In a downright shocking move, the Calgary Flames have announced one-year contract for Michael Stone. Stone of course saw the final year of his previous contract with the Flames bought out in August, meaning he’ll not only earn the $700K on this new deal but an additional $1.17MM for each of the next two seasons from the buyout. Stone had been set to earn $3.5MM on his previous deal, meaning the Flames are actually saving more than $1.6MM in cap space this season—room they desperately need to re-sign Matthew Tkachuk.
This move screams of cap circumvention, but actually may have an innocent enough explanation. When Stone was bought out, he was an expensive luxury as a depth option given the team was expecting both Rasmus Andersson and Juuso Valimaki to step into increased roles this season. Less than two weeks later, Valimaki tore his ACL during offseason training and was ruled out for a huge chunk of the season (if not the entire thing). Stone’s buyout then may have looked like a mistake given the team’s immediate need for another defenseman with NHL experience.
As it turns out, the Flames will still receive part of the benefit from the buyout and Stone will have another chance to prove he can stay healthy enough to contribute in the NHL. The 29-year old played just 14 games with the Flames last season thanks to various ailments (including a blood clot) and struggled even before that. After contributing at a high level for the Arizona Coyotes in 2015-16, Stone has just 21 points in 115 games for the Flames.
While the optics of this move may seem less than above board, it’s important to note that the Flames are giving up $700K of the cap room (and actual salary savings) they created by moving Stone off the books in the first place. It is also important to understand that Stone had to agree to the salary on the new contract and could have taken his services anywhere else.
To clear up any confusion, there is nothing in the CBA to prevent a move like this directly. Only compliance buyouts included a provision that made a player unable to re-sign with his team for one year. This could however be investigated by the league for cap circumvention if they believe it was intentional, as they did in the case of Brooks Orpik last summer.