NHL buyout candidates: Eastern Conference

Brad Richards, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Ilya Bryzgalov could be bought out by their current clubs in the off-season.

Yes, the Stanley Cup playoffs are still going on. But this is more fun.

With the off-season quickly approaching, it’s worth revisiting buyout candidates around the National Hockey League.

In case you forgot, the new collective bargaining agreement allows teams to exercise two compliance buyouts over the course of the next two off-seasons.

This new rule gives teams the option to hit the restart button on some bad deals and clear up salary cap space for the future.

We looked at the possible candidates for all 30 clubs back in January when the lockout came to an end, and after a shortened season we take a second look at where each team stands heading into the summer.

We start with the Eastern Conference here: (All numbers below courtesy of capgeek.com.)

Boston Bruins

Projected 2013-14 cap space: $5.8 million
Who we said in January: Chris Kelly
Who we’re saying now: No one. Keep roster intact.

The Bruins are currently in the midst of another deep playoff run and are pretty well set up for the future. Chris Kelly was suggested as a candidate back in January but once again proved to be a very valuable piece to the bottom-six and the pesky forward is certainly worth keeping around. We believe GM Peter Chiarelli should stick with the same group that appears bound for a second Stanley Cup appearance in the last three years.

Buffalo Sabres

Projected 2013-14 cap space: $15.7 million
Who we said in January: Ville Leino
Who we’re saying now: Ville Leino ($4.5 million cap hit until 2016-17)

Owner Terry Pegula was supposed to vault the Buffalo Sabres into contender status, but the team has gone absolutely nowhere the last two seasons. Now the Sabres have tough calls to make on Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller, both of whom will be entering contract years. The first step may be clearing out salary, and the obvious candidate is the overpaid Leino, who has scored just 10 goals in 80 games with Buffalo since signing as a free agent.

Carolina Hurricanes

Projected 2013-14 cap space: $7.3 million
Who we said in January: Tuomo Ruutu
Who we’re saying now: Tuomo Ruutu ($4.75 million cap hit until 2015-16)

Is it too early to say Alexander Semin? Just kidding. The Hurricanes aren’t loaded with bad deals and may look to shed space by getting rid of forward Tuomo Ruutu — the same player we suggested they look at buying out back in January. Ruutu had just four goals this season and is starting to enter the declining stage of his career. We don’t think the Hurricanes are getting enough value here.

Florida Panthers

Projected 2013-14 cap space: $18.3 million
Who we said in January: Scottie Upshall
Who we’re saying now: Ed Jovanovski ($4.1 million cap hit until 2014-15)

OK, it’s never a popular choice to get rid of a captain. Cue the hate mail. But it’s challenging for the Panthers to justify Jovanovski’s salary for a player who is starting to break down physically and doesn’t have much left in the tank. He may be a good dressing-room guy on a young team that needs leadership, but is that role worth $4 million over the next two years? I don’t think so, but it remains to be seen if Dale Tallon agrees.

Montreal Canadiens

Projected 2013-14 cap space: $5.4 million
Who we said in January: Scott Gomez
Who we’re saying now: Tomas Kaberle ($4.25 million cap hit until 2013-14)

It’s sad to see how far Kaberle has fallen in his career. The once elite puck-moving defenceman could barely crack the Canadiens lineup all year long, and it’s clear why the Bruins and Hurricanes gave up on the veteran defenceman so quickly. The Habs were already able to get rid of Gomez and could use more flexibility in free agency by letting go of Kaberle. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he decided to retire instead.

New Jersey Devils

Projected 2013-14 cap space: $26.2 million
Who we said in January: Anton Volchenkov
Who we’re saying now: Anton Volchenkov ($4.25 million cap hit until 2015-16)

For a team that was in the Stanley Cup final last season, the Devils have a ton of work to do with their roster. They have just two forwards signed beyond next season and aren’t in a position to be getting rid of talent at this point. Ilya Kovalchuck’s contract is ridiculously long, but he isn’t going anywhere. The only possibility we see is the aging Volchenkov. He had just five points and was a minus-1 rating in 37 games this year.

New York Islanders

Projected 2013-14 cap space: $29.2 million
Who we said in January: Rick DiPietro
Who we’re saying now: Rick DiPietro ($3.57 million cap until 2020-21. SERIOUSLY!)

I’m pretty sure the compliance buyouts were brought in to help the Islanders get rid of DiPietro. Can we really feel bad for him at this point, though? This is the most obvious decision on this list. DiPietro has arguably the most ridiculous contract in NHL history, and the Islanders completely swung and missed on that one. They will be thrilled to get the goaltender off their salary cap. Mike Milbury could even laugh at this one.

