Looking at the NHL’s top 12 buyout candidates in 2017

Watch as Kevin Bieksa gets rocked in the corner by a hit from Sam Bennett.

Under-performing players, albatross contracts and a relatively flat 2017-18 salary cap got you down?

Fear not, National Hockey League general managers. The annual buyout window is handing you a get-out-jail card. But it ain’t free.

All you have to do is convince your team’s owner to shell out millions of dollars over multiple years for a hockey player to not play for his franchise.

The NHL buyout period opened Thursday. Those bought out will become unrestricted free agents and will not be able to sign with the team that paid them to go away.

Buyouts are paid over twice the number of years remaining on the player’s contract. The rate is one-third of the total remaining salary for players under age 26. Two-thirds for those 26 and older.

Players still recovering from injuries incurred during the regular season cannot be bought out (see: Gaborik, Marian).

(For all the nitty-gritty details on buyouts and a handy buyout calculator, head over to CapFriendly.com.)

A new wrinkle will be a factor for this summer’s buyout candidates. With the expansion draft on June 21, GMs will not only attempt to trade an undesirable roster player but also encourage the Vegas Golden Knights and all their beautiful cap space to take an overpriced veteran off their hands.

Plenty of player movement is expected this month.

If they can’t be traded or relocated to Vegas, here are 12 players who we believe will be at least considered for a buyout this summer.

Dan Girardi, three years, $10 million (plus $3 million in signing bonuses)
The Rangers announced Wednesday they would be buying out defenceman Dan Girardi.

“I poured my heart and soul into this team for the past 11 seasons and I enjoyed every minute of it,” Girardi said in a statement. “I want to acknowledge that the Rangers are a first class organization who have always treated our players in a first-class fashion.”

Girardi and fellow Rangers buyout candidate Marc Staal are alternate captains and dressing room leaders. Both hold no-movement clauses. Both are slowing in their 30s and would be hard-pressed to reach 20 points in 2017-18.

After sitting quiet at the trade deadline and suffering a disappointing upset at the hands of Ottawa in Round 2 of the playoffs, Rangers GM Jeff Gorton is expected to be a player in the trade and free agent markets (Kevin Shattenkirk? Brendan Smith?). Gorton also needs to either deal or give raises to RFA forwards Mika Zibanejad, Jesper Fast, and Oscar Lindberg.

New York is one of the league’s most cash-rich franchises, the type of organization that can deal with a multi-year buyout.

Paying Girardi $6.67 million, even spread over six years, to not play is a lot of dough, but winning a Cup during the Henrik Lundqvist era will require money and aggression.

Marc Staal, four years, $17.2 million
A Staal buyout would be even more expensive and longer lasting: $11.47 million over eight years.

Like Girardi, the stay-at-home defenceman will not be selected in the expansion draft, as Vegas should target either low-cost goal-scoring wing Michael Grabner or goaltender Antti Raanta, one of the NHL’s best backups.

Plenty of opposing GMs are interested in the type of D-man who skates 19 minutes and blocks shots and kills penalties. Just not at the top-pairing pay rates Staal ($5.7 million cap hit) and Girardi ($5.5 million) currently rake.

Antti Niemi, one year, $4.5 million
…Or Kari Lehtonen, who has one year and $5.9 million left on his deal.

The smart money is on the Stars keeping Lehtonen to serve as new No. 1 Ben Bishop’s backup. Lehtonen (22 wins, .902 save percentage) has been with the organization for eight years and put up better numbers than Niemi (12 wins, .892 save percentage) last season.

Dallas GM Jim Nill will try to trade Niemi or nudge Vegas to draft him, but that’ll be a hard sell considering the 33-year-old has been in decline for two seasons. Nill should’ve bought Niemi out last June, but with a comical $15.8 million tied up in goalies (for the moment), he won’t make the same mistake twice.

Kevin Bieksa, one year, $4 million
We touched on the Bieksa situation in our look at the Anaheim Ducks‘ intriguing, complicated off-season.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before, but GM Bob Murray is up against the cap — in part because Murray overpaid Bieksa and threw in a no-movement clause for good measure.

Unless he can convince Bieksa to waive his no-move for the Vegas draft, the defenceman must be protected in the expansion draft, likely putting a skilled, young Anaheim D-man at risk.

Two hurdles in a Bieksa buyout: Because he signed a 35-plus contract, the Ducks won’t receive any cap relief. And, speed be damned, Murray and coach Randy Carlyle both value Bieksa’s nasty edge.

Benoit Pouliot, two years, $8 million
In a dream world, Peter Chiarelli tosses in a pick or prospect and convinces George McPhee to take Pouliot in the expansion draft.

The 30-year-old wing was barely visible this season, chipping in just 14 points to go with his minus-5 rating. He had a grand total of zero points in 13 playoff games. Four million dollars is too steep a cap hit for a checker.

With massive extensions on deck for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, money must be shifted from the existing forward group and spent on defence instead.

The potential trade of Jordan Eberle is a hot topic. A Pouliot buyout would require less work and sit easier with the fan base. Both are possible.

