NHL News

Predicting the NHL’s latest ‘lottery ticket’ contracts

This may come as a shock, but National Hockey League teams are known to hand out a contract or two that they later regret.

Sometimes it’s because the signing was ill-advised in the first place. Sometimes it’s because of unforeseen circumstances, like a player suffering through injuries. Sometimes the player does well but the team’s priorities change, usually on the financial front. Whatever the case, contract buyouts are one remedy at the ready.

According to Cap Friendly, there have been 161 buyouts since the 2005 collective bargaining agreement created that mechanism. But there’s a funny thing about buyouts: One team’s trash is another team’s treasure. Players who are flush with buyout money go off and, somewhat ironically, sign short-term, cap-friendly deals with other teams.

This happens for a variety of reasons, but frequently it’s an attempt to mend their reputations after being cast aside as damaged goods. Hence, there’s a bit of a risk in it for the signing teams, but not an enormous one for, say, a one-year deal.

It’s a bit like buying a lottery ticket: Minimal investment, the potential for big upside, and if it doesn’t work, you’re only out a few bucks.

So do these “lottery ticket contracts” work in the NHL?

We decided to take a look at some of the most prominent ones now and in the past, to see how it played out. We narrowed our scope to the true lottery ticket deals for one season after a buyout — so Dan Girardi‘s two-year deal with the Lightning at $3 million against the cap wouldn’t be a “lottery ticket” deal, for example.

Let’s begin with a look at this summer’s lottery tickets thus far:

Buyout: two years, $6.65 million AAV with New York Rangers on Aug. 1
New deal: one year, $1.75 million

No one noticed because the Rangers were playing out the string, but the 30-year-old had a fairly strong season after his disastrous first year in New York. He had 20 even-strength points, was a plus-5.6 percent in relative Corsi and one of only five Rangers on the positive side (50.75 percent) on expected goals percentage. This could end up being the Brad Richards Buyout 2.0, as a solid player flush with buyout money takes a cap friendly deal to chase a Cup … and the Lightning get a significant boost on their right side.

Lottery outlook: Barring injury, so good that you start daydreaming about what your third home looks like.

Buyout: two years, $5.5 million AAV with Edmonton Oilers on June 30
New deal: one year, $2 million

Sekera, 33, wasn’t part of the problem in Edmonton during his first two seasons, amassing 65 points in 161 games. But injuries humbled him in the past two seasons, and he became a liability in their eyes. If he’s healthy, this could be a steal for the Stars. If he’s not … hey, it’s only a year, right?

Lottery outlook: Maybe a thought or two about paying off your credit card with the winnings, but nothing more.

Buyout: two years, $8.625 million AAV with Anaheim Ducks on June 19
New deal: one year, $1.5 million

As I said at the time of the signing, in giving it a B-plus: “I don’t have much faith that Perry is going to be able to rediscover his game as a big goal scorer, no matter how motivated he is to prove people like me wrong. But this is minimal investment in the hopes that he can.”

Lottery outlook: Either you’re holding the ticket for the Mega Millions jackpot, or you’re going to rip up that loser and buy another ticket next week.

Lottery tickets past: How’d that go?

Those are the current lottery ticket signings. Now, what about the booms and busts from tickets from free agency past?

Buyout: two years, $5 million AAV with New Jersey Devils on June 30, 2017
New deal: one year, $1.2 million

At 36, Michael Cammalleri was no longer the Michael Cammalleri of yore. His seven points in 15 games wasn’t terrible, but his overall ice time (12:38) and spare usage in the third period made this an unhappy homecoming. The Kings flipped him to Edmonton for their own veteran headache in Jussi Jokinen, and Cammalleri saw an uptick in his ice time with the Oilers, scoring 22 points in 51 games.

Lottery result: When you throw away a losing ticket, and someone picks it up and realizes they won $50.

