With a second buyout period available to the Devils starting today, few thought anything earth-shattering would happen, especially with the Devils a little under the salary cap with a full roster. Maybe it was somewhat expected that new acquisition Trent Hunter would be bought out, although disappointing that now we have to deal with a dead cap hit for four years at 666,667 per season and comical that we essentially traded Brian Rolston for cap space only. There was some speculation that Bryce Salvador, with one year left on his deal would be bought out but since he's still on LTIR it wasn't a possibility.
However, the decision to waive two-time Cup winning defenseman Colin White came out of left field, as did the revelation that GM Lou Lamoriello has been trying to trade Whitey since the end of the season. There were no takers that White would waive his NTC for. In announcing his intention to buy out both White and Hunter if neither were claimed on waivers, Lou cited 'budgetary' concerns and the current depth of young players on defense and right wing. While I do agree we have a ton of young defensemen just about ready for the NHL, the fact is that if we don't have a miracle return from Bryce Salvador or some other move before October, our fourth-most experienced defenseman going into next season is the immortal Mark Fraser. Yeech.
Of course, the budgetary admission does worry me, although it can be a fairly loose term - either referring to the team's budget in terms of actual money spent, or the salary cap itself. Cap-wise we were approximately $3 million under the salary cap including Salvador and $5.5 million without him (replacing a minimum-salaried player with Salvador's $3 million equaling a net difference of $2.5) before these buyouts. Assuming neither player gets claimed on waivers, the buyouts will give us an additional $3.3 million in cap space with a full roster. In terms of real money, it saves ownership just over $2 million of the approximately $7 million combined owed to Hunter, who was signed for two years and White - who was on the last year of his deal.
Still, after calming down about this a little I have to admit that it's unlikely that a couple million dollars here and there would really make that big a difference so perhaps it wasn't the overriding factor, it's not like we're booting $50 million off the payroll like the Mets, although the initial signs haven't been good - from Parise not getting a long-term deal, to Rolston and White being given away and being stuck with a cap hit for four years because we wouldn't stick Hunter in the minors. Although White was still one of the team's best defensemen, maybe the Rolston and White moves really were a belated attempt to change the culture of a locker room that went through coaches like Kleenex.
Even if he was declining as a player and whether or not there were locker room issues, it's sad Whitey's Devil career has to end like this. He's been a part of the Devils organization since he was 17, and he's 33 now so do the math, that's sixteen years. As Lou himself put it, White was a 'true Devil'. He played ten seasons with New Jersey, playing a physical, gritty style at the start of his career that got him compared to one-time teammate Ken Danyeko. Two years after the lockout ended though, he suffered a career-threatening eye injury in camp but managed to return after only missing the first twenty games of the 2007-08 season. Physically, he wasn't the same player but compensated with smarts and was frequently matched up against the other team's best players. Even this past season, he was one of the few Devils who pulled their weight in the first half and helped a young defense mature in the second half.
As far as what comes next, I give up. I have no earthly idea anymore, since we've been sending mixed signals all offseason. Are we rebuilding or going for it? Are we saving money or reallocating it? I didn't see this one coming...it will be interesting to see if we actually use the cap space we're clearing or not, or whether we clear even more salary? I'm kind of nervous to find out the answer.