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 Mike Richards) 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 Pacific Division in 2016-17:
- Patrick Maroon ($500K cap hit in 2016-17 and 2017-18): Maroon was surprisingly dealt out of Anaheim last season to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for defensive prospect Martin Gernat and a fourth-round pick in the NHL Draft this past June (Jack Kopacka). The Ducks held on to 25% of Maroon’s three-year, $6MM contract that he had signed with the team prior to last season.
- Mark Fistric ($217K cap hit in 2016-17, $450K in 2017-18 and 2018-19): Fistric was bought out by Anaheim following an injury-plagued 2014-15 campaign, the first year of a new extension. He had two years and over $2.5MM left on his contract at the time. Fistric has not signed with another NHL team since leaving the Ducks.
- Mike Ribeiro ($1.94MM cap hit from 2016-17 to 2019-20): Ribeiro will be cashing in on NHL contracts for many years to come, as a buyout in Phoenix has not stopped him from continuing to play and getting good money to do so. The (then) Phoenix Coyotes signed Ribeiro to a four-year, $22MM contract in the summer of 2013, but after a 47-point season in 2013-14, the team decided to cut ties with him. The decision cost the Coyotes a capable player and has and will continue to cost them in dollars. Ribeiro’s buyout was for six years and nearly $12MM dollars, and Arizona is still facing down four more years. Meanwhile, Ribeiro signed a one-year, $1MM deal with the Nashville Predators in 2014-15 and put up 62 points. He was rewarded last summer with a two year, $7MM deal, which means between his active contract and his bought out contract, Ribeiro will actually make close to $5.5MM in 2016-17, what he would have made in Arizona.
- Antoine Vermette ($1.25MM cap hit in 2016-17 and 2017-18): A more recent development, Vermette was bought out by the Coyotes during their second buyout window last week. Vermette had only one season left with a cap hit of $3.75MM, after returning to the desert on a two-year deal after Arizona traded him to the Chicago Blackhawks before their 2015 Stanley Cup run. Vermette’s numbers did not tail off last season; in fact he has been very consistent over the course of his entire 11-year career. The buyout was viewed by many as Arizona simply deciding to pay to open up depth next season for their young players and prospects. Vermette remains unsigned as of now.
- Mason Raymond ($1.05MM cap hit in 2016-17 and 2017-18): After a one-year, $1MM trial run with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013-14 ended in 45 points, the Flames decided to take a chance on Raymond, giving him a three-year, $9.45MM deal. After under-performing in year one, Raymond was only able to play in 29 games last season, contributing a mere five points. Calgary was swift to buy out the remaining year of his contract, which would have paid him $3.15MM in 2016-17. The $1.05MM cap hit for the Flames this year and next year is bearable for a team with cap space and a plethora of young talent, and Raymond has found a new home with division rival Anaheim and will make $675K on top of his buyout payment. It was a retained salary move that worked out for both sides.
- Lauri Korpikoski ($500K cap hit in 2016-17, $1MM in 2017-18): Another buyout victim this summer, Korpikoski simply did not perform to the level expected of him by the Oilers after they traded Boyd Gordon to the Coyotes to get him. Stemming from a strong career to that point in Arizona, the Coyotes gave the two-way specialist a four-year, $10MM extension in the summer of 2013. However, after back-to-back years of steep decline in his scoring numbers, Arizona felt comfortable shipping Korpikoski off to the division rival Oilers. New GM Peter Chiarelli hoped that, at the very least, Korpikoski would bring some defensive stability to a young and offensive-minded forward core. When that didn’t happen, Edmonton decided he didn’t need to stick around for the final year of his contract at a cost of $2.5MM.
Los Angeles Kings
- Mike Richards ($1.32MM cap hit from 2016-17 to 2019-20 AND $10.5MM cap hit over time until 2030-31): One of the most interesting cases of retained salary, Richards counts against the Kings’ cap for two reasons, neither of which is a buyout or a trade. Richards signed a (now illegal) 12-year, $69MM contract with the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2007 season, and prior to the last NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement. The league recognized that deals like Richards’, which were excessively long and included wide margins of salary over the course of the contract, were meant to circumvent the salary cap. By front-loading a contract with high salary seasons, and then adding years at the end of low salary, a team could effectively keep a player’s cap hit low without exposing themselves to much risk should the player retire or need to be bought out later on in his post-prime career. Richards’ cap hit on this contract was only $5.75MM, but there were six seasons where his actual salary was greater, including a 2012-13 salary of $8.4MM. So, when Richards got in legal trouble in 2015, the Kings (who acquired Richards from the Flyers in a blockbuster deal in June 2011) saw an opportunity to terminate Richards’ contract, which had become a major burden to the team for a player that was performing so poorly that he had been demoted to the AHL. Because Richards’ contract was cut short and had been constructed in an illegal way, the Kings faced “recapture penalties”, which offset the benefits of previous cap benefits from long, front-loaded contracts. Thus, the Kings face a cap hit of $1.32MM every year until what would have been the natural end of Richards’ contract in 2020. On top of that, the termination of the contract was fought by the NHL Players Association, and the grievance led to a settlement between the Kings and Richards which pays him $10.5MM of the $22MM that was left on his contract. The payments were to be made over the course of 16 years, with a maximum payment of $900K per year and minimum of $400K. All of these payments additionally count against the Kings’ cap. In the world of retained salary, Mike Richards is quite the story, and Los Angeles will be telling it for another decade and a half.
San Jose Sharks
- Adam Burish ($617K cap hit in 2016-17): Never much more than an energy line player, the Sharks gave Burish a four-year, $7.4MM contract when free agency opened on July 1st, 2012. Burish was coming off of a career-high 19 points to go with a strong two-way presence and elite toughness. However, he would only score six points in the next three seasons combined for San Jose, as injury struggles and mostly poor play derailed his career. The Sharks bought out the final year of his contract to avoid a $1.85MM cap hit for an AHL-caliber player and will finish paying off the buyout this season.
- Roberto Luongo ($800K cap hit from 2016-17 to 2020-21): Like Richards, Luongo too signed a massive deal before the league banned them. In 2010, the Canucks gave their ace goalie a 12-year, $64MM extension, despite the fact he was 31-years-old at the time. The deal paid Luongo $10MM in salary during the first year, followed by seven years of $6.7MM salaries, and then a steep drop off to $3.4MM, $1.6MM, and two final years at $1MM. Perhaps afraid of facing the full blow of potential recapture penalties (the rule for which is often nicknamed the “Luongo Rule”) for a contract that blatantly circumvents the salary cap with its 5.3MM cap hit, the Canucks traded the remaining eight years of Luongo’s contract to the Florida Panters before the Trade Deadline in 2014 in effort to share some of the risk should Luongo retire before the age of 43. However, to make the risky aquistion worth it, the Panthers had Vancouver hold on to $6.4MM of the contract, for an annual cap hit of $800K.
- Chris Higgins ($833K cap hit in 2016-17 and 2017-18): Higgins is another recent buyout, getting cut by the Canucks this off-season with one year remaining on a four-year, $10MM extension he signed in 2013. Higgins played in only 33 games last season, recording just four points. He remains unsigned.