The Buyout and Beyond
When Darcy Tucker hung 'em up last week after a good NHL career - between 2002 and 2006, he was pound-for-pound the toughest character in the game, and a scorer - it naturally brought focus upon the fact the Leafs are still paying for his 2008 buyout.
Yep. Four more years, with a $1 million cap hit. It doesn't exactly strangle the club, but it doesn't help, either, and at some point might block the club from acquiring a player at the trade deadline it might otherwise want to acquire.
But this much is also true. The Leafs thought Tucker was finished as a viable NHLer when they bought him out, and they were right. Incoming head coach Ron Wilson suggested Tucker had been worn down by all those years of banging and crashing, and wasn't effective anymore. Two non-descript years in Colorado proved that to be correct.
Indeed, while the usefulness of the buyout provision in the CBA can be debated, the Leafs have yet to mis-fire on a player when they figured that player was no longer able to play at a level commensurate with their contract. Not exactly an achievement to brag about, but there it is.
When Tie Domi was bought out in '06, he realized his career was over and he retired the following September. The Leafs also bought out the final year of Ed Belfour's contract that spring, and after one forgettable year in Florida - Belfour's numbers actually weren't bad - the former all-star headed off to Europe and hasn't played in the NHL since.
In 2008, along with Tucker, the Leafs bought out another goalie, Andrew Raycroft. Raycroft is now on his third team in three years and nobody has seen fit to use him as a starter.
The negative side of these stories, of course, is that the Leafs initially gave each of the players a lucrative new contract before realizing - too late - they couldn't play at that level.
But when buyout time came, the right decision was made, although these ongoing cap charges are tough to swallow. That is, unless you're the New York Islanders, who are still using Alexei Yashin's buyout as a cap charge that allows them to raise their payroll past the minimum $43.4 million "floor." Now that's a different approach.
The last bad contract the Leafs signed was in the summer of '08 - right after buying out Tucker and Raycroft - when journeyman defenceman Jeff Finger was inexplicably awarded a four-year deal for $3.5 million per season that still has two years to run.
Otherwise, the next most contentious would be Dion Phaneuf ($6.5 million per, four more years), Mike Komisarek ($4.5 million per, four more years) and winger Colby Armstrong ($3 million per, three more years.)
Phaneuf's deal was signed in Calgary, while GM Brian Burke gave Komisarek and Armstrong their contracts. We'll see how they play out.