Over the last three seasons in particular, we’ve seen a number of so-called “mutual terminations”. In fact, we’ve seen more mutual terminations over this period than buyouts. They are just as they sound – when a player and team decide their prior arrangement is no longer agreeable, the teams cut ties entirely. The benefit for the team is that the cap hit of the player is cancelled out entirely. The benefit for the player is that they then have the opportunity to seek employment with a different franchise or a different league. Unfortunately for players, such an agreement may not be totally in their favor.
In the 2016-17 season, there were exactly 10 mutual terminations. Most of them flew under the radar, even for the most avid of hockey fans. The players concerned were David Rundblad (Chicago), Ben Johnson (New Jersey), Mason Raymond (Anaheim), Calle Andersson (New York Rangers), Nicklas Grossmann (Calgary), Axel Blomqvist (Winnipeg), Matt Carle (Nashville), Matia Marcantuoni (Arizona), Gregory Campbell (Columbus), and Jonathan-Ismael Diaby (Nashville). Not a single one of these players competed in another NHL game last season. That’s a success rate of exactly 0% on the player end. Regardless of one’s opinions of these particular players’ hockey abilities, the likelihood of them seeing game action prior to termination was much higher. (It should be noted that Carle announced his retirement, while Johnson was incarcerated, so it’s more like 0-for-8)
Rundblad was forced to return to the Swiss-A League, where he found moderate success with Zurich HC. Andersson also made a return appearance in the Swiss League, playing 26 games as a depth forward. Grossman played 28 games in the Swedish Hockey League with the lowly Orebro, while Blomqvist played only 7 contests for the SHL’s Sodertalje. Campbell, luckily, was employed by the Jackets as a player development coach. Raymond was an interesting case, as he refused to report to the San Diego Gulls due to family issues, which made the arrangement less “mutual” than the others. He signed a contract with SC Bern in June.
Each of these players struggled to find meaningful employment elsewhere while two didn’t find any whatsoever (Marcantuoni & Diaby). It’s understandable as to why a player would want to stay in game action, considering that every player subject to mutual termination is necessarily under the age of 35. Maintaining the physical standards of a pro hockey player is difficult, and being benched for the majority of a season can be crippling to future success. Still, there are solid hockey players on this list who saw marginal benefits from negating the remainder of their contracts. Seven contests for Sodertalje doesn’t really qualify as meaningful. And the story from past seasons is much the same. If you look through the 2015-16 list, most are essentially out of hockey at this point. None have played over 40 contests in a season for a serious foreign league outside of Petr Zamorsky for the SHL. Most terminated players don’t even see over 20 games total after this arrangement.
In the negotiations for a new CBA, this sort of maneuvering might become an issue of contention. Management loves this loophole, as it allows cap and total contract space with no repercussions to the organization. Still, there is an element of strong-arming to this arrangement, one in which the player rarely, if ever, comes out on top. Unless the player has a prior arrangement already in place, it’s a risky proposition. It will be interesting to see how often this strategy will be utilized in 2017-18.