Last summer, looking to add some veteran experience to the team, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Stephane Robidas to a 3 year contract with a $3M cap hit that some idiots weren't fond of. But, alas, the 37 year old struggled in his first year with the blue and white.

Despite playing by far the easiest minutes among regular Leafs defencemen, the team had very poor possession when Robidas was on the ice (Robidas is the bottom-right circle in the chart):

(chart via War On Ice)

So what do the Leafs do with Robidas? He has two more years left on his contract, it could plausibly be argued that he was the worst defenceman on a poor defensive club last season, and the Leafs have several younger defencemen under contract who all deserve a shot at making the roster.

This creates a pretty tough situation. The answer may have just been given to the Leafs by the New Jersey Devils.

Interlude - How Buy-outs Work

The rules for buy-outs are outlined in Section 13 of the Standard Player's Contract, which is included as an appendix beginning on page 310 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

  • Normally a club can only buy-out a player in a specific window: June 15th to June 30th. However, clubs with arbitration cases have a second 48-hour buyout window that begins three days after the conclusion of their final arbitration case (this is a strangely written rule, but I'm pretty sure I've got that correct). Because Toronto has had an arbitration hearing with Jonathan Bernier, their second buy-out window will commence at some point next week.
  • The cost of the buy-out is 1/3 of the remaining salary if a player is under 26 years old, or 2/3 if the player is 26 or older. The amount is paid out over the number of remaining years times two (ex. if the player has two years left on his deal, the money is paid out over four years).
  • The reduction in the salary cap hit follows the same rules as the cost of the buy-out. Except:
  • The full cap hit remains on the salary cap after a buy-out for players on multi-year deals who were 35 years old or older when the contract began.

Goodbye, Dainius Zubrus

OK, back to the Devils. On July 30 the New Jersey Devils bought out the contract of Dainius Zubrus. Zubrus, like Robidas, was on a 35+ contract, meaning that the Devils get no salary cap relief from the move.

So what do they get out of it? They save 1/3 of his salary in real money (but not cap space), and they also free up a roster spot and an SPC slot (teams can only have 50 players under contract at any given time).

Devils' reporter Tom Gulitti pointed out something else relevant about this buy-out:

When buying out a 35+ contract, because the full cap hit applies, the damage is not spread out over double the number of years, as would be the case with a normal buy-out.

So for Zubrus, that means the Devils only have to deal with his cap hit for this season; for Robidas, it means the Leafs would be stuck with his cap hit for the next two seasons, but not four.

So Should The Leafs Buy-out Robidas?

I would argue that there's a pretty strong case to be made for buying out Robidas during the Leafs' second buy-out window. Here's my reasoning:

  • The Leafs are stuck with the $3M cap hit no matter what. It's a sunk cost and shouldn't really factor into the decision.
  • Assuming that Gardiner, Rielly, and Phaneuf are locks for the top-4, that leaves Robidas, Polak, Hunwick, Marincin, and Brennan all fighting for the final three spots, and that doesn't include the possibility that someone like Stuart Percy might earn a spot on the team. Buying out Robidas allows the other players to get more ice time, and odds are pretty good that they're all better players. At the very least, it's worth finding out if someone like Percy or Brennan can be useful NHLers.
  • The Leafs are currently at or near the 50 SPC limit. That limits their flexibility in terms of trades and potential waiver pick-ups (like Richard Panik last season). Freeing up that SPC slot would have real value to the team.

Are there any reasons the Leafs wouldn't buy-out Robidas? It's possible that Robidas is a good role-model for the younger players, so maybe the Leafs would like to have him around to help teach them how to handle the day-to-day grind of NHL life.

Since the Leafs aren't going to be a competitive team this year, it probably doesn't matter an awful lot if he makes the team a bit worse on the ice (in fact, it may even be good from the standpoint of improving their draft pick).

However, I would argue that a buy-out is probably the best option, if only to ensure that better, younger players can get the ice time they deserve.