Now that the unspoken gentleman’s agreement between the other 28 teams waiting for the two still competing for the Stanley Cup is over with, things should start picking up in the hockey world. The first order of business will be a medley of compliance buyouts across the league, as the final window to do so opened itself back up last night and will remain open all the way through to June 30th.
Our buddy Thomas Drance has gone ahead and compiled a list of “things you need to know” regarding the compliance buyouts, in case you need to brush up on them. They’re handy because of the nice touch-up they can do on one’s salary cap, wiping the slate clean and essentially handing a team a do-over of sorts.
After buying out underachieving defenseman Keith Ballard last summer, the Vancouver Canucks have just one of these “weapons in the arsenal of the collective bargaining agreement” remaining.
On Vancouver’s books at the moment is one likely and two possible buyout targets. Let’s evaluate the possibilities, downsides, and potential benefits of buying out each contract.
We’ll begin with the most obvious choice of the bunch, and the one that I’d imagine the largest portion of the Canucks contingent would like to see cleared from the books. There’s definitely some merit to it. Booth’s 3 years in Vancouver have been underwhelming to say the least, with seemingly any progress he has made derailed by injuries like clockwork. The result has been just 26 goals and 51 points spanning 134 games, with the former 30-goal scorer having missed 35% of the team’s games during that time.
It has been a while since he scored those 31 goals in ’09, and the fact that he’s taking up $4.25 mil of cap space has been hard to swallow considering what he has been bringing to the table. While he’s unquestionably overpaid at this point, it’d reek of negligence on our part were we to conduct a discussion about his value as a hockey player without pointing out the subtle value he provides.
Despite being something of a shooting percentage outlier that we’ve needed to come to terms with, the Canucks have routinely out-possessed and out-shot their opponents whenever he has hit the ice. Last season, he and Zack Kassian, in particular, enjoyed all sorts of success together as a tandem. The Canucks controlled 53.8% of all shot attempts at 5v5 in the ~400 minutes they shared, which is an even more impressive feat when you consider that they did so predominantly with Brad Richardson as their pivot.
I know mocking Booth is in vogue among Canucks fans, but he retains some utility in part because he’s excellent through the neutral zone and he’s fast and physical. He scores even-strength goals a pretty good clip (no, really), and though he doesn’t kill penalties, he can probably be a pretty useful third-liner on a contending team. Out of all Canucks that logged at least 500 5v5 minutes last season, only Mike Santorelli and Alex Burrows were on the ice for fewer goals against than the much-maligned winger.
Using a compliance buyout on Booth’s contract saves the club some money for next season, frees up an additional $4.25 million against the salary cap, and gives the Canucks an additional top-nine roster spot. That latter point is important, because though I think Booth could still be valuable in the right situation, a skill blackhole on the third-line isn’t exactly something that an impotent offensive team like the Canucks require.
The downside of buying out David Booth? This is the final time during the life of the current CBA (which will outlast cockroaches but not Roberto Luongo’s lifetime pact) that teams can use a compliance buyout. Freeing up $4.25 million in space for next season is cool and all, but Booth’s contract is essentially a no-risk proposition. Vancouver might even be able to move him at the deadline for a pick (if Booth has a good year and the club retains some salary).
While relieving themselves of David Booth doesn’t necessarily present the team with the greatest of long-term benefits, the following two names sure do.
Complicating the matter, though, is the question of whether Garrison – and Burrows, who we’ll get to in a second – was the victim of horribly unlucky season of injuries and horrendous coaching, or whether it was the first whiff of a his personal downswing as an NHLer.
After three consecutive very productive seasons as a top pairing defenseman, Garrison fell off a cliff last year. His underlying numbers were no bueno, and he often looked like a liability when playing with anyone not named Dan “Safety Blanket” Hamhuis:
Without having access to his medical records it’s difficult to comment definitively on the matter, because there’s a distinct possibility that many of his woes can be directly attributed to the nagging groin/ankle injuries he dealt with for a large chunk of the campaign. And whether the groin injury, in particular, will be something that continues to be a nuisance and only gets worse with age is another legitimate follow-up question, as well.
Along the same lines of receiving as much value as possible from a transaction, Garrison may have some value to a team that isn’t aware of sites like Behind The Net or Extra Skater:
“Jason Garrison is an interesting option, if he’s willing to waive that NTC.
On paper, using the traditional stats, his year wasn’t half bad.
His seven goals and 33 points on the team that couldn’t score, look promising.
Add in his 181 shots, which ranked 11th among NHL defenceman. His 3.9 shooting percentage was a career low. You can start making the case he’s in line for a solid bounce back season out from under Torts.
Keeping Edler, starts to make more sense if you’re trading Garrison.
And his former team, the Florida Panthers, just happen to be desperate for some veteran defencemen.”
About a month ago, Gary Mason of the Globe and Mail went on a local radio program and dropped some interesting post-hoc nuggets on John Tortorella’s highly questionable (and brief) tenure behind the Canucks bench. I said my peace on the matter at the time:
“There’s no sugarcoating Burrows’ season from hell, putting everything any trials and tribulations his teammates may’ve had to shame. He got injured during the first game of the season, and shortly after coming back from 3+ weeks on the shelf, he broke his jaw. Due in large part to this, 661 players scored a goal in an NHL game this season before he finally did; he finished the year with a measly 5 goals, all of which came during a 3-game span between March 12th and 17th.
Combining all of that with the reality that Burrows is now a 33-year old that’s due $4.5 million for each of the next three season, and Tortorella’s reported request is hardly egregious. Still, it’s worth mentioning that Burrows saw his PDO take a catacylsmic tumble down from 103.7 (elevated, but not too far off from what he’d been posting for years) to 95.0 (grossly suppressed). The team was shooting 4.57% with him on the ice at 5v5, and the chances of that repeating itself next season seem slim to none.
His other underlying numbers seemed to stay relatively stable, and if some of the percentages begin to normalize back in his favour, he could very conceivably get back into the 20-25 goal range next season. Unless he has (/will suddenly) experiences a significant decline in skills, it sure seems like a sucker’s bet to give up on him at this point knowing that you’ve still got to pay someone else to replace him in the lineup.
Overall it strikes me as rather curious that a newly incoming coach would jump to such a drastic conclusion on a guy so entrenched in an organization prior to his arrival, but then again I’m pretty sure that Tortorella doesn’t have the slightest clue what “PDO” is, and a common theme in this interview is that he had absolutely no tact when it came to handling his assets.”
There’s a valid case to be made for all 3 of the players listed above, to varying degrees. Another outside-the-box route may be to use the compliance buyout as an asset that allows you to essentially buy a draft pick from a team that’s in a crunch. Trevor Linden and Jim Benning have a variety of different ways they can approach this situation, and with what’ll likely be their first critical move on the job, we’ll assuredly learn a thing or two about how they view the team they’ve inherited and where it fits into the the NHL’s hierarchy.