Francois Beauchemin, one year, $4.5 million
You don’t need Kyle Dubas to run the numbers. When the Avalanche invested three years and $13.5 million on a declining Beauchemin during 2015’s free agency period, the criticism was instant.

The stay-at-home defenceman has had a nice career, but he’ll be 37 when the buyout period opens and $4.5 million is too much to invest in minus-14 blueliner who gets you 18 points during a healthy year.

Like Bieksa, a Beauchemin buyout won’t provide cap relief, but the Avs aren’t a cap team anyway. GM Joe Sakic has been preaching youth in Colorado. Time to let a younger body take the role.

Scott Hartnell, two years, $7.5 million
The veteran Columbus Blue Jackets wing has been healthy-scratched on multiple occasions and heard his name lobbied about in trade rumours for about 18 months. Some thought Hartnell might’ve been bought out a year ago.

Unlike some of the other candidates on this list, however, the nine-time 20-goal scorer would still be wanted in many a dressing room—just not at his current price point.

The Jackets are uncomfortably close to the cap ceiling and need to give significant pay bumps to forwards Alexander Wennberg (RFA) and Sam Gagner (UFA). Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner and Matt Calvert all come up for new contracts in 2018. Now looks like the time to free up some financial breathing room.

Brooks Orpik, two years, $9 million
Even if/when the Capitals allow Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk to walk away from Washington sports sadness and find their UFA paydays, GM Brian MacLellan must still shell out to keep 25-year-old RFAs Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt in the fold. Oh, yeah, John Carlson is on target to become the NHL’s most salivated-over UFA defenceman in 2018. And we’re not even touching on the uncertainty and free agents up front.

Two more years of hard-hitting, slow-skating, defend-the-house Orpik gets harder to stomach when you think about how the Penguins (and even the Maple Leafs) were able to give the Caps trouble using speed as a weapon. Orpik is 36. A buyout will cost the Capitals $6 million over four years.

Dustin Brown, five years, $25.5 million
Lots of dollars and term committed here — the side effect of modern championship teams. Brown ($5.875-million cap hit) is on the books through 2022, and he’s now six years removed from his most recent 20-goal season. Stripped of his captaincy last summer, Brown, 32, actually bounced back with his most productive season (14 goals, 36 points) since 2012-13.

But is that enough to incentivize Vegas to overpay for leadership and experience?

Brown’s contract makes him essentially untradeable. The Kings’ new regime believes they still have the core of a contender, but they’re tight to the cap and need to add at least one more scorer. A Brown buyout won’t come cheap ($1.7 million over each of the next 10 years). L.A. must shed salary, so if not Brown, then fans must be thinking about…

Matt Greene, one year, $2.5 million

In effort to clear valuable cap space, it’s been reported that long-injured Kings defenceman has been activated off injured reserve this week so the club can buy out the final season on his contract.

The 34-year-old right-shot blueliner won two Cups in L.A. but has appeared in just 29 games and has totaled just two points over the past two seasons.

The buyout chops Greene’s cap hit from $2.5 million in 2017-18 to $833,000 in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Jason Garrison, one year, $2.5 million
The White Rock, B.C., native is coming off his worst full season as an NHL defenceman: one goal, nine points, and a minus-8 rating. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman has been trying to upgrade his blue line, and last June he pulled the trigger on a Matt Carle buyout.

Yzerman also needs to free up space to hire a backup goalie and re-sign his trio of talented RFA forwards: Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Jonathan Drouin. We have our doubts that’s possible, especially if he doesn’t shed a big contract.

Garrison holds a no-trade clause. His total buyout cost is relatively cheap ($1.67 million) when you consider his front-loaded deal will provide the Bolts with the same amount in cap relief.

Matt Moulson, two years, $5 million (plus $3 million in signing bonuses)
How aggressively new GM Jason Botterill adds and subtracts from the Buffalo Sabres roster in Year 1 of his tenure promises to be one of the more compelling storylines of the summer.

Based purely on bang for their buck, Moulson, 33, and defenceman Josh Georges, 32, are buyout candidates, but one wonders if the veterans are given a clean slate under a new front office and coaching staff.

Moulson failed to earn much 5-on-5 ice time under former coach Dan Bylsma but his 11 goals with the man advantage were instrumental in helping the Sabres roll out one of the NHL’s most dangerous power plays.

“I know I could score goals and contribute in this league and play well in this league,” Moulson told The Buffalo News. “I’m going to do what I did last summer, continue to improve and be prepared to play at a high level.”

Like many on this list, Moulson is likely to be exposed in the expansion draft. Vegas projects to ice an offence-starved roster so gambling on Moulson to rediscover his scoring touch while using his contract to hit the cap floor might not be the worst bet.

Other names on our buyout radar: Eddie Lack (Hurricanes), Jaroslav Halak (Islanders), Josh Georges (Sabres), Jimmy Hayes (Bruins), Matt Beleskey (Bruins), Jonathan Ericsson (Red Wings)