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The first buyout window is about to open, and the Leafs have decisions to make

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Buyouts can begin on June 15, so expect to see players put on waivers as early as noon on June 14 to begin the process.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

There are two windows where teams can buy out players every off season. The second is dependant on how many arbitration filings a team has and when they are settled, but the first window is the one we are concerned with today.

The first buyout window opens on June 15th and closes on June 30th, just before the free agency frenzy begins.

Process

If a team wants to buy out a player, they must first place that player on unconditional waivers, and he can be claimed by any team in the usual way.

If the player has no-move clause, he can refuse the waivers, which simply means his buyout takes place immediately. He cannot avoid a buyout by any clause in his contract.

Once the player clears waivers after 24 hours and is bought out, he becomes a UFA.

An injured player cannot be bought out without their consent. This is not about Injured Reserve (IR) or Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR), which are designations more about managing the cap and roster sizes during the season than they are health reports—an injured player does not have to go on IR ever, after all. Instead this is about the actual state of health of the player.

There are no compliance buyouts any more.

Calculation

The buyout is either one third or two thirds of the salary, depending on which side of 26 a player is on, and paid over twice the number of years remaining on the contract. The new amount of the payout becomes the amount that counts against the cap each year. This is all complicated by signing bonuses which are not reduced in a buyout.

The GeneralFanager buyout calculator is the quick way to examine any buyout in any year and to see the cap hit effect.

Contracts signed when a player is 35 or older can be bought out, but there is no cap relief to the teams.

Likely buyout candidates

Jared Cowen

Not just likely, he's a lock.

Jared Cowen was included in the Dion Phaneuf trade solely for the quirky value of his contract on buyout. There was an expectation he would be traded to a cap-strapped team, but since that didn't happen, he is the Leafs' man to buyout.

The buyout calculator results from GeneralFanager are as follows:

Year Contract Salary Due Contract Cap Hit Buyout Cost Buyout Savings Buyout Cap Hit
2016-17 $4,500,000 $3,100,000 $750,000 $3,750,000 -$650,000
2017-18 $0 $0 $750,000 -$750,000 $750,000

Note the negative number for the coming year. This cap credit is a one time boost for the team, as the buyout will reduce the Leafs total cap hit by that amount for one year only over and above the reduction from having half his salary off the cap. In the second year, there is an increase to the cap as per usual.

The Leafs made doubly sure Cowen would not be injured for the buyout window by the simple trick of refusing to play him once he came off of IR after the trade. It can't have been a fun process for him, but it will be over soon, and he'll be a UFA on July 1.

Joffrey Lupul

The Leafs must be very tempted to buy out Lupul. His contract is so far over the value of what he can produce on the ice that trading him will be difficult. This is the team that moved Phaneuf though, so I'm not willing to call a trade impossible.

The GeneralFanager table for a Lupul buyout showing the effect on the team is as follows:

Year Team Cap Hit Before Buyout Team Cap Hit After Buyout Difference
2016-17 $63,284,165 $59,534,165 -$3,750,000
2017-18 $40,484,165 $38,234,165 -$2,250,000
2018-19 $20,050,000 $21,550,000 +$1,500,000
2019-20 $16,000,000 $17,500,000 +$1,500,000

Buying out Lupul might make sense if the Leafs are looking to free up cap space right away. The first two years of savings to the team are substantial and would easily pay for a replacement player and then some. But the subsequent two years would add some dead cap space at a time when the Leafs will be looking to add good players to increase their competitiveness, and that isn't ideal.

If the Leafs simply do nothing, keep Lupul and play him or not depending on his physical health and then buy him out next summer, the result would be:

Year Team Cap Hit Before Buyout Team Cap Hit After Buyout Difference
2017-18 $40,484,165 $37,984,165 -$2,500,000
2018-19 $20,050,000 $21,300,000 +$1,250,000

That is a lot better looking effect in the years where the Leafs will be pushing for real playoff success. Ignore the Team Cap Hit, that is simply the total amounts under contract now. By next summer that number would be higher, but there's the rub, do the Leafs need that cap space now? They have some returning big money contracts for the next year in Brooks Laich and Milan Michalek clogging up their cap situation, but those will be gone after one year.

Of course all of this speculation rests on the precarious foundation of the public information about Lupul’s health.

He played 46 games last year in the first part of the season, went on IR on February 8, 2016, and was reported to have had a sports hernia surgery on February 25.

Lupul did not participate in locker clean out at the end of the season and General Manager Lou Lamoriello said the following in his media availability at that time:

Do you have any health update on Joffrey Lupul? Is he expected to be back for the start of next year?

That's an unknown right now.

What about Robidas?