New York Rangers

Projected 2013-14 cap space: $14.2 million
Who we said in January: Wade Redden
Who we’re saying now: Brad Richards ($6.66 million cap until 2019-20)

This would’ve been unheard of just two summers ago when Richards was the star of NHL free agency. But Richards played so poorly this season, the Rangers thought they were better off sitting the overpriced forward in the press box during their most important games of the season. Richards has lost a ton of speed and was hardly an impact player with just 12 goals in 56 games — not good for a contract that isn’t due until 2019-20.

Ottawa Senators

Projected 2013-14 cap space: $22.1 million
Who we said in January: Milan Michalek
Who we’re saying now: No one. Keep roster intact.

Give GM Bryan Murray credit. The Ottawa Senators have been the most surprising team in hockey the last two seasons, and the team is set up well for a sustained run with not a lot of money being wasted on declining players. We think Murray and coach Paul MacLean would like to keep the same group moving forward as the Senators will just get better with more seasoning. These guys aren’t going away any time soon.

Philadelphia Flyers

Projected Cap Space for 2013-14: ($-2.55 million)
Who we said in January: Ilya Bryzgalov
Current buyout candidate: Ilya Brygzalov ($5.66 million cap until 2019-20)

Philadelphia — where goaltenders go to die. This has certainly happened with Bryzgalov, who transformed from an all-star in Phoenix to a complete stiff with the Flyers. Trading Sergei Bobrovsky turned out to be a disastrous decision, as Philly has been left with an unproductive starter who is under contract until 2020. Plus, the Flyers are already projected to exceed the cap. Easy decision here: pull the plug on this mess and move forward with Steve Mason. The media will miss Bryz, though.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Projected 2013-14 cap space: $22.1 million
Who we said in January: Paul Martin
Who we’re saying now: Marc-Andre Fleury ($5 million cap until 2014-15)

At one point this year, Marc-Andre Fleury appeared to be a lock on Canada’s roster for Sochi 2014. Now he may not be able to survive with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Fleury was absolutely disastrous the last two years in the postseason, and GM Ray Shero may decide the Penguins are better off without Fleury around. It’s hard to find goalies in free agency or the draft, but his salary could force the Pens to move in a different direction.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Projected 2013-14 cap space: $3.3 million
Who we said in January: Eric Brewer
Who we’re saying now: Vincent Lecavalier ($7.73 million cap hit until 2019-20)

With all their high-end talent, it’s amazing the Lightning haven’t sniffed the postseason the last two years. One problem Tampa has is a lack of depth, and the team needs significant salary space to help boost the back end of its roster. With so much money tied up in Vincent Lecavalier, the Bolts need considerably better production, and the 33-year-old centre isn’t proving nearly enough value in all three zones to justify his bloated salary. This won’t be a popular move, but likely the best decision for GM Steve Yzerman.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Projected 2013-14 cap space: $19.5 million
Who we said in January: Mike Komisarek
Who we’re saying now: John-Michael Liles ($3.87 million cap hit until 2015-16)

Mike Komisarek seems like the obvious decision here. Former GM Brian Burke’s first major free-agent signing is in the last year of his contract, and the Leafs are expected to give him a chance to revive his career… on another team. Outside of Komisarek, GM Dave Nonis could look at John-Michael Liles, who was a fringe roster player for coach Randy Carlyle this year. Liles’ salary isn’t over the top, but the Leafs could find better value in a bottom-pairing defenceman who struggles in his own end, especially at a price of $4 million. A trade is a possibility for Liles as well to clear out room down the road for defenceman Morgan Rielly.

Washington Capitals

Projected 2013-14 cap space: $5.7 million
Who we said in January: Joel Ward
Who we’re saying now: Brooks Laich ($4.5 million cap hit 2016-17.)

The Capitals are pretty set with their roster moving forward. All of their core players are locked in at this point, and we’d be surprised to see many changes to their roster. The one possibility (and we’re not even sure how realistic it is) is to shed Brooks Laich’s salary. He struggled with injuries this season and hasn’t been the type of scoring forward we saw from 2007 through 2010.

Winnipeg Jets

Projected 2013-14 cap space: $22.1 million
Who we said in January: No one
Who we’re saying now: No one.

Nothing to see here. The Jets have hardly any money tied up across their roster and need to use their salary space to lock up some of their younger pieces. The Jets will likely look to boost in free agency to add to their young, improving group

Note: Detroit and Columbus move the East next season while Winnipeg will move to the West.