Technically speaking, Senators winger Marian Gaborik was the centerpiece of the return the Senators received when they dealt defenseman Dion Phaneuf to the Kings back in February. Of course, he wasn’t a typical centerpiece in that he was acquired strictly for financial reasons, not because they actually wanted to acquire him. As a result, even though they just got him, he could very well be sent packing by Ottawa over the next two weeks.
It has been a rather drastic fall from grace for the 36-year-old in recent seasons. After he played a key role in the Kings winning the Stanley Cup in 2014, Los Angeles signed him to a front-loaded seven-year contract, one that looked bad right at the start.
Since then, Gaborik has yet to play in 70 games in a single season and this past year spent a lot of time as a healthy scratch although he did fare a little better with Ottawa after the trade. However, a part-time player that puts up around 20 points a year isn’t worth $4.875MM on the cap let alone for three more years which is how much time is left on his contract.
Because of the way the deal is structured, the sum of the combined cap hits over the next six years will actually exceed the salary that he’s owed over that time. That would be a concern for some teams but the budget-conscious Senators aren’t one of those. From the minute this trade was done, it looked like the sole motivation was getting out of as much of Phaneuf’s longer-termed contract as possible and that Gaborik was merely a sunk cost to accomplish that. A buyout would represent lowering that sunk cost by just over $3.6MM (one-third of his remaining salary) of real money which to them matters a lot.
In the case of a lot of players who are buyout candidates, the idea of trading the player with the maximum 50% retention is an outside possibility. While Ottawa will certainly explore that idea, it’s not exactly a palatable one because Gaborik has three years left. There won’t be enough demand to justify trading for him at half price and carrying him for that long when they can just wait for the buyout and try to sign him to a one-year, incentive-laden deal a few weeks from now. (As he’s 36, he is eligible to have incentives in his contract as long as he signs for a single season.)
Theoretically, Ottawa could wait a year to see if Gaborik could build on his late showing and have a good full season to see if there is any trade potential down the road and if not, buy him out in the summer of 2019. However, because 2018-19 is the highest remaining salary of the remaining three years of the contract, their financial savings will wind up being about $1.5MM less if they went that route. Realistically, they can find someone in free agency that can put up the 21 points that Gaborik has averaged over the past three years for that price or less so they may as well bite the bullet now if the plan is to buy him out before his contract expires.
Assuming this is the route that gets taken which seems inevitable at this point, it will be quite the precipitous drop for a player who was once regarded as one of the premier scorers in the league. It will also look less than ideal for the Senators who will wind up effectively paying more than $11MM (Gaborik’s buyout cost in terms of real dollars plus what they are covering on Phaneuf’s contract as part of the trade) for the blueliner to not play for them. That’s not a pretty picture no matter how one tries to paint it.