The Tampa Bay Lightning have one compliance buyout still to use. The thought midway through the season and near the end was that embattled winger Ryan Malone would be the recipient of said buyout but with his legal troubles the Bolts are in a bit of a moral conundrum.
Malone didn’t have a great 2013-2014 campaign missing most of the season due to injury and ended up being a healthy scratch by the end of the Bolts’ season. His whole career with the Lightning seems to have been the same song and dance of a promising season only to have it be inconsistent and full of injuries, which lead to the speculation of the buyout but now that is in doubt due to his recent legal problems.
Malone was arrested back in April for possession of cocaine and DUI, both of which are pretty serious offenses, as he could face up to three years in prison. He was caught with a .112 blood alcohol limit and 1.3 grams of cocaine respectively and has since pleaded not guilty and entered a rehab program jointly run by the NHL and NHLPA.
So what does this mean for Tampa?
Well the Bolts may be buyout Malone but it doesn’t make one feel great knowing that instead of keeping a troubled man around a support system (the team and his teammates), they may thank him for his services and part ways with someone who, based off the events of his arrest, still needs help. It’s a tough position to be in and the team really has no way of coming out of this looking like a saint.
The other issue is where this whole mess stands in terms of the league. Per the CBA, once a player is in the substance abuse program, that player will be suspended without pay if convicted and will only be reinstated after extensive evaluations from doctors on if that player is deemed healthy enough to return to action. Malone has pleaded not guilty and his next court date is July 7, well after the June 30th deadline. Meaning that the Lightning will have to make a decision fairly soon either way but their course isn’t clear.
The league hasn’t given a clear ruling on whether players in the substance abuse program are qualified candidates for a buyout. The CBA doesn’t mention substance abuse as a typical hockey related injury for LTIR. The other thing is if Malone does get convicted, does the buyout still apply as he would be suspended without pay as mentioned before.
It’s unfortunate that not only has Malone put himself and his family in a tough spot but also the organization as there seems to be no clear way out of this dilemma.
The business decision is to buyout Malone and free up the roster space and money for the young talent ready to take Malone’s spot (he ended the season as a healthy scratch). However is that really the right decision morally? Do the Lightning keep things “well this is the business” and look like they are abandoning a man in need of as much support as he can get?
In this case, no one really knows what is going to happen but GM Steve Yzerman will have to make a very tough decision in the next thirteen days. Tough, because of the complicated situation that Malone and the team are in.
But then again Yzerman has made tough decisions before and it’s worked out so far.