TAMPA — With Ryan Malone's role diminishing last season, general manager Steve Yzerman tried to trade the veteran wing. Then Malone was arrested in April on charges of DUI and cocaine possession.
Unable to work out a deal, Yzerman did on Wednesday what many expected, using a compliance buyout on the final season of Malone's contract. It saves $4.5 million (the average of his seven-year deal signed in June 2008) against the salary cap for the upcoming season.
The labor deal gave Tampa Bay until Monday to use its second buyout. (The first went to former captain Vinny Lecavalier last summer.) It will pay two-thirds of Malone's $2.5 million salary ($1.67 million) evenly over two years and makes him an unrestricted free agent.
Yzerman said it was best for both parties to "move on."
"He wants to play," Yzerman said. "And … that wasn't going to happen in Tampa."
Agent Mike Liut said they expected the buyout and understood the move.
"With this particular contract and in the role that they had Ryan in if he stayed, I think this was a pretty logical step," Liut said. "He's fine with it. Nobody wants to get bought out of their contract, but it provides him with an opportunity to move on. The end result is him playing hockey somewhere else next year."
The buyout creates more cap flexibility with free agency opening Tuesday and helps in light of the new six-year, $34.8 million deal given to wing Ryan Callahan on Wednesday.
Malone, 34, has been hampered by injuries and inconsistencies since signing a $31.5 million deal. Last season he went from the top line to the fourth line to a healthy scratch. He also missed 16 games with a fractured ankle.
A three-time 20-goal scorer with the Lightning, Malone's five goals and 15 points in 57 games were his fewest in a season in which he played at least 50 games.
Then there are his legal issues, with his next court date scheduled for July. Liut wouldn't discuss if Malone, who has pleaded not guilty, is still in a substance-abuse program. But Liut doesn't expect a grievance/issue from the players union because if the season started today, he believes Malone would be eligible to play.
"Anyone that's ever played with Ryan knows he's a good guy and he's a good teammate," he said. "And good people make mistakes. That's a serious issue, and Ryan understands that."