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Friday, December 28, 2012

Buyout Candidates: Mike Komisarek or John-Michael Liles

komisarek liles buyout leafs
Welcome back to the NHL, Wade Redden.

One of the concessions the league made to the players in its latest proposal was accepting a one-time compliance buyout prior to the 2013-14 season. The buyout will not count against a team’s salary cap, meaning teams like the Rangers can finally rid themselves of ugly contracts like Redden’s. (Note: The buyout will still count against the players’ share, which might be an issue for the union).

The Leafs are actually in a fairly envious position; only two players are signed beyond four years—Mikhail Grabovski, their best two-way forward, and James van Riemsdyk, who is only 23.

Unlike in Anaheim, Brian Burke has done a good job creating cap flexibility. The bad deals, like Tim Connolly and Matthew Lombardi, are both done after this season.

The roster isn't without its fixable mistakes, however. The two players who are most frequently cited as buyout candidates are Mike Komisarek and John-Michael Liles.

John-Michael Liles

Throughout his career, Liles has averaged close to 38 points a year, but just finished with the lowest total of his career, 27, thanks in large part to sustaining a concussion just before signing a contract extension. Before being injured, Liles was on pace to score 50 points. After returning from a 16-game absence, Liles only managed to notch six points in his last 32 games, a pace of only 15 over a full season.

While Liles’ $3.875 million deal isn’t onerous, he is 32-years-old and coming off an injury-shortened season. He is signed through his 35-year-old season, and although 61 defenceman 32 years or older have scored at least 38 points and averaged 19 minutes a game since the 2004-05 lockout, a third of them were Norris Trophy winners like Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, or Nicklas Lidstrom. So not exactly an offense-first, defence-later type of defenceman like Liles.

If Liles can’t recover from his concussion, his deal immediately replaces Komisarek’s contract as the one Toronto regrets the most.

Having a declining, ineffective Liles on the roster can be even worse if he begins to take a roster spot from a younger player like Morgan Rielly, Jesse Blacker, or Stuart Percy.

Mike Komisarek

Even if Liles declines, he will still be more valuable than Komisarek, who has failed to live up to his contract since the day the ink dried. Although Komisarek played top-four minutes in his first year in Toronto, he wasn’t particularly effective, and his minutes have dried up in subsequent years. He was used so sparingly in 2010-11 that he may as well have been the stick boy, and last year, when he did manage to get into the line-up, his atrocious play quickly sent him back to the press box.

However, by the time the Leafs have to use their buyout, Komisarek’s deal will only have one year remaining. It will be larger than Liles’ deal in the first year, but only by $625,000. So choosing to buyout Komisarek over Liles saves the Leafs less than $1 million for one year. By choosing to buyout Liles over Komisarek, the Leafs do not maximize their cap savings in year one, but will save $7.75 million from 2014-2016.

The question the Leafs face is not whether Liles is better than Komisarek. He undoubtedly is better. The question is whether or not the Leafs can better spend Liles’ money from 2014-2016.

Considering the Leafs do not have to make a decision immediately, they can wait another year and see how Liles plays after an extended period of inactivity. If he plays at a level close to career-norms (top-four minutes, 35-40 points), keeping him will be an easy decision. If, however, he has failed to recover from his concussion and is playing as poorly as he did when he first returned, the Leafs can buy him out and use him money elsewhere.

Alternatively, perhaps the Leafs will choose not to buyout either player, but rather dangle their lone buyout around the league in the hopes that another team with multiple contractual anchors is desperate enough to trade a pick/prospect in hopes of unloading a bad deal they themselves can’t buyout.

Whatever the Leafs choose, unlike many other teams, they have options.

Who should the Leafs buyout?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

No point using it when this season starts since it will be so short and the Leafs are already in a good cap situation.

Amber Carl said...

I hope you can finish up soon. I admire your enthusiasm though.
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