That's an unknown also.

Do you expect Robidas to show up for training camp?

We'll know on that. He'll be here but whether he can or not, I don't know. That's an unknown. His career could be over, we don't know.

The sum total of Lamoriello's comments were five words that amount to Who knows?, during an interview where he dodged every question and responded to an enquiry on the Leafs rather obvious need for goaltending with, "We'll just have to wait and see." This innocuous statement seems to have sparked a storm of speculation that never cites sources claiming the Leafs plan to put the 32-year-old Lupul on LTIR and therefore save on his entire cap hit during the season. Also known as the Stephane Robidas trick.

The Toronto Sun offered this on the day of locker clean out:

There is speculation the Leafs will try to get out from under the Lupul contract, with or without his co-operation.

It's an amusing idea, and it's grown into accepted fact in some quarters as the mythos of Lou Lamoriello, wielder of a magic crowbar, who can circumvent the CBA at will has also grown.

While we live in a world where the Los Angeles Kings manipulated the system to escape most of Mike Richards' future cap hit, that wiggling out of cap trouble was not blithely supported by the players association. The NHLPA likely agreed to the settlement of their grievance over the Richards case because getting it settled meant Richards could play sooner and that was in his best interests.

The idea that we have moved into a state of being where mainstream media can spend the off season laughing about putting a healthy yet ageing player on LTIR without his co-operation to circumvent the cap, fans can make it an internet meme, and then we all expect the league and the NHLPA to just acquiesce seems unrealistic.

Looking at the precedent, it is impossible to do anything beyond speculate on the actual medical state of Robidas. All we know is that he took part in training camp last year, played in some preseason games and looked like a pale shadow of Roman Polak—a man you might be fine with keeping in the press box for emergencies, but weren't going to play unless you had to.

Lupul on the other hand, and despite fan rage at the man over a contract extension that was one of the symbols of the mismanagement of the Leafs of the past, was a productive player putting up a stat line consistent with the rest of the players who regularly appeared on the bottom six for the Leafs, including his most frequent linemates Daniel Winnik and Nick Spaling. He scored goals at a higher rate at even strength than Brooks Laich, for example, and had very similar, bad Corsi numbers. He was very good on the power play, unlike the rest of the below average players he compares to.

He did not get top line results, and he was never used on the top line, but there isn't a strong case in his numbers for 'no longer able to play NHL hockey'. There are 56 forwards in the NHL who played at least 200 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey with worse Relative Corsi numbers than him, including two players who spent time on the Leafs. And including two new Stanley Cup Champions: Eric Fehr and Matt Cullen.

Of course we don't know if that sports hernia is his only injury. If he has a genuine condition that prevents his return to hockey, something that will pass muster with league or NHLPA scrutiny, then maybe LTIR is his fate. However, that option might not be the best thing for the Leafs to do at all, as The Leafs Nation outlines very well.

If Lupul is healthy, a buyout could be the best thing to ever happen to him. He could very well see his career revitalized in the way both Fehr and Cullen have enjoyed: playing poor 5-on-5 hockey for the regular season on the fourth line, getting some second unit power play minutes, and showing up in the playoffs to use some of the old magic for surprise depth goals.

For the Leafs, however, waiting a year to pull the trigger on a buyout looks like the best tactics.

Tyler Bozak

The Leafs are not buying out Bozak.

Given their lack of depth at centre heading into the draft this year, they may not have tried very hard to trade him before now, so the argument that he wasn't moved, therefore he can't be moved holds little water. They may feel more motivation to move him now, as their centre depth is about to change with the drafting of Auston Matthews.

However, Bozak could be insurance against the unpredictable results of a teenage rookie centre or the possibility of injuries. Jack Eichel spent some time on the third line last year for Buffalo, and Connor McDavid spent even more time on IR.

Mike Babcock has never shown a lot of faith in Peter Holland as a centre in the top six, so Bozak on the Leafs for another year may be a given. That is unless they sign some other top centre prospect. I'm sure there's some out there.

Bozak has two years at $4.2 million and a no-trade clause that is the sort where he has to submit a list of 12 teams he would accept a trade to. That is not an unmovable deal at all. But a buyout would put almost $1.5 million on the cap for 2018-19 and 2019-20. Since that is the last place you want to add dead cap space unless you really need to, a strong case for the need would have to be made.

There are a lot of comparable contracts to Bozak for players that are also comparable in production. He is not grossly overpaid, just modestly overvalued for today’s tighter economic climate.

If a favourable trade can't be found now, there's two trade deadlines before his contract is up to focus the minds of other GMs on how much they might need a very good power play specialist who is a competent top nine forward.

The Leafs are not buying out Bozak.