Whenever a player gets bought out, it’s a sign that they’ve underperformed, but that doesn’t mean they’re without value. Sometimes they just might not have lived up to their existing contract, but would still make sense on an NHL roster at a lower salary. Sometimes a buyout can motivate a player to do better while also granting them a change of scenery. From a fantasy perspective, bought out players often have seen their value plummet for the same reason the team in question chose to cut ties with them. The question though is if any buyout candidates represent good buy-low gambles on draft day or if the odds of a bounce back are too slim to make it worth it.
Traditionally bought out players haven’t been great bets in fantasy leagues. None of the players bought out in 2018 meaningfully bounced back in 2018-19, but last year’s bought out players weren’t the most interesting anyways. So I started going further back and I started to find unexciting cases of players who didn’t exactly bounce back, but still retained some value after their buyout, such as Dan Girardi in Tampa Bay and Dennis Seidenberg with the Islanders. Then there was Thomas Vanek, who was bought out after recording 41 points in 74 games with Minnesota in 2015-16. He went on to record 48 points in 2016-17 and 56 points in 2017-18. So he ended up doing pretty well for player bought out, though as you can see, he was still contributing even before his contract was cut short.
All of this serves as a cautionary tale. The list of buyouts is filled with teams that were proved right in cutting their losses and rare cases of players who maintained even some level of relevancy after their buyout. Could this year be different though?
We certainly have a larger number of interesting cases this year than normal. Corey Perry, Patrick Marleau, Andrej Sekera, and now Kevin Shattenkirk all stand out as still potentially relevant players who were bought out over the summer. I want to take a moment to look deeper into each of them and discuss the risks associated with them as well as their potential upside.
Patrick Marleau – Among buyouts, Marleau’s case is probably the most complimentary to the player. The Maple Leafs badly needed the cap space, to the point where they couldn’t even afford to buy him out themselves. Instead, they traded him and a conditional first-round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina was interested in simply keeping him, but they had agreed to buy him out if that’s what he wanted and he asked to go in that direction. Presumably he’ll return to San Jose, though he hasn’t signed yet. That being said, even he was bought out on the best possible terms given the circumstances, the Maple Leafs still had to throw in a first round pick as a sweetener and there’s a reason it cost them that much. Marleau isn’t nearly the goal scoring threat he once was, which isn’t surprising that he’s 39-years-old (40 in September), but that doesn’t change the reality. He had 16 goals and 37 points in 82 games last season and had one season left with a $6.25 million cap hit. He’ll probably sign cheaply with the Sharks and provide them with some complimentary scoring on their third line, but if you’re in a standard league, there’s not much of a point in taking a chance on him.
Corey Perry – Of the players who got bought out, Perry is the one with the most upside, though he certainly also comes with a high-degree of risk. His 2018-19 campaign was basically a write off due to injury, though he also disappointed in 2016-17 and 2017-19. He used to be a safe bet to score at least 30 goals and at his height he even had 50 goals and 98 points in 82 games in 2010-11. He’s fallen below the 20 goal milestone in each of his last three campaigns though, in part because his shooting percentage has declined significantly. What adds an extra layer of intrigue here is that when Perry went down during the 2018 preseason due to a torn meniscus, it was revealed that he had also playing with a damaged MCL for several seasons, which could account for his early decline. Because he was going to miss time anyways with a torn meniscus, he had his MCL repaired at the same time, so in theory he should be healthier in 2019-20 than he has been in several years. He also signed with the Dallas Stars over the summer where he’ll have a chance to work with some great forwards. With all that in mind, he looks like a very appealing buy-low candidate even if there is of course no guarantee that he’ll bounce back.
Andrej Sekera – The Sekera buyout was fairly surprising. Sekera had four assists in 24 games last season and he missed most of 2017-18 as well, so obviously there was cause for Edmonton to want to part ways. Back when he was still healthy though, he was one of the Oilers’ best blueliners. Dallas decided to take a chance on Sekera as well and much like Perry, that gamble could pay off nicely for them. From a fantasy perspective, I’d lean against drafting him though and simply keeping an eye on the situation. Perry has enough upside to make him worth the risk, but even if Sekera has an ideal comeback, we’re still only talking about around 30 points and probably less than that. That’s not enough to make it worth standard league fantasy owners’ while given the risk.
Kevin Shattenkirk – Kevin Shattenkirk signed a four-year, $26 million contract with the Rangers that at the time was considered below market value because he really wanted to play in New York. Unfortunately it didn’t end up working out. Injuries hindered him in 2017-18 and the 2018-19 campaign was a difficult one with him scoring two goals and 28 points in 73 games while averaging a career-low 18:56 minutes. Shattenkirk’s buyout is still very recent so it’s not yet clear who will sign him, but I suspect that several teams will be interested in his services assuming he’s willing to sign a cheap one-year “show me” contract. It’s worth noting that he also left something to be desired during the playoffs with Washington immediately before signing with the Rangers and you could argue that was the start of his decline, but even still he recorded at least 40 points in six consecutive campaigns, not counting the lockout shortened 2013 season. There is at least a chance that he can rebound offensively under the right circumstances and while what team he signs with will influence his potential value, for now he does look like an interesting buy-low candidate to consider on draft day.