The NHL buyout window opens in under two weeks, giving teams an opportunity to move on from players tied to bad contracts.
The San Jose Sharks used last year’s window to buy out goalie Martin Jones, who had three years remaining on his contract at a $5.75 million cap hit. This year, the prime buyout candidate for the Sharks appears to be defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
Vlasic is now 35 years old and still has four years remaining on his contract at a $7 million cap hit. He’s seen a huge decline in his performance over the last few years, to the point in which he's now just a depth defenseman. That said, Vlasic didn’t seem overly concerned about a potential buyout in his year-end media availability.
Given the term and money remaining on his contract, a buyout seems like an easy way to go, considering that no team would even consider going near his contract and there’s no way the Sharks will be able to shed it, even without his full no-movement clause (which becomes a partial no-trade clause in 2023).
However, I was vocal about the Jones buyout last year being the wrong decision for the Sharks, simply because they weren’t going to be competitive anyways and having a bit of extra money wouldn't help a ton. They didn’t make the playoffs with the cap space they saved this year and likely won’t over the next two years either, meaning they essentially tacked on a $1.67 million cap penalty for three extra years for almost no reason.
A year after the Jones buyout, it’s essentially the same case with Vlasic. The Sharks are still in need of a rebuild rather than trying to create cap space to compete now and buying out Vlasic will only hurt their chances to contend down the road.
Even in terms of the money the Sharks would save, another massive issue is the Sharks see the majority of savings over the next two years (again, when they likely won’t be competitive anyways). They’d take on $3.69 million against the cap next season then just $1.44 million against the cap in the following year.
However, in the final two years of Vlasic’s current contract, they’d then have a penalty of $4.19 million in 2024-25 and $5.19 million in 2025-26. Considering the Sharks could save $1.15 million per year by burying his contract in the final two years, they'd only save $1.66 million in 2024-25 and $660,000 in 2025-26 with a buyout, compared to burying the contract.
Then after the four years on the contract, the Sharks would still be on the hook until 2030, with another needless $1.69 million cap penalty for an additional four years.
The reality is San Jose isn’t close to competing and there’s no reason to use a buyout on Vlasic at this point. They’ve likely got several more years ahead of them where they won’t actually need the cap space and by the time they may actually be more competitive again, there would likely only be a year, or maybe two years at most, remaining on Vlasic’s deal.
Buying out Vlasic would be another example of creating cap space now when it’s not going to help the team a ton and taking less flexibility down the line to do it. The team’s best course of action remains committing to a rebuild where they don’t need the cap space to begin with, even if that seems like an unlikely direction for the organization.
While Vlasic’s contract is the worst of any player on the Sharks and one of the worst in the NHL overall, buying him out still isn’t an ideal solution for the organization.