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.
Here is a look at teams in the Western Conference and which player is the most likely candidate to be bought out:
Zack Smith – one season for $3.25 million
The Blackhawks have just under $8 million in cap space, but have to sign or acquire a starting goalie, as well as re-sign restricted free agents Slater Koekkoek, Dylan Strome, Drake Caggiula, and Calder Trophy nominee Dominik Kubalik. Smith was acquired from Ottawa for Artem Anisimov in July 2019 and had just 11 points in 50 games. With a buyout of the 32-year-old, GM Stan Bowman would clear more than $2 million in cap space and save over $1 million in real cash.
Victor Rask – two seasons at $4 million AAV
The Wild are a team in transition under Bill Guerin, adding Bjugstad from the Penguins and swapping Eric Staal to Buffalo for Marcus Johansson and may want to make more changes. Rask (acquired from Carolina in January 2019) scored just 16 points in 66 games with Minnesota, and a buyout of his final two years would save $2.6 million in cap space each season.
Kyle Turris – four seasons at $6 million AAV
Preds GM David Poile may be finally ready to admit the mistake made when he traded for Turris in November 2017 and signed him to a six-year, $36 Million contract extension. The center’s offensive numbers (42, 23, and 31 points in three seasons) have been disappointing and a buyout of the last four years of his deal would result in a $2 million cap hit spread over eight years and save Nashville $8 million of the $24 million still owed to the 31-year-old.
Mathieu Perreault – one season for $4.125 million
The Jets have just under $16 million in cap room after the contract termination of defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff have their core group (Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele, Nik Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, Connor Hellebuyck) locked up on long-term deals, but need to add at least two blueliners in free agency or by trade. Perreault has one year left at $4.125 Million and the 32-year-old at the time of the pause had just 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists) in 49 games and went pointless in four playoff games.
Andrew Cogliano – one season for $3.25 million
The Stars will not be able to buy out a player until after the Final. GM Jim Nill will have a challenging offseason getting restricted free agents Radek Faksa, Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov, and unrestricted free agents Corey Perry, Mattias Janmark, Andrej Sekera, and Anton Khudobin re-signed. Cogliano has just 20 points in 100 regular season games since being acquired from Anaheim and a buyout would clear another $2 million in cap space next season.
Philipp Grubauer – one season for $3.3 million
The Avs may be the best-situated club in the NHL for next season, with $22.3 million in available cap space and only Andre Burakovsky, Valeri Nichushkin, Ryan Graves, and Nikita Zadorov to re-sign. If GM Joe Sakic is looking to upgrade his goaltending with a flooded trade and free-agent market, trading Grubauer might be possible with his low salary, but a buyout would clear $1.83 million in cap space.
St. Louis Blues
Alex Steen – one season for $5.75 million
The Blues may need to clear room to re-sign defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. Steen is nearing the end of a distinguished career and it is possible that the 36-year-old winger will retire, but a buyout is possible in the last year of his four-year, $23 million contract.
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San Jose Sharks
Martin Jones – four seasons at $5.75 million AAV
The Sharks goaltending has been an issue for the last two seasons, as Jones has posted consecutive sub .900 save percentage years. GM Doug Wilson will likely not find any takers for the 30-year-old goalie with four years left, but a buyout will save $6.5 million over the next four years and clear between $2.875 to $3.875 million in that span.
Los Angeles Kings
Dustin Brown – two seasons at $5.875 million AAV
GM Rob Blake has plenty of cap space after moving out veteran blueliners Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez and terminating the contract of Ilya Kovalchuk, so a buyout may not be a necessity unless they are looking to save money while going through a rebuild. Veteran Jeff Carter may not be eligible for a buyout since he suffered a core muscle injury just before the pause. Brown is their team captain and the 35-year-old still scored 17 goals.
David Backes – one season for $6 million
Backes was acquired from Boston in the Ondrej Kase deal with the Bruins retaining 25% of his $6-million cap hit. The 36-year-old is a declining player and a buyout would be split 75% ($3 million) to the Ducks and 25% ($1 million) to the Bruins for next season.
Jason Demers – one season for $4.5 million
Similar to the Backes scenario with the Ducks, Demers was dealt to Arizona in 2017 with Florida retaining 12% of his salary, which means the Panthers would also take a small cap hit if Arizona decides to buy him out. The 32-year-old had just 11 assists in 50 games last season and the Coyotes are reportedly looking to cut payroll under new ownership. A buyout would save Arizona just under $1 million and clear $1.5 million in cap space.
Vegas Golden Knights
Marc-Andre Fleury – two seasons at $7 million AAV
If the rumors of the Golden Knights signing Robin Lehner to a multi-year extension are true, it may prove difficult for GM Kelly McCrimmon to move the three-time Cup winner with two years remaining and his numbers declining. Salary retention in a trade is a possibility, but if Vegas pursues big-time free agents like Pietrangelo or Torey Krug, a buyout would clear between $4 to $4.5 million over the next two seasons.
Kris Russell – one season for $4 million
Edmonton has to re-sign promising blueliner Ethan Bear, find a starting goaltender and support players for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Buying out the final three years of James Neal’s deal might be tempting, but with youngsters Evan Bouchard and Phillip Broberg in the pipeline, Russell makes more sense. The 33-year-old is entering the final year of a five-year, $20-million contract and had only nine assists in 55 games last season. The downside is the buyout will only clear $1 million in cap space.
Sven Baertschi – one season for $3.36 million
The 27-year-old winger was waived in December and with a low base salary in the final year of his three-year contract, the Canucks would clear