After a wild day of NHL chaos yesterday, the Hurricanes got into the mix today on a smaller scale when it was announced that the team had bought out James Wisniewski. Wisniewski was obtained from Anaheim last summer in exchange for Anton Khudobin and proceeded to play exactly 1 shift on opening night before tearing his ACL and missing the remainder of the season.
I guess from the standpoint of the team not really missing him, the move makes sense. They did not truly miss him last season when a bunch of young guns stepped up and seized roles. He was scheduled to become a free agent after this season and very likely be gone then anyway, but the move is still surprising.
Wisniewski was a salary cap hit of $5.5 million this season but had a salary of only $3 million in the last year of a front-loaded contract. The $3 million actual cost which is all that really matters to the Canes is not cheap, but it is not outlandish either if Wisniewski could rebound from injury and be a #4 or even a #5 defender.
The math is what makes the move puzzling. The Canes gain nothing from the salary cap savings since they were not going to spend anywhere close to the cap anyway. And with the buyout terms requiring the team to pay 2/3 of his contract to buy him out, the net savings when it is all said and done is only $1 million.
If you phrase the question as, “Would you rather have James Wisniewski on the 2016-17 roster or would you rather have $1 million to spend on a replacement,” I really do not get it. It is not like the real $ cost savings are enough to do something significant, and as a veteran defenseman, I figure his value is $1 million if not more even coming off an injury and even if he fell to a depth role.
Rough math says Canes now need to spend $9.3 million (UPDATED TO $7.6 MILLION BECAUSE OF CRAZY CBA MATH THAT DOES NOT SPLIT CAP HIT EVENLY OVER 2 YEARS) to reach the cap floor. Let’s say $1 million for Murphy, $3.5 million for Rask and $1 million for a depth forward (all of those being conservative). That leaves only a couple million more to be spent on additional players with a top 6 forward being at the top of the list.
What does it mean roster-wise?
I see 3 significant impacts roster-wise:
1) This is potentially a huge vote of confidence for Ryan Murphy. Murphy is a right shot, skating defenseman whose skill set is a little bit like Wisniewski’s. Murphy was theoretically slotted as a #7. Wisniewski’s buy out pushes Murphy up into the lineup of course pending any other moves on defense.
2) The move also suggests that Francis plans to spend a bit more salary cap-wise. The Canes were basically at the salary cap if you adjusted for Murphy and Rask being re-signed at some point. So this move puts the team back under the cap by a bit. All indications were that Francis planned to add a top 6 forward anyway, so perhaps this is sort of the path Francis was on regardless.
3) I think it does open up the possibility of adding another depth defenseman, likely less expensive than Wisniewski. There are a couple angles that Francis could go with this. He could get a cheap, purely depth veteran on a 2-way deal who would also then become expansion draft fodder who meets either the 40/40 or 70 total requirement. Or alternatively, could this open the door to bring back John-Michael Liles. It is unclear what Liles wants. It could be maximum $ or term or a Cup contender, but if he and his family like Raleigh and the team, he could make sense. He was so incredibly good as a mentor and played a big role in the kids’ development, most notably Pesce’s. I saw him salary expectation estimated at $2Mish, and with the Canes needing someone to expose to the expansion draft, the might actually prefer 2 years instead of 1.
Another read on Ron Francis
Francis has multiple times shown a tendency and willingness to move on quickly and decisively. Last summer saw the buy out of Alexander Semin. Both trade deadlines have seen decisive trading away of players for future assets. And this move is obviously an assertive move to get the roster how he wants it.
What might be even more telling about this deal is that this is a move that reverses his own previous move. It is hard to call the trade for Wisniewski a mistake (or anything for that matter) because an injury derailed it before it was even possible to get a read on him in a Canes uniform. Nonetheless, with the changing situation on the Canes blue line, Francis showed a willingness to assess the situation based on new information and move forward quickly from he thought was the right thing only 1 year ago.
Could the most foretelling sign of the Wisniewski buy out be what it could say about his willingness to part ways with Lack and just move forward?