The Buffalo Sabres placed veteran center Patrik Berglund on unconditional waivers Wednesday with the intent to terminate his contract.
Berglund, who was suspended indefinitely by the club on Saturday for "failure to report" after missing the team flight to Washington, is owed $3.85 million for the next three years on the salary cap. The termination move shows the Sabres' intent to get out from under that money.
Berglund also is owed $2,235,484 for the rest of this season, according to capfriendly.com, and the Sabres would get relief from that money as well.
Acquired from St. Louis on July 1 as part of the Ryan O'Reilly trade, Berglund has just two goals and two assists in 23 games for the Sabres this season. He started the season as the club's No. 2 center, but was unable to keep the role as defensive deficiencies led coach Phil Housley to make him a healthy scratch in October.
Berglund's play improved some as a winger on the team's fourth line, but he was scratched again for wins earlier this month over Los Angeles and Arizona and apparently decided in stunning fashion that his days in Buffalo were done by no-showing practice and the team flight.
The Sabres initially covered for Berglund, with Housley telling reporters he was absent from practice because he was "sick." But when Berglund did not take the plane to Washington, the team immediately put him on suspension.
The Sabres said Wednesday "there will be no further information or comment at this time" on Berglund.
Asked by The Buffalo News about the situation on Tuesday, General Manager Jason Botterill simply said, "There's communication going on there, but I don't have an update for you on it. When the time is right, we'll certainly try to elaborate on the situation. Right now, I can't discuss anything else."
Berglund could be claimed by any NHL team until noon Thursday, although his salary and the circumstances of his departure in Buffalo would make that highly unlikely. Once he clears waivers, the Sabres would be able to proceed with the termination of his deal. An NHLPA spokesman said the players' association had no comment on the situation, although the union almost certainly is reviewing it.
Berglund's agent, Peter Wallen, did not return inquiries Wednesday and has not answered phone messages or e-mail from The News since Saturday.
It's believed there is discord between Berglund and his representatives after the players' no-movement clause from St. Louis expired on June 30. According to a Sportsnet report late Saturday night, a list of teams Berglund would not accept a trade to on a modified no-trade clause was not compiled in a timely manner, allowing the Blues to trade him to Buffalo on July 1.
Getting out from Berglund's contract would be a huge move for the Sabres going forward, relieving some pressure on their cap in the short term and giving them more money to use to sign a long-term extension with winger Jeff Skinner, who has scored 25 goals before Christmas in his first year with the team.
Skinner, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, is likely going to want a long-term deal in the $8-9 million per season range.
The Sabres will have lots of pending room on their salary cap next season in Berglund ($3.85 million), Jason Pominville ($5.6 million) and Matt Moulson, who is in the final year of having his deal buried in the minors with Ontario of the AHL this season at a cap hit of $3.975 million. That's $13,425,000 in savings.
It's conceivable the Sabres may re-sign Pominville, who just turned 36, to a much cheaper one-year deal for next season if the veteran wants to play and is healthy. Pominville left Tuesday's loss to Florida after being knocked woozy during an accidental collision with teammate Rasmus Ristolainen and there has been no update on his status.
The Sabres also will have a $1.25 million addition on their cap next year compared to this season for the buyout of former center Cody Hodgson in 2015. Hodgson counts as a credit this year of $458,333. Starting next year, he will cost the Sabres $791,667 on their cap for the next four seasons after his six-year, $25.5 million deal was bought out by former GM Tim Murray on June 30, 2015.
Contract terminations are rare in the NHL. Montreal's Tomas Plekanec, who was plagued by back trouble, agreed to one last month so he could retire as a Canadien at age 36. Tampa Bay terminated defenseman Jake Dotchin in September for a "material breach" of his contract, claiming he showed up to training camp out of shape. The NHLPA was not happy with that move, although Dotchin signed as a free agent with Anaheim in October.
In Berglund's case, it would seem the team would clearly have the right to terminate the contract of a player who failed to show up for practices or a flight.