Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski, USA TODAY Sports

Who Is The Red Wings Best Buyout Candidate?

In his first two seasons with the Wings, Andreas Athanasiou has put up 27 goals and 43 points in 101 games. His electrifying speed and smooth hands have dazzled fans time and time again as the young winger has fought to earn ice time under a coach that has been unforgiving on Athanasiou’s defensive game, resulting in frequent third period benchings and games from the press box. For what it’s worth, Blashill does have a point when it comes to Athanasiou’s 2-way game.

That aside, Athanasiou is one of the Red Wings best up-and-coming players. He, along with Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin, is part of the Red Wings’ next core. By no means does that mean Holland should lock him up long-term. Athanasiou is a great player, but a bridge deal is a necessity right now as he establishes his game at the NHL level.

While nobody is expecting a big long-term contract for Athanasiou, Holland certainly can’t hand it out. After finally settling with Tomas Tatar on a four-year, $21.2 million contract (with an annual cap hit of $5.3 million), Holland is no longer flirting with the ceiling of the salary cap – he’s surpassed it. According to NHLNumbers, with the new Tatar contract on the books, the Red Wings are over the salary cap by $3.064 million. If the Wings had their roster in place and were done with signings, then this isn’t a bad place to be. Johan Franzen will once again be placed on the long-term injured reserve and his cap hit of $3.95 million will come off the books, leaving the team with $933,333 in cap space.

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But they don’t have their roster in place and are not done with signings. Athanasiou is supposed to be a key part of this roster and $933,333 ain’t gonna cut it. Something’s got to give and the only two options available to Holland right now are a trade or a buyout, especially since all parties insist that Niklas Kronwall will not start the season on the LTIR. Let’s explore the second option and who would be the best candidate to have their contract bought out by the Red Wings. But first, the rules.

The Rules

While the regular buyout window closed on June 30th at 5 pm EST, there is a second buyout window that opens for teams who have had one or more player-elected arbitration filings. This is a 48-hour period that begins on the third day after the settlement of the arbitration case. Thanks to Tatar, the Red Wings now qualify for this second buyout window which, for them, will open on Monday, July 24th and close on Wednesday, July 26th.

Now, let’s lay out all of the buyout rules, which are courtesy of CapFriendly’s Buyout FAQ:

Teams are permitted to buyout a player’s contract to obtain a reduced salary cap hit over a period of twice the remaining length of the contract. The buyout amount is a function of the players age at the time of the buyout, and are as follows:

  • 1/3 of the remaining contract value, if the player is younger than 26 at the time of the buyout
  • 2/3 of the remaining contract value, if the player is 26 or older at the time of the buyout

As explained above, the buyout is spread out over a period of twice the remaining length of the contract. The team still takes a cap hit, and the cap hit by year is calculated as follows:

  1. Multiply the remaining salary (excluding signing bonuses) by the buyout amount (as determined by age) to obtain the total buyout cost
  2. Spread the total buyout cost evenly over twice the remaining contract years
  3. Determine the savings by subtracting the annual buyout cost from Step 2 by the player’s salary (excluding signing bonuses)
  4. Determine the remaining cap hit by subtracting the savings from Step 3 by the players Annual Average Salary (AAV) (including signing bonuses)

The above calculation is performed for each year of the buyout, meaning the buyout cap hit is not necessarily the same for each year. It is also possible that the buyout cap hit can be negative, meaning the team receives a credit.

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So now that we’ve got a good understanding of how the buyout works, who are the best candidates for the Red Wings to buyout? I’ve narrowed it down to the three contracts of Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, and Jonathan Ericsson.

Justin Abdelkader

Jan 20, 2017; Buffalo, NY, USA; Detroit Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader (8) and Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (15) during the third period at KeyBank Center. Sabres beat the Red Wings 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Situation: Justin Abdelkader is a serviceable player who’s been a Red Wing for his entire eight year career. He broke the 40-point barrier twice on the back of Pavel Datsyuk. Without Pav, Abdelkader is good for 20-points and some net-front presence on the powerplay. He’s entering the second year of a whopping seven year contract worth $29.75 million with an average cap hit of $4.25 million. While the actual salary isn’t bad for Abby, it’s the term that makes this contract hurt. Getting it off the books would really open up some options in the short- and long-term future.

The Buyout: There is currently $22.75 million left on Abdelkader’s contract and he is 30-years old, meaning the buyout ratio is ⅔, which results in a total buyout of about $15 million. Since there are six years left on his contract, the buyout will be spread out over twelve years with the cap hit being in the $1-1.2 million range for the next three years, then going up to $2-2.5 million for the following three years before settling down at $1.263 million for the remaining six years.

