Riku Helenius on unconditional waivers; contract expected to be terminated
The twice-promising Finnish goaltender has had an ungodly amount of struggle to overcome the past 18 months, and with just a few months remaining on his deal, the Tampa Bay Lightning have placed him on $125 (unconditional) waivers for the purpose of a mutual termination of his contract.
Riku Helenius is on unconditional waivers, per several trusted NHL sources this morning:
Waivers: Amount Helenius, Riku T.B ($125 release) Kostka, Michael CHI Mottau, Mike FLA— Renaud Lavoie (@LavoieRenaud) February 22, 2014
From the CBA:
"Unconditional waivers means the process by which the rights to a Player are offered to all other Clubs, without a right of recall at a Waiver price of one-hundred and twenty-five dollars ($125) prior to a club exercising its right to terminate a players SPC pursutant to Article 13..."
While it is technically possible that another NHL team could claim Helenius, that very rarely occurs with unconditional waivers, something that is predominantly used to terminate a contract of a player that wishes to play in a different league.
Helenius, the 15th overall draft pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2006, was bumped out of the organizational depth chart prior to the Jeff Vinik and Steve Yzerman era. With the goaltending issues the Lightning faced in the first few years with Yzerman at the helm, re-signing Helenius -- whom the Lightning still held the rights to, and who had been having a terrific season in the top Finnish league -- made sense. He was signed to a two-year deal in the summer of 2012, the second year of which (this year) was a one-way deal, paying him $650,000.
Since then, however, Helenius has been, to put it nicely, disappointing. His .900 save percentage in 2012-2013 splitting time with Cedrick Desjardins wasn't exactly inspiring, and it's been even more downhill since then. He's sub .900 in both the AHL (.875 in 5 games) and ECHL (.797 in 4 games) this year, and he's dealt with tremendous personal struggles off the ice during his second stint with the Lightning organization on top of his on-ice troubles.
Couple all that with the surprising ascension of Kristers Gudlevksis and the fact that the organization has wunderkind Andrei Vasilevskiy waiting in the wings, and the writing was on the wall for Helenius.
For those wondering why a more aggressive effort wasn't made to trade Helenius for something ... anything, well, it's not always that easy:
Lightning AGM BriseBois characterized efforts to find Helenius a new home as "aggressive." Contract termination will save about $160,000.— Damian Cristodero (@LightningTimes) February 22, 2014
There simply wasn't a market for Helenius. You can't move an asset that has so little value with zero interested buyers.
Helenius' best bet now is likely heading back to Europe, most likely to play in his home country of Finland, where he's had the most success in his career.