Barring a salary-dumping trade, the Montreal Canadiens will be entering the season with very little wiggle room under the cap. And buying out Georges Laraque is not an avenue that will remedy that.
First, a disclaimer: I've tried as hard as I can to read and fully understand the NHL's collective bargaining agreement, and I think I've grasped what I was looking for, but I would take anything you read here with a pretty big grain of salt because I'm no lawyer, and it's a pretty convoluted document.
But when I saw last week that the Boston Bruins were buying out Patrick Eaves after acquiring him from Carolina, and that the Hurricanes in turn were buying out Frantisek Kaberle, I figured the Canadiens could instantly give themselves another $1 million in cap room by buying out the last two years of Laraque's contract.
Of course, I figured wrong. Or at least I think I did.
The CBA (available here, if you really want to give yourself a splitting migraine) states that players must receive notice of a buyout no later than June 30, unless a team has salary arbitration hearings scheduled. In that case, a team has five days following the settlement of its last arbitration case to give notice of a buyout.
Both the Bruins and Hurricanes performed their respective buyouts five days after agreeing to terms with their players heading to arbitration. Bruins defenceman Matt Hunwick signed a two-year contract extension on July 20 and Eaves was bought out on July 25, while Tuomo Ruutu signed on for three more years in Carolina on July 23 and Kaberle was bought out on July 28.
In the Canadiens case, their lone arbitration case was resolved when Tomas Plekanec signed his one-year, $2.75 million deal on July 21, which means GM Bob Gainey had until July 26 to buyout Laraque or anyone else on the current roster.
I, for one, am wondering why Gainey didn't decide to take this route.
It is entirely possible that Laraque will not be fit to play in time for training camp because of a recurring disc problem in his back, and that would provide Gainey with some long term injury relief, but that won't help him if he wants to make a trade this summer to further re-shape his team.
I think everyone saw last year that having Laraque in the lineup - when he played - did not provide the Canadiens small, speedy forwards with any extra room or protection, largely because it's hard to be intimidated by someone who only fights under extremely strict conditions.
The game against the Coyotes on October 18 made that painfully obvious, when Kurt Sauer drilled Andrei Kostitsyn with a borderline dirty hit along the boards and only received a Laraque face wash as punishment.
To me, that situation was exactly what Laraque was brought on board to prevent, but after the game he said he wasn't surprised Sauer wouldn't drop the gloves with him because "he's not a heavyweight." Sauer later accepted an invitation from Tom Kostopoulos to settle the score, and proceeded to be beat him to a pulp.
The same scenario repeated itself throughout the season, most famously when Laraque was tabbed by then-head coach Guy Carbonneau to follow Milan Lucic around the ice all night to try and goad him into a fight. Lucic never bit because Claude Julien told him not to, and Laraque never made the decision on his behalf.
Yes, Laraque was somewhat effective in the playoffs in the role Gainey gave him to try and occupy Zdeno Chara, but overall I would have to say his first season in Montreal was a bust.
Though it's entirely possible next season will be different, I have trouble seeing how, and now the Habs look to be stuck with his $1.5 million a year contract for at least one more season unless Gainey can find a trade partner, and even that is complicated by the fact that Laraque somehow coaxed a no-trade clause out of the Habs GM. The no-trade clause is limited in that Laraque can name six Eastern Conference and six Western Conference clubs he would accept a trade to, but it still makes it more difficult to move him, especially considering his health problems.
So if Gainey wants to add a piece like a Patrick Marleau or Patrick Sharp or anyone else, he's going to have to find a club willing to take on salary because his hands are pretty well tied in that department.