The Case For Not Buying Out Anyone

In his article today, Jason Gregor mentions a pair of moves that have been widely speculated for some time: buying out Patrick O’Sullivan and Robert Nilsson.

Gregor brought this up in the context of explaining why Ethan Moreau shouldn’t be bought out; here’s the quote:

Many fans and media have debated the merits of buying him out this summer, but I don’t see the Oilers buying out three guys, and with Jordon Eberle, Linus Omark and their first pick coming in camp next year, those guys are going to replace Robert Nilsson and Patrick O’Sullivan, not Ethan Moreau.

You could buy out both O’Sullivan and Nilsson for a little more than what it would cost to buy out Moreau. Sure, Moreau struggled for most of this season, but he’s given more to the organization than O’Sullivan and Nilsson combined and that should count for something.

This will probably surprise some people, but I think Gregor’s absolutely right: the Oilers shouldn’t buy out Moreau. It doesn’t make any sense, given that this team is going to continue the rebuilding process next year and is unlikely to compete: why not pay Moreau next year, get it over with, and call it a day rather than push his payments out over coming years when the Oilers will need the cap space?

The speculation that O’Sullivan and Nilsson are slated for buyouts has been around for a while, and I think it’s at the point now where we all expect it to happen this summer. From CapGeek.com, here are the cap hits for buying out those two players:

Nilsson

  • 2010-11: -$83,333
  • 2011-12: $416,667

O’Sullivan

  • 2010-11: $935, 417
  • 2011-12: $397,917

That’s a combined cap hit of about $850,000 next season and $815,000 the year after that. On the other hand, as it stands right now both of those players would play for full price next year (a little under $5.0 million) and then cost nothing in 2011-12.

Certainly there’s some financial incentive to ownership to buy out these players; if Daryl Katz has his general manager buy them out he’ll only pay one-third of the dollars he would pay to these underachievers otherwise.

In fact, assuming that the Oilers are going to continue their rebuild next season (i.e. not set the playoffs as a goal) this could be cast as a hockey decision vs. a money decision. On the one hand, Katz can save some money by buying these players out, money he’s under no obligation to spend next season, and in fact which it would make no sense to spend next season. On the other hand, he does this at the cost of a little over $800,000 in cap space two years from now, when his team will likely compete.

I know the decision I’d make in his shoes: I’d buy those guys out and save some of my money. I also know the decision I’d make if I were solely interested in the on-ice welfare of the Edmonton Oilers: I’d keep them around for another season, perhaps with Nilsson in the minors and giving O’Sullivan one more chance (and history shows it might not be a wasted chance) in a season that doesn’t matter, and then clear the books in 2011-12 when my team starts competing again.

Just to make it clear what I’m driving at here: I don’t begrudge Daryl Katz the chance to save some of his ill-spent money.  But if the team is rebuilding, and the Oilers decide to buy these players out, this is a financial decision, not a hockey one, and that’s how it should be viewed.

  • Willis, do you honestly believe Nilsson would clear waivers to go back to the minors? Or am I missing a reason why he wouldn't have to.

    He's a 25 year old with a career PPG of 0.46 over 252 games. I realize the same argument can be made for POS who is a 25 year old with a career PPG of 0.53, however Nilsson, despite his defensive shortcomings has a career +/- of -15 (2 of 4 seasons in the plus, discounting his 4 game season at -1) whereas POS lives up to his acronym by having been a minus player in all but 1 of his pro seasons and is an epic – 56 in 277 games.

    They're similar players with arguably lazy attitudes, but at least Nilsson doesn't skate like he's moping.

    I'm with David Staples; Nilsson is far and away the best of the 3 and should be kept.

    • VMR

      I think letting them get picked up off waivers is a much better option than buying them out. I'm sure someone out there will take a shot at both of them off the waiver wire but if it looks like they're getting bought out then teams will wait for that to get them cheaper.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Just throwing it out there as Staples has mentioned Europe, but any talk of Nilsson maybe leaving and going to play in Russia/Sweden?

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      It's not just about cap space/$$$'s it's also about roster space.

      Nillson/O'sully could be bought out and a couple Chris Higgins and Eric Nystrom types could be brought in for a fraction of the cost. Rebalancing a proper roster and possibly allowing the team to compete as early as next year.

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      I agee with the whole take up cap space in 11-12, but the one thing that I see for buying someone out is opening up roster spots. The Oilers need to sit down and look at who they expect to make the team next year and how many spots they need. Only allowed max 15 forwards next year.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    On second thought, maybe you can't trade O'Sullivan.

    Send him to the minors, too. Or maybe some European team will take him.

    Enough of these guys who can't play.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Why buy anyone out? Hold onto them until you can move them. If those two were in their final year of their contract this year then they would've been dealt this year.

    I don't understand the logic of keeping a 35 year with no upside over two 25 year olds that have shown glimpses of having talent and still have some upside.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    I can't bear to watch one more season of Ethan Moreau and Patrick O'Sullivan.

    Trade O'Sullivan. Some team will take him.

    Send Moreau to the minors.

    Keep Nilsson, who plays better than either of them by a healthy margin.