Buyout: seven years, $4 million AAV with Buffalo Sabres on June 29, 2014
New deal: one year, $4 million

Remember when the Sabres had designs on winning a Stanley Cup and signed Ehrhoff to a 10-year contract in 2011? By 2014, he was a compliance buyout victim. The Penguins signed him for the cap hit he had with Buffalo — a rare continuation of a previous deal instead of getting a discounted rate — and he played 49 games in an injury-riddled season that saw him tally 14 points.

Lottery result: Spending $100 on tickets to win … $99.

Buyout: one year, $4.6 million AAV with Minnesota Wild on June 30, 2018
New deal: one year, $650,000

Ennis had a five-year, $23 million contract with the Sabres when the Wild acquired him. Paul Fenton — hey, remember that guy? — bought out his deal, and the Leafs gobbled him up for the NHL equivalent of a busboy’s salary. Ennis played 51 games for Toronto as a fourth-liner (9:56 of ice time per game on average) and mustered 12 goals in 51 games.

Lottery result: Enough numbers hit that you can afford another ticket.

Buyout: four years, $5.5 million AAV with Toronto Maple Leafs on July 4, 2013
New deal: one year, $3 million

Grabo remained unsigned for a bit of the summer, finally landing with the Capitals on Aug. 22. Analytics-savvy Leafs fans dunked on the naysayers when Grabovski had 35 points in 58 games for Washington. But his contract ask was too high, and he subsequently ended up signing a four-year deal with the Islanders, where he played 109 games before injuries ended his NHL run.

Lottery result: Four numbers and the moneyball, and then wisely investing the jackpot in the future.

Buyout: two years, $4.75 million AAV with Columbus Blue Jackets on June 29, 2017
New deal: one year, $1 million

Who says you can’t go home? Hartnell went down to Nashville, played 62 games in his final NHL season and had 13 goals and 11 assists in a depth role, while providing them much needed truculence. He was a scratch in nine of their 13 playoff games, but a thrifty value addition en route.

Lottery result: Winning $100 on a scratch-off ticket at the 7-Eleven near your childhood home.

Jussi Jokinen, C, Edmonton Oilers

Buyout: two years, $2,667,667 AAV with Florida Panthers on June 30, 2017
New deal: one year, $1.1 million

At the time, signing the 34-year-old Jokinen was seen as a reasonable risk for the cap-strapped (and depth-deficient) Oilers. Then he went goal-less in 14 games. They traded him to Los Angeles for Cammalleri. After 18 games, the Kings put him on waivers in January 2018 where he was claimed by Columbus, where he lasted another 14 games before they traded him to Vancouver, where he lasted (you guessed it) 14 games in his last NHL stop. In total: 60 games, five goals, four of them in garbage time with the Canucks.

Lottery result: When the whole office buys tickets for a $800 million jackpot and one person wins like $5.

Buyout: two years, $4 million AAV with Edmonton Oilers on Jun 29, 2017
New deal: one year, $1.15 million

For a while, Pouliot defied the analytics movement after his numbers slipped in Edmonton when his role changed. With Buffalo, the effort was there, the goals increased, but so did the defensive lapses.

Lottery result: When every number is just slightly off from the draw.

Buyout: one year, $3.15 million AAV with Calgary Flames on June 30, 2016
New deal: one year, $675,000

This has to be a winning lottery ticket, right? Not so fast: Raymond played just four games with the Ducks, and then refused demotion to the AHL — he said it was partly to spend time with his wife, who had contracted Lyme disease — and his contract was terminated.

Lottery result: A scratch-off ticket that says “a winner every time,” and you still manage to lose.

Buyout: six years and $666,666 with the New York Rangers on June 20, 2014
New deal: one year, $2 million

Pretty much the “Citizen Kane” of the lottery ticket deal. OK, maybe more like the “Avengers: Endgame” of the lottery ticket deal, in that its predetermined success and institutional advantages left rivals kicking dirt. Richards was coming off a 51-point season, which was the lowest output of his career and preceded a postseason of diminishing returns. But this was still Brad Richards. Teams came calling. But when Chicago did, he jumped at the chance to contend for a Cup … and since the Rangers owed him $20.667 million over the next 12 years, he did so for a super cap-friendly deal. He had 14 points in 23 playoff games in helping Chicago win the Cup.

