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Puck Lists: Seven potential NHL buyout candidates

(As the NCAA hockey season is done, our own Ryan Lambert needed something on which to opine. Say hello to a special Tuesday series from yer boy RL, PUCK LISTS, in which he arbitrarily lists hockey things.) 

The Stanley Cup Final is over and lots of teams around the league are looking forward to the draft and free agency.

But first, some may want to do a little housekeeping.

The NHL's annual buyout window opens on June 15, more or less 48 hours after the Stanley Cup Final ended. That's tomorrow, or later tonight for teams that really want to get a jump on things. And with the NHL salary cap barely moving from its current level — some think it might even go down if players don't act with their escalator —it seems like there should be plenty of candidates out there.

Of course, even with tight constraints many teams are loath to take this step because it's expensive and there's no telling what the cap looks like in 2017-18, especially with another sunbelt expansion team likely to come in.

So who's most likely to get bought out in the next few weeks as teams get their ducks in a row for July 1? Basically all the guys whose contracts are too rich, and who teams will really not want to trade for. Such as:

(Keep in mind that Dave Bolland, who would top this list, can’t be bought out because he recently failed a physical.)

7. Joffrey Lupul, two years left at $5.25 million AAV

Not that Lupul is terrible when he's healthy. He's just never healthy. In the past five seasons, he's played 66, 16, 69, 55, and 46 games, and the last two years have seen both his production and possession quality slip significantly.

Toronto is a rich, rebuilding team and therefore probably doesn't mind carrying this freight, necessarily. Especially because he'll be gone in two years at the most on his current deal. A buyout now would give him a cap hit of $1.5 million for the next two years for which his contract does not currently extend. At that point, the Leafs might want to commit more money to, say, some of their many talented players currently on entry-level deals.

There's also the matter of his actual salary dropping for 2017-18 — the likely year of expansion — which increases his cap hit to $3 million.

The Leafs will probably keep a lid on the buyout here, but it is an option. Of course, there are other newly acquired Leafs (Brooks Laich, Milan Michalek, and Colin Greening) as well as existing ones (Tyler Bozak) who also offer potential buyout possibilities. But at least those guys can play the full 82 in most cases.

6. David Clarkson, four years left at $5.25 million AAV

Now, keep in mind on this one, there might be an injury caveat.

The league's preeminent poison contract is truly awful, we all know. And Columbus is somehow right up against the cap already despite their roster being truly awful.

So is Clarkson a buyout candidate? Again, there are plenty of options on the table for the Blue Jackets, because Jarmo Kekalainen has not done a great job managing his cap situation. But Clarkson also carries with him the distinction of potentially not being healthy enough to keep playing, and you have to remember that they only acquired him because they didn't want to keep paying Nathan Horton to not-play.

The problem here is that Clarkson has a contract that is effectively buyout-proof. Over the next four seasons, a huge chunk of his money ($16 million!) comes to him in the form of signing bonuses, which he would be paid regardless of the buyout. So the actual savings for the Blue Jackets would be minimal.

One has to wonder if the team can find better options, such as trading him to yet another team just looking to make the cap floor. But if not, a buyout is a (very faint) possibility.

5. One of the Stars' goalies (Lehtonen two years left at $5.9 million AAV, Niemi two years left at $4.5 million AAV)

Jim Nill has already said he's ride-or-die with these guys and their no-good contracts, so I wouldn't expect this to happen.

But also: It might and probably should. The obvious answer is to buyout Kari Lehtonen, because he has the bigger contract and saves you more money and is arguably worse. I would do it the second the window opens. Further, Lehtonen is a guy Nill inherited, while Niemi is a guy he personally brought in. Does that matter? It might.

The case for buying out Niemi, though, is that he costs you less in the ongoing cap hit (by about $333,000), and that number doesn't fluctuate like Lehtonen's will in 2017-18, when his salary declines.

4. Dustin Brown, six years left at $5.875 million AAV

The bad news here is that you don't want to be carrying Brown's cap hit until 2028, which is what will happen if you buy him out. The good news is that his cap hit would be extremely small in the next four years or so. It would be about $680,000 and never clears $2.2 million. That's very likely the Kings' Cup window, so maybe you just go for broke.

After that it rises to a little less than $4 million for a few years, then sinks back to about $1.8 million. Again, though, that's until 2028.

This is an untradeable contract, and also one the Kings can't reasonably keep paying, because Brown has already been stripped of his captaincy and also can't really play at any sort of high level any more.

A buyout is therefore more possible, but again, who wants to carry a cap hit for this dude for 12 damn years? They don't want to pay him for six, albeit at a much steeper rate.

3. Bryan Bickell, one year left at $4 million AAV

Okay, now we're getting into the guys with really good chances of being bought out.

Chicago is cap-strapped. Has been for years. Contracts like this one don't help, but neither does having four or five perennial All-Stars on the roster. Bickell's cheap to buy out because he only has next season left on his deal, and the cap hit for 2016-17 would only be $1 million, rising by 50 percent for '17-18.

For a team with as few options for even filling an NHL roster with more than two veterans at this point, Chicago has to be eying it. They already dumped Bickell in the AHL for a big chunk of last season for marginal cap relief, and their appetite to continue doing likely diminishes greatly once they actually get a chance to buy him out.

2. Thomas Vanek, one year left at $6.5 million AAV

Another team that's not exactly in a comfortable cap situation (though certainly a better one than Chicago's) is Minnesota, and man that's a lot of money for Vanek. It's $6.5 million on the AAV, but $7.5 million in actual salary. The savings you get this year alone on a buyout are $5 million.

It's a no-brainer move for the Wild, who have a number of RFAs and UFAs to re-signed. They only have 15 guys signed and they're already north of $63 million. I wouldn't be too psyched to keep paying Jason Pominville $5.6 million for the next three years either, but the Vanek buyout makes almost too much sense.

1. RJ Umberger, one year left at $4.6 million AAV

This is, simply put, a guy who shouldn't be in the NHL anymore. The Flyers have cash to burn, a pretty strong setup going forward, and need to give Brayden Schenn a lot of money this summer. Getting Umberger off the books and carrying a relatively small cap hit for it in 2017-18 seems a small price to pay for added flexibility.

He should have been bought out last year, but here we are. There's a pretty clear solution to a very obvious problem. Fortunately this team has never been shy about buying guys out. They're paying Ilya Bryzgalov until 2027.

(All info here from General Fanager.)

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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