Buyout Potential: Very low. While Abdelkader’s contract is among the worst in the league, buying it out now would handcuff the Wings for even longer, especially during the years where Larkin, Mantha, and Athanasiou will be up for big pay days. Buying it out now makes very little sense. We’re just going to have to wait this one out.

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See for yourself: click here to see the Abdelkader buyout on CapFriendly.

Darren Helm

Jan 25, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen (31) blocks a shot from Detroit Red Wings center Darren Helm (43) during the third period at Joe Louis Arena. Toronto won 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Situation: Much like Abdelkader, Helm is a serviceable 3rd line player who is good for 20-points per season (why do they need two of them?). Helm is speedy, but when he uses his speed to break away from the play, he frequently fumbles to puck or lobs an easy shot on net. He’s got no hands. That being said, Helm is a penalty killing extraordinaire. He’s entering the second year of his five-year contract worth $19.25 million with an average annual value of $3.85. Again, like Abdelkader, this is a fair AAV for the kind of player Helm is, but the term is far too long.

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The Buyout: At 30 years old, there is $13 million left to pay on Helm’s contract, resulting in a total buyout cost of $8.67 million. With four years remaining on the contract, the buyout would spread out over the next eight years with the cap hit being $1.43 million in the next two years, $1.93 million in the two years following that, and $1.083 million for the remaining four years.

Buyout Potential: This one is a little more appetizing than the Abdelkader buyout because the cap hit isn’t as high in the middle of it, but one still has to wonder if gaining $2.42 million in cap space short-term is worth taking a million dollar hit for the next eight years. It’s certainly enough to get Athanasiou signed short-term, but further handicaps the team down the road. I’d say we’ll be seeing Helm in a Red Wings jersey for the next four years.

See for yourself: click here to see the Helm buyout on CapFriendly.

Jonathan Ericsson

Jan 1, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Detroit Red Wings right wing Anthony Mantha (39) is congratulated by defenseman Jonathan Ericsson (52) after scoring a goal in the second period against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the Centennial Classic ice hockey game at BMO Field. The Maple Leafs beat the Red Wings 5-4 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Situation: Jonathan Ericsson is a bottom-pairing defenseman on a terrible contract. The cap hit for his contract is $4.25 million for his 10-15 points per season and he has the worst 5-on-5 Corsi-For percentage over the last three years of all Red Wings defensemen who have played 50 games or more (per Puckalytics). His contract hurts the Red Wings cap more than any other considering what’s expected of him and what he’s delivering.

The Buyout: At 33 years old, there is still $12.5 million left on Ericsson’s contract, resulting in a total buyout cost of $8.33 million. With three years remaining on the contract, the buyout will be spread out over the next six years with the cap hit being $1.64 million next season and $1.39 million for the remaining five years.

Buyout Potential: Of the three options, Ericsson’s buyout is the most likely. There would be an immediate $2.61 million of cap relief, enough to get Athanasiou signed short-term. While this would be a similar situation to Helm’s, an Ericsson buyout offers more to the team than a Helm one does. For one, it opens up a spot on the blueline for a defenseman, a position that this team currently has a backlog of. With Ericsson gone, Xavier Ouellet is guaranteed the roster spot he earned with his play last season. As time passes and the roster starts to take its final form, an Ericsson buyout is beginning to make more and more sense.

See for yourself: click here to see the Ericsson buyout on CapFriendly.

There are some notable exceptions to this list, including Niklas Kronwall, Danny DeKeyser, and Frans Nielsen. You could make an argument for all three of them to be bought out, but I felt these three ranked lower on the priority list. Kronwall, with his bummed knee, has one more season in him at the most. From there, he can be put on the LTIR for cap relief. DeKeyser’s contract is bad, but he’s a decent defenseman who will return to his old form when he doesn’t have to play against the opposition’s top-talent night in and night out. Finally, Nielsen will still be a good second line centre for the next 2-3 years. He’s a good example of 2-way play for the young guys and will be able to mentor Larkin in the faceoff circle.

While I understand Holland’s desire to keep veterans around in order to teach the young kids and pass on The Red Wings Way™, I feel he went overboard on his commitment to them. The cap is a mess and a buyout is a very possible option, though not an ideal one. Buying out a contract means sacrificing cap space in the long-term for a short-term gain. Where the Red Wings are right now, they should be planning for and building for the future. In seven years, they don’t want to be weighed down by a million bucks from a buyout in 2017. That being said, the clock ticks on Athanasiou and if he’s going to be part of that future, something needs to be done very soon. An offer sheet could be right around the corner.