Vanek experiment did not work out as well as hoped in Minnesota. After being one of the top players in the league during his time with the Buffalo Sabres, Vanek had bounced around with Buffalo, the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens in 2013-14, before Minnesota gave him a new permanent home in the state where he played his college hockey. A three-year, $19.5MM deal was deemed reasonable for a player who consistently topped 60 points early on in his career. However, those numbers did not repeat themselves as a member of the Wild. Vanek put up 52 and 41 points respectively in his first two seasons, which weren’t bad years, but Minnesota felt that they were not worth $6.5MM. Vanek was hardly a 20-goal scorer anymore, and the Wild were expecting a 30-goal scorer. They bought out the final year of his contract earlier this summer, and will face the repercussions of back-to-back significant cap hits this year and next. However, the move allowed the cap-strapped Wild to bring in another reclamation project, Eric Staal, and at a more reasonable $3.5MM cap hit. Meanwhile, Vanek signed on for a one-year gig with the Detroit Red Wings for $2.6MM.
- Viktor Stalberg ($667K cap hit in 2016-17, $1.167MM cap hit in 2017-18 and 2018-19): History repeats itself, and just as the Predators found themselves needing to dump to players last summer, they were back in the same position this summer, for a league-high four retained salary players in 2o16-17. It all started with Stalberg, who signed a four-year, $12MM contract in the summer of 2013, leaving the Chicago Blackhawks for a division rival. Paying for the 43-point season of 2011-12 instead of the 23-point, injury plagued season of 2012-13, Nashville would up getting the latter player instead of the more desired former. Stalberg had only 18 points in 70 games in his first year with the Preds, and then added 10 more in only 25 games in 2014-15. Faced with a choice of hoping for a rebound at $3MM per year for two more years or bailing on the deal, the Preds decided to cut and run. Stalberg signed a cheap, one-year deal with the New York Rangers and had 20 points last season, leading to another one-year deal this off-season, this time with the Carolina Hurricanes. While Stalberg may be on his way back to form, his production has not been worth the money that Nashville would have paid him and they should be content with an affordable buyout.
- Rich Clune ($283K cap hit in 2016-17): When the cap hit is that low, a buyout was either a really good idea or a really bad idea. In this case, the Predators made the right call. Leaving town with Stalberg last summer was Clune, a career energy line player who arguably should never have gotten the call up to the NHL. Clune was picked up off of waivers by Nashville midway through the 2012-13 season, having not played in the NHL since suiting up for 14 games with the Los Angeles Kings in 2009-10. He went on to play in 47 games for the team that year with a career-high nine points. In 2013-14, he played a full-time energy line roll for the Preds, racking up hits and penalty minutes at a fair price of $538K. However, when it came time to re-sign the grinder, Nashville decided he was now worth $1.7MM over two years. That didn’t work out so well, as injuries and simply being buried on the depth chart earned Clune just one appearance in 2014-15. The decision was easy to buy out his final year rather than pay $850K for little to no contribution. Clune played in 19 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, racking up four points, and signed an AHL contract this summer. His NHL days are likely over and Nashville just has a very, very small price to pay for their over-valuation.
- Eric Nystrom ($500K cap hit in 2016-17, $1MM cap hit in 2017-18): Nystrom was another case of just overpaying for bottom six talent by GM David Poile. A budget team like Nashville simply cannot afford to overpay for non-contributors, which may explain the numerous buyouts and certainly explains Nystrom’s departure earlier this summer. After a couple of good years in Dallas, the Predators won the bidding for Nystrom’s services by giving him a raise of over $1MM per year with a four-year, $10MM contract. Nystrom’s first season in Nashville was not bad, as he totaled 21 points, but his lack of a two-way game made him a liability as a bottom six forward. 2014-15 and 2015-16 were much worse though. Nystrom scored 12 points in 60 games and then seven points in 46 games; he was nothing more than a veteran 13th man. Rather than pay $2.5MM for another year of the type of player that can be had for peanuts, the Predators bought out Nystrom’s contract to the tune of $1.5MM in cap waste over two seasons. Nystrom is currently a free agent.
- Barret Jackman ($667K cap hit in 2016-17 and 2017-18): Jackman was the next to go this past June, as the lifelong-Blues defenseman failed to live up to expectations in his first year with a new team. Signing with the Predators for two years and $4MM last summer, Jackman was supposed to bring a veteran presence to what was regarded as one of the deepest and youngest defensive cores in the NHL. Instead he contributed very little, as his five points were the lowest of his career as a full-time player and the physicality and defensive awareness that he was known for disappeared for games at a time. The former Calder winner no longer had anything to bring to the team, and Nashville saw alternatives on the market and in the system that were better suited for their team and more worth their cap space. Jackman’s buyout is hardly a burden for the Predators, who will be better served to have other take his ice time in 2016-17. Jackman also remains a free agent.
St. Louis Blues
- NONE. Quite the opposite of division-rival Nashville, St. Louis has no retained salary for this next year. The Blues are very efficient with their cap usage, which allows them to consistently have one of the deeper teams in the NHL and compete year after year.
- NONE. No wonder the Central is considered the best division: very little cap waste. The Jets, and even more so the Atlanta Thrashers before them, had to be careful not to get bogged down in bad contracts so as to start fresh in their new city and put together the best team possible.