Minnesota Wild: Vanek or Pominville Buyout Not Simple


As the Minnesota Wild’s offseason plans start to take form, there’s a lot of speculation (both founded and unfounded) that the Wild will buyout the contract of one of their high priced forwards.  If they do use a buyout it could be more complicated than simply buying the player out.

The thinking behind buying out a player from his contract is simple, the team would buy out the player and then use the salary cap savings to re-capitalize into another forward.  In practice though buyouts are not as simple and often come with a heftier price than keeping the player you are buying out, and the Minnesota Wild would be smart to remember that this offseason.

The idea of taking highly paid player who might not be producing at the level that his contract dictates, is great conceptually.  However, the CBA is written to protect not only team interests, but a player’s interests as well.  That’s why when calculating a buyout the player is due 1/3 of their remaining salary if the player is younger than 26 at the time of the buyout, and 2/3 of their remaining salary if the player 26 or older at the time of the buyout.

Additionally, and more complex is the effect that the buyout of a player has on a team’s salary cap numbers.  The team always takes a cap hit if a player is bought out and it can actually result in “dead money” where the player might be long bought out, but the team still must account for a certain amount of salary cap space for that player.  According to the CBA the cap hit of a buyout will be spread out evenly over twice the remaining contract years of the player.  That can be a long time in the case of some of the Wild players who are speculated to be targeted for a buyout.

Taking current speculation at face value, the players most being talked about on the Minnesota Wild for a buyout are Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville.  Both have caught scrutiny due to their lower than expected production combined with their high salaries.  The feeling is that the money which they are being paid can be better used to sign a more productive forward in free-agency.

Vanek has already been openly talked about for a possible buyout.  At Chuck Fletcher’s end of season press conference, the Wild GM was asked specifically about buying out Vanek and quoted in the Star Tribune that “I think it’s way premature on that.”  Fletcher keeps the possibility of a buyout open when later he said “Whatever we need to do to improve our team, we’ll do. But I’m probably a couple weeks away (from deciding that).”

So if Vanek were to be bought out, it would immediately free up $5 million of cap space.  That seems like a no brainer as $5 million could single handedly be enough to sign a high talent free-agent.  The dead money cost of Vanek’s contract is that the Wild would see $1.5 million in dead money next season, and $2.5 million the season after that as Vanek has one more year left which translates to two years of cap penalties.  That’s manageable, but it is still sizeable and can affect the team’s salary flexibility in the future.

If Pominville were to be bought out, it would be much more painful and practically impossible for the Wild to stomach due to the resulting dead money.  Pominville has three years left on his contract which means the Wild would be paying in cap space for six seasons after the buyout.  Sure the Wild would free up $4.7 million initially, but in the five years following that the Wild would have $4.6 million, $2.1 million, $1.5 million, $1.5 million, and $1.5 million in cap hit to swallow.  So more than likely the Wild will not buyout Pominville, because it’s cheaper to keep him.

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Should the Wild decide to use a buyout of Vanek which could be financially feasible, they’d more than likely decide on that course of action over the next month.  Fletcher would need to have that decided before free-agency starts in order to know if he can count on having the freed up cap space, and as described before the consequences of a buyout are more than what is seen on the surface.  So keep your eyes and ears open till July 1st for a possible buyout…but don’t hold your breath.