In their 23-year history, the San Jose Sharks have never bought out a player. That's likely to change sometime in the next two weeks as the NHL's annual buyout period opens tonight and closes on June 30th, marking the second and final time teams will be able to exercise either of the compliance buyouts guaranteed to them in the 2013 collective bargaining agreement. Unlike regular buyouts, compliance buyouts do not count against a team's salary cap and can only be used on contracts signed prior to September 15th, 2012 (for the Sharks, that means players like Tyler Kennedy and Raffi Torres are ineligible). Here's a look at three players the Sharks could target with their two compliance buyouts.
Here's the obvious one. Havlat has one foot so far out the door he's on the verge of sustaining another groin injury. Doug Wilson has already announced that Havlat will not be back with the Sharks next season and since it seems unlikely any team would be willing to take on the $5 million in cap hit and $6 million in salary owed to the Czech winger via trade, a compliance buyout is the most sensible option. Honestly, Havlat would have likely been the target of a compliance buyout last summer had he not been injured and therefore ineligible. Despite sitting out six of the Sharks' seven playoff games, he's presumably healthy this time around and likely to be an ex-Shark very soon.
For a combination of reasons, it never quite worked out with Havlat in San Jose and I don't think that's necessarily anyone's fault. Wilson absolutely made the right move in saving $2.5 million a year on a washed-up Heatley's bloated cap hit by exchanging him for Havlat. And as much as it's convenient to blame poor conditioning or a "lack of desire" for Havlat's frequent injuries because he's lazy or European or whatever, I don't think it's entirely fair. Regardless, it's time for the Sharks to move on. Even if Havlat weren't considerably overpaid or coming off a season in which he was atrocious defensively in uber-protected minutes, it's clear the coaching staff no longer trusts him when they'd rather have Mike freakin' Brown in their Game 7 lineup (as well as five other lineups in that series).
Ironically, Havlat's final season in teal will have been his most productive, at least on a per-minute basis. He scored 10 goals and 18 points in a little over 584 5-on-5 minutes, an average of 1.85 5v5 points per 60, good for 102nd in the league among forwards. Unfortunately that was mostly a mirage as Havlat scored on almost 19% of his 5-on-5 shots, a totally unsustainable rate. He could be a nice reclamation project for some team but his days in teal are over. The one spot where he was generally effective, on Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture's right wing, has decidedly been filled by young Matt Nieto. So long, Marty.
Doug Wilson made waves a few weeks ago when he told Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News he wants players "that want to play here, not just live here." Most assumed he was referring to Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, which is certainly possible, but if there's anyone on the current Sharks roster that embodies the spirit of wanting to live here more than play here, it's Brad Stuart. There haven't been many unrestricted free agent signings in Sharks history more heavily telegraphed than Stuart's in 2012, when everyone and their grandmother knew he would land in San Jose to be closer to his family after being traded by the Sharks seven years prior.
Unfortunately, Stuart's second tour of duty in teal hasn't been nearly as successful as his first. In a league that has grown increasingly unforgiving to defensemen who lack adequate puck skills and mobility the 34-year-old Stuart has stood out as a liability on many nights over the past two seasons, especially when paired with similarly deficient defensemen like Douglas Murray and Scott Hannan. Stuart was arguably the Sharks' worst regular defenseman this past season when, despite his supposed defensive ability, he was on the ice for more shot attempts against per minute at even-strength than every other blueliner on the team save sophomore Matt Irwin. He struggled to execute simple breakout passes and his declining skating ability forced him to be conservative with his gap control through the neutral zone. Stuart is still a decent penalty killer and he's certainly not Murray-level awful but the Sharks would surely be best-served to get rid of him before he goes full Douglas Murray.
If the Sharks are looking to contend next season, Stuart playing top-four minutes would probably be an impediment to that and a $3.6 million cap hit would be better spent on finding an upgrade on him than on a third-pairing defenseman. Stuart only has one year remaining on his contract so it's possible the Sharks could find a trade partner but his limited no-trade clause (Stuart must submit a list of seven teams he cannot be traded to) might make that tricky. The only way to guarantee Stuart and the entirety of his contract are off the books is a compliance buyout. This is the kind of move a big-market team might make, being almost carelessly profligate with dollars in order to improve the team and increase flexibility at any cost. Whether Hasso Plattner's ownership allows the Sharks to operate like a big-market team remains to be seen. Trading Stuart, regardless of the return (unless the Sharks have to take an equally bad player back), should clearly be the first priority but if that doesn't work a compliance buyout could make sense.
During his ten-year reign as general manager, Doug Wilson hasn't signed many contracts more inexplicable than the 4-year, $7.4 million deal he inked career fourth-liner Adam Burish to in the summer of 2012. It looked bad at the time and looks much worse two years later, when even referring to Burish as a fourth-liner is being a bit charitable. In 61 regular season games with the Sharks, Burish has scored 1 goal, 2 assists and posted a putrid 45.9 Corsi%. He's an AHL-caliber player pulling down nearly $2 million annually for each of the next two seasons. There are literally players available for league minimum who can do Burish's job better than he can. That isn't even conjecture; with Burish injured for most of this past season, Bracken Kearns was a significantly more effective player on a $550k cap hit when given an opportunity. His name is also much more conducive to headline puns.
Burish doesn't appear to have a no-trade clause but, unlike with Stuart, I can't see a team trading for him without sending an equally bad contract the Sharks' way. With the salary cap going up, Burish's contract is a bit less of an issue than it was this past season when the Sharks had to work LTIR magic to stay cap-compliant in part due to his temporary return from injury but it's still a mistake Wilson has one last chance to fix. Provided Burish has healed from that gruesome hand injury and is therefore eligible to be bought out, the Sharks should seriously consider using their second compliance buyout on him.