NHL Rumors: The Buffalo Sabres and Amnesty Buyouts

Kevin Hoffman – US PRESSWIRE

Yesterday, Larry Brooks, the revered New York Rangers columnist for the New York Post, gave the NHL and the NHLPA a win-win in terms of the tools available for the teams that will be above the salary cap when the  CBA is signed – amnesty buyouts.

As of right now, the NHL is pushing for a $60 million salary cap if this season were to be played. Using teams’ cap numbers at the start of the lockout (via capgeek.com), there would be 16 teams that would need to shed some salary in order to get below the cap, including the Buffalo Sabres.

What Brooks’ system would do is allow players to be bought out with no cap hit to their former club. When they are released, they are done so at 1/3 or 2/3 the player’s current cap hit. When they are re-signed by another club, that club only pays the remaining 1/3 or 2/3 to make the player whole, but no more money is spent on the player. As Brooks says, this allows the same amount of money to flow through the system as if there were no buyout, but allows for the player to get what they were signed for and allows some teams to get guys on the cheap (which will also be necessary for many teams).

The idea is perfect in terms of “keeping money in the system,” a problem many owners have had with the amnesty buyout idea since it was introduced by the NBA in their new CBA last winter. It may lead to some of these players not getting resigned – Scott Gomez is the guy that leaps to mind here – but it allows for the 16 teams above that $60 million mark currently to get under it quickly and easily.

So being about $4.5 million over the mark currently, would Sabres’ general manager Darcy Regier take the opportunity to get out from underneath the Ville Leino contract that has dogged him since it was signed last July 1st?

The answer likely isn’t as simple as it may seem.

In purely contractual terms, getting rid of Leino’s $4.5 million a year may not be enough money to get under the cap. Remember, you need to sign someone or add someone’s salary from the AHL to suit up 12 forwards. So, Regier would need to make another move as it is.

There are four players on the Sabres that could be bought out, leaving enough room to sign someone under the $60 million cap, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the Sabres will not be releasing Thomas Vanek, Ryan Miller, Tyler Myers or Jason Pominville.

For all of you thinking the team will need to be blown up to shed $4.5 million, it’s not as bad as it seems.

When you look into the CapGeek salary cap projections for the Sabres, there are a few options that the Sabres may be able to go.

However, working under the assumption that teams will not be able to avoid a complete cap hit when burying NHL contracts in the AHL – a likely concession by the NHLPA in the new CBA – the Sabres’ options seem to get slimmer.

Without that rule, using last season as precedent, Adam Pardy, acquired from the Dallas Stars along with Steve Ott for Derek Roy in July, and his $2 million would likely find himself in Rochester like Shaone Morrisson and Ales Kotalik last year.

With the rule, two-way contracts are the only ones able to be down in the AHL without counting against the NHL cap. That leaves Kevin Porter and his $550,000, and TJ Brennan and his $550,000 in the AHL looking in to start the season for sure.

So, what about the approximately $3.5 million remaining to make the Sabres compliant? This is where the Leino buyout would make sense from a contractual standpoint. Pardy could also be bought out to get the number down to about $1.5 million.

This is not the time and place to debate Leino’s play and his contract – we’ll save that for another time – but assuming Porter and Brennan are in Rochester at the start of the season, a Leino buyout would make the most sense in a numbers sense. It would get the Sabres about $1 million under the proposed cap, which should be enough to sign a role player.

So what could be the potential wrench in these plans? There’s two major ones.

First, Regier and Ruff may not want to get rid of Leino and allow someone to grab him on the cheap. Again, not getting into it in any depth here, but Leino was one of the team’s better players down the stretch despite the scoresheet not necessarily backing that up. He started to create some chemistry with Pominville, and you always want your captain happy. It’s also highly unlikely to see a Drew Stafford or Christian Ehrhoff buyout given their strong play last season.

Second, if Mikhail Grigorenko is ready for the show, releasing Leino would not be enough to compensate for what will be a $1.4 million cap hit. It’s no secret Grigorenko has earned his nine game tryout due to his unreal play with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL this year, and to have to return him to juniors because he doesn’t fit financially would be awful for Regier.

Suffice it to say, assuming amnesty buyouts are included in the next CBA, the allure of a Leino buyout does not mean it will be as much of a sure thing as many Sabres fans may think.

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