Options for the Isles' last Compliance Buyout

With the restructuring of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) last season to conclude the lockout, each team was given two compliance buyouts in order to adjust to the gradually decreasing salary cap. In principle, this rule was made so teams at or near the cap could rid themselves of two "bad" contracts so their roster was current with league regulations. The exact language explaining the terms of the buyouts are this;

- To ease the transition to a lower salary cap in the early years of the CBA, teams can buy out up to two contracts without counting the cost of those buyouts against the salary cap. These "compliance" buyouts can be exercised in the summer of 2013 or the summer of 2014.
- The cost of the buyout will count against the players' 50 percent share of HRR
- All contract buyouts beyond those two years will count against the salary cap.

In the situation of teams like the Islanders who are perennially near the cap floor, it isn't as much about saving room under the cap as it is being able to do away with contracts given to players that are vastly under producing for what they are being paid. Last summer, the Islanders used the first of their two buyouts on oft injured goaltender Rick DiPietro. Under the terms of the new agreement, the buyout of Dipietro's contract will result in the Islanders paying DiPietro $1.5 million annually through 2029, however none of this will count against the teams' salary cap. In short, it seems to be a win/win for both parties other than the fact DiPietro is all but retired from the game now. His attempted comeback with the Carolina Hurricanes AHL affiliate the Charlotte Checkers was done after 5 games where he posted an 0-4-0 record with a 5.18 GAA in that span.

The exact terms and cost of the buyout is dependent on the player's salary and age as well and will be paid over twice the amount of the remaining time left on the contract. Once bought out, the player then becomes an unrestricted free agent. 

Since the Islanders have already used one of their buyouts they will have one more to use this summer if they choose to do so. The Islanders, at least for the time being, are not going to be a cap team. They will always be dancing around or just above the mandated floor. What this means is that if they are looking to acquire a player of need this coming offseason, they may have to rid themselves of another contract. If the Islanders do choose to use their last buyout this year, which I believe they should due to a glaring need for a number 1 goaltender and an experienced top 4 defenseman, they have two candidates currently rostered that they could potentially exercise their buyout on.

1) Josh Bailey- Prior to the start of this season, the Islanders signed the forward to a 5 year, $16.5 million contract paying him $3.3 million per season. The 2008 9th overall pick has been streaky at best for the Islanders ever since his arrival. Controversy surrounded the Islanders and their choice to draft Bailey in 2008 because General Manager Garth Snow traded down twice to select him. Many feel that Bailey was rushed into the league at 18 years old and that is what has been the main cause of his struggles. Bailey showed enough to management last season, especially during the stretch run and playoffs to warrant a deal of this magnitude.

However this season Bailey has been extremely disappointing. Through 66 games played so far this season, Bailey has only managed 6 goals and 21 assists for 27 points and is carrying an ugly minus-11 rating. His 27 points are good for 4th on the team, but keep in mind this is a team that has been ravaged by injuries all season long and currently has a lot of rookies on the team who haven't played enough games to be near that point total yet. Bailey has jumped from line to line as Jack Capuano has tried to find the right chemistry for Bailey to help him regain his confidence and scoring touch, but nothing has worked. Most games he is invisible on the ice and the games that he isn't, it is usually due to poor play and costly mistakes. 

An aspect worth considering with Bailey is his potential upside. He does have the talent to be an NHL player but hasn't gotten there. There could be an off chance that a team will take a risk and trade for him, hoping that a change of scenery could benefit his development, however that too comes with a risk. Trading Bailey means trading his salary, and if the Isles can manage to do that they will likely have to take salary on as well which goes against what they would ultimately want. 

There are a lot of young forwards coming through the system that are being productive and will challenge for a roster spot next season (see Anders Lee) and room has to be made. If there is a cluster of forwards and not enough spots, Bailey is a likely buyout candidate.

2) Matt Carkner- Save for a few bright spots, the Islanders defense has been average when it has been at its best. Inexperience and injuries haven't helped, but there are also some who just are not helping at all. Matt Carkner happens to be one that isn't helping them in any way. Carkner signed a 3 year, $4.5 million contract in the summer of 2012 and as it stands now, next year will be the final year that the Islanders are obligated to him. 

While with the Ottawa Senators, Carkner seemed like a much more serviceable defenseman. The problem was that the defense around him was a lot better so he was relied on a lot less. In the Senators first round elimination from the 2012 playoffs against the Rangers, Carkner showed grit with his series long feud with Rangers' forward Brian Boyle. His performance earned him the deal with the Islanders and ever since there have not been many positives that he has borught the team.

Carkner is a game to game decision as far as whether he will be a scratch or play. He contributes almost nothing offensively and his seemingly non existent foot speed make him a liability in his own zone. In addition, it seems that he takes some sort of lazy stick infraction penalty every game that he actually does play. What I will say though is that he is a character guy and will stand up for teammates in any situation. He doesn't shy away from fights and gives the Islanders much needed toughness.

Sadly those intangibles don't justify what he is being paid, so at some point a decision will have to be made by the team especially with 1st round picks Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Pulock just about ready to make the jump to the NHL. 

The offseason needs to be a busy one for Snow. He cannot justify sitting back waiting for low risk/high reward signings to fall into his lap anymore. After their playoff appearance just a year ago, expectations for the team have been raised the Islanders have fallen extremely short of them. Changes must be made and capable players must be brought in if there is going to be any hope of the Islanders competing next season. Evgeni Nabokov is showing signs of his age and is a free agent after this year. Young goaltenders Anders Nilsson and Kevin Poulin have been inconsistent and neither look like a future starter. Defensively, while there is a lot of young talent gaining experience, they are not all at the NHL level yet. 

The Islanders have no excuse but to bring in a legitimate starting goaltender and top 4 defenseman. They cannot afford to be priced out of some players due to budget, and a quick way to free up more room is doing away with one of these contracts. Arguments can be made on both sides as to which is the smarter contract to terminate. In my personal opinion the answer is Bailey. There are 4 years left and more money owed to him, with Carkner they have the luxury of burying him in the AHL for a year and letting the contract expire. 4 more years is a lot of time to wait for a player to turn around, and it could be the difference from the Islanders finally taking that next step as a competitive franchise. 

Bryan Curran
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