Cap Crunch: Vancouver's Amnesty Buyout Candidates

Thomas Drance
January 02 2013 04:59PM

In discussing our "top Canucks story lines to watch for in 2013," we briefly discussed the likelihood of a salary cap that would fall significantly (by as much as 14%) by 2013-14 in a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).  With the league reportedly standing firm on a 60 million dollar salary cap for the 2013/14 season, the upcoming cap-crunch should make for cap-wizard Laurence Gilman's "greatest test yet."

There could be some balm for the Canucks' cap-itch in the form on a "one time amnesty buyout" provision, but even so, balancing the need to ice a contending team, and retaining the services of Alex Edler, with the necessity of getting under a 60 million dollar cap in 2013/14 could prove to be a painful proposition.

Let's look at some of the team's options.

I'll start by referring you to the table James Mirtle put together over at the Globe and Mail site on Wednesday morning. Mirtle broke down each NHL club by the cap-hits they're committed to in 2013/14, and their available space under a hypothetical 60 million dollar cap. Among all NHL clubs, the Caucks have committed more cap-space (55.4 million) to players already under contract than 24 other clubs. But that's not the whole story since that 55.4 million accounts for only 13 players, fewer than every team ahead of them on that list.

If we assume that all of the players currently under contract for 2013-14 remain on the Canucks roster at the beginning of that season, and that in 2013-14 the club would roll with a 22 man roster (2 goalies, 7 defenseman and 13 forwards), the Canucks would have to sign eight players at an average cap-hit of $511,111. It's an impossible task, but also a silly hypothetical since the Canucks will assuredly move Roberto Luongo (and his 5.33 million dollar cap-hit) at some point in 2013. 

Still, it'll be a bit of a slog for the Canucks. In fact based on the number of players needed to fill a 22 man roster and the average cap-hit available to sign those players, only four other NHL clubs will face tougher salary-cap circumstances heading into a 2013-14 season (three if you place Chris Pronger on long-term injury reserve). In such circumstances it seems exceedingly likely that the Canucks would have to use their "amnesty buyout" before the 2013-14 season in order to make their roster cap compliant. 

With that let's discuss three former Panthers/possible "buyout candidates" floated on Wednesday by the Vancouver Sun's Iain Macintyre.

Buyout Candidates

Roberto Luongo

Of all Canucks players currently under contract, Roberto Luongo has the "worst" one. This is despite the fact that Luongo is arguably the second best goaltender in the NHL (based on the consistency with which he posts an elite even-strength save percentage), and carries only the 7th highest cap-hit of NHL goaltenders signed through the 2013-14 season (behind Rinne, Bryzgalov, Lundqvist, Quick, Kipprusoff, Miller and Ward). So while Luongo is an elite goaltender, and is paid less than a whole whack of his less consistent contemporaries, the fact remains that save percentage is so random and his contract length is so exorbitant, that the contract remains a "bad" one.

Of course, everyone and their grandmother expects Roberto Luongo to be moved at some point in the near future. And depending on the shape an amnesty buyout takes in the new collective bargaining, (would it have to be used immediately? Or could teams bank it like in the most recent NBA CBA?) the presence of an "amnesty buyout" could serve to mitigate some of the long-term risk posed by Luongo's contract. As could the the so called "Kovy Klause." 

At the end of the day I expect Luongo will be traded for a meagre-ish return (including at least a couple million in cap-space), and I don't think he's a serious "buyout candidate" for the Canucks.

David Booth

The constant criticism of David Booth is partly based on his controversial Twitter usage, but it also reflects that Canucks fans and Vancouver sports media have struggled to adjust their offensive expectations for top-six wingers not named Daniel Sedin over the past couple of seasons.

Since Newell Brown joined the Canucks as an assistant coach and took over coaching responsibilities for Vancouver's special teams units, power-play time for second line wingers who can't fill in at the point (like Mason Raymond in 2010-11 and David Booth in 2011-12, as opposed to Mikael Samuelsson) has been scarce. Alex Burrows is a special case since he benefits from the wizardry of the Sedin twins, but generally speaking a 25 goal season from a top-six winger averaging 90 seconds of power-play icetime per game (or less) is pretty damn good. 

If you extrapolate Booth's performance in 56 games as a Vancouver Canuck winger last season, that's essentially what David Booth provided, which is well worth 4.5 million in cap-space over the next three seasons. If pucks start going David Booth's way (and they haven't for the past couple of years, and Booth might be a shooting percentage outlier though I'd like to wait another season before concluding that), his totals could be more palatable to those with a more superficial understanding of expected offensive output. 

Last season, David Booth contributed goals at a comparable rate (goals per million) to Brad Richards, Rick Nash, Alex Tanguay, Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar. As Cam Charron put it this past summer, "if David Booth is overpaid, it isn't by a heck of a lot," especially considering that Booth possesses a physical element to his game and helps the Canucks dominate the puck when he's on the ice.

At 4.5 million per season, I don't really think Booth is a true "buyout candidate," he's just an appropriately paid, quality top-six forward.

Keith Ballard

Keith Ballard's Vancouver tenure has been an unmitigated disappointment. Throughout his pre-Vancouver career, he was a reliable puckmover who competently handled tough-minutes while posting auspicious point totals (for a blueliner) and possession numbers. In 2010-11 he was coming off of an injury, never really seemed to fit into Alain Vigneault's system and ultimately found himself stapled to the bench in the postseason - even as the Canucks dealt with a rash of injuries, and suspensions. 

With negative trade value, three seasons left on a lucrative contract set to pay him 4.2 million per season through 2014-15, and no clear cut path to playing a top-4 role while Alain Vigneault is behind the Canucks bench; Keith Ballard is the only true buyout candidate on the Canucks books in my view.

Personally I'd like to see the Canucks deploy Ballard as a "Sedin-caddy" in a shortened season in an effort to bump up his trade-value. I mean, they've done it before. But realistically, it looks like an amnesty buyout represents the path of least resistance for the Canucks in dealing with Ballard's limited role and oversized contract.

Conclusion

I'll be extremely curious to see exactly how Laurence Gilman and Mike Gillis - two of the savviest executives in the national hockey league - handle a brave new collective bargaining agreement (fingers crossed) over the next seven months or so. They mastered the former CBA in relatively short-order and manipulated it expertly, but I'd expect an adjustment period before Vancouver's management team locates the exploitable loopholes in any new agreement. While they're adjusting however, they'll also need to contend with a salary cap that most expect will decline precipitously before the 2013-14 season.

It's a tall order, sure, but with a Luongo trade presumably on the horizon and the option of amenstying Keith Ballard's contract, the adjustment might not be too, too painful for Vancouver's club. Maybe they'll even manage to re-up Alex Edler...

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 KleptoKlown
January 02 2013, 10:01PM
Trash it!
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Another scenario could be using the amnesty buyout as a trade incentive to increase Luo's value.

Imagine a trade to the Islanders in which the Canucks take on Rick Dipietro ++.

Not only would that trade be sort of ironic, it would also be the first (hopefully of many) manipulations of the new CBA.

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#2 antro
January 03 2013, 10:50AM
Trash it!
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@ Klepto:

That's devious! Very nice.

@Thom:

Just clarifying: you suggest cap-space in return for Luongo? Or in addition to him?

Also: TSN is reporting the NHL upped to 2 buy-outs sometime yesterday.

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