Lottery result: So when are you planning on buying that private island with your winnings?

Buyout: two years, $4 million AAV with Boston Bruins on June 30, 2016
New deal: one year, $1 million

Seidenberg called his buyout from the Bruins “a shock,” after Boston tried and failed to trade his remaining contract years. He didn’t sign with the Islanders until Sept. 28, for a paltry sum. If GM Garth Snow was good at anything, it was acquiring someone else’s defensive castoff. Seidenberg played 73 games and earned a second contract (for $1.25 million) with New York. Alas, he was limited to only 28 games, and didn’t even play a game with the team when he signed for a third time in 2018-19.

Lottery result: Like buying a ticket minutes before the drawing and hitting for a few hundred bucks.

Buyout: three years, $7 million AAV with Carolina Hurricanes on June 30, 2015
New deal: one year, $1.1 million

The mother of all cautionary tales, in every way. The Canes handed Semin five years and $35 million after the Capitals moved on from him. Injuries and ineffectiveness led to the buyout. The Canadiens figured it was worth a chance on him. He was called “a colossal disappointment” after one goal in 15 games, and his contract was terminated so he could move on to the KHL.

Lottery result: Believing wholeheartedly that you have in your hand the $900 million Powerball jackpot winning ticket … and then not only do you not win but you realize the ticket you’re holding is from four years ago.

Buyout: one year, $5.4 million AAV with Edmonton Oilers on June 30, 2011
New deal: one year, $1.1 million

This was a real O.G. lottery ticket deal. Souray was a big-bodied power-play quarterback whose homecoming with the Oilers was sullied by injuries, a feud with team management and then an exile in the AHL. Off he went to the Stars for just $1.65 million against the cap, and he had 21 points in 64 games. “A low-risk/high-reward signing was a very substantial reward for the Stars even considering some of the issues he had and the way his production dropped off,” was the verdict.

Lottery result: Buying a winning ticket while the guy next to you talks about what trash the lottery is.

Buyout: two years, $3 million AAV with Nashville Predators on June 30, 2015
New deal: one year, $1.1 million

Stalberg won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks and then cashed in with a four-year, $12 million deal with the Predators that saw him playing in the AHL by Year 2. The Rangers swooped in and signed him to a “show me” deal on July 1, and he showed them nine goals and 11 assists in 75 games, which was good enough to earn another one-year deal with the Hurricanes the following summer.

Lottery result: Buying a $2 winning ticket and then accidentally losing it on the way home.

Buyout: two years, $4.5 million with Columbus Blue Jackets on June 29, 2016
New deal: one year, $2 million

The popular defenseman was bought out in part so the Jackets could sign Seth Jones to a new deal. He moved on to the Avalanche for his last NHL season, playing a serviceable 18:56 per game in 69 appearances, although his possession numbers and plus/minus (minus-25) were ghastly on a terrible team.

Lottery result: Winning exactly what you need from a scratch-off ticket to buy yourself lunch.

Buyout: one year, $3.1 million with New Jersey Devils on June 29, 2015
New deal: one year, $600,000 with San Jose Sharks

GM Doug Wilson signed Zubrus in late November for a bargain basement price thanks to his buyout money. He’d play 50 games and 14 more in the playoffs. Mostly a veteran warm body, but what a bargain!

Lottery result: Remembering the winning scratch-off ticket you had in your Christmas stocking and cashing it in.

Looking ahead

The continuation of the salary cap system in the next CBA means the continuation of the contract life cycle of signings, buyouts and further signings. Some will work, if the money and the fit are right. Some won’t, as there ends up being a reason the player’s former team sought that buyout.

But these contracts will always exist in the same way the lottery will. To paraphrase a slogan from one state lottery: “All you need is one year and around $1 million … and a dream.”

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