National Hockey League clubs will have a challenging offseason with the 2020 Draft and free agency coming mere days after the completion of the Stanley Cup Final, but the task for many NHL general managers will be navigating a difficult financial path with the salary cap remaining at $81.5 Million next season and operating within a budget that may be well below that figure.
Teams not involved in the playoffs have already started to make moves to shed salary, such as Pittsburgh’s trade of Nick Bjugstad to Minnesota for a conditional seventh-round pick to clear half of his $4.1 million cap hit or Carolina dealing the rights to defenseman Joel Edmondson for a fifth-rounder.
Clubs may use the tactic of not issuing qualifying offers to certain restricted free agents in hopes of getting players to agree to deals less than the normal 10% minimum requirement, and also could choose to buyout existing contracts because they can save as much as one-third of the deal’s value and open up space by spreading out the cap hit over a number of years.
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Here is a look at teams in the Eastern Conference and which player is the most likely candidate to be bought out:
Detroit Red Wings
Darren Helm – $3.85 million for one season
GM Steve Yzerman is in a much different situation than most, with more than $34 million in available cap space. Ideally, the rebuilding club would add short-term free agents that could be flipped for draft picks and prospects at the trade deadline and to get to the salary cap floor. Buying out a veteran like Justin Abdelkader would save over $4 million but affect the Wings cap for six years, while Helm (who scored 16 points in 68 games) would save $1 million and spread the remaining cap hit over two seasons.
Bobby Ryan – $7.25 million for two seasons
Buying out the 2020 Masterton Trophy winner would be a bad PR look, but that is nothing new for a club owned by Eugene Melnyk. Ryan is 33 and missed three months while dealing with an alcohol abuse issue through the NHL player assistance program. The Sens could save $3.6 million of the $15 million owed to Ryan in the final two seasons of his contract, but they could choose to keep him to make getting to the cap floor an easier task.
Carter Hutton – $2.75 million for one season
The 34-year-old Hutton had a save percentage under .900 and Buffalo has a pair of young goaltenders in Linus Ullmark and Jonas Johansson. The budget-conscious Sabres have traditionally been hesitant to buyout contracts, but the savings on going that way with Hutton would equal the amount to re-sign Johansson (an RFA) next season.
Karl Alzner – $4.625 million for two seasons
The money saved by buying out the final two years of Alzner’s contract is not significant, but it would clear most of the cap hit in 2021-22 for a blueliner who spent most of the last two seasons playing for AHL Laval.
Anton Stralman – $5.5 million for two seasons
New Panthers GM Bill Zito could get away with cleaning up a mistake made by predecessor Dale Tallon, who signed Stralman to a three-year, $16.5 million deal last summer. The 34-year-old defenseman had just 19 points in 69 games and the financially strapped franchise would save $3 million with a buyout spread over four years.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs might be the exception to the rule in terms of buyouts since they do not have a long-term big-money contract they would benefit from clearing it off the books. Toronto has nearly $40 million in cap space allocated towards Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander and the contracts for Morgan Rielly, Frederik Andersen, Alex Kerfoot, Andreas Johnsson are all short-term and for reasonable cap hits.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Cedric Paquette – $1.65 million for one season
GM Julien Brisebois has a difficult task with RFA’s Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev needing new contracts and Andrei Vasilevskiy’s extension kicking in. It likely means that veterans such as Alex Killorn or Tyler Johnson could get moved, but with a number of youngsters in AHL Syracuse pressing for jobs, a fourth-line specialist in Paquette making $1.65 million is a luxury they cannot afford. A buyout would save $1.1 million in cap room next season and $550,000 in salary.
John Moore – $2.75 million for three seasons
The Bruins have young blueliners Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk to re-sign either this offseason or next summer and have Jeremy Lauzon, Connor Clifton, and Urho Vaakanainen capable of filling depth roles on defense. Moore was signed to a five-year, $13.75 Million free-agent deal in 2018 and missed half of last season recovering from off-season shoulder surgery.
A buyout would save $2.4 million in real dollars, but clear nearly $5 million in cap space over the three remaining years of Moore’s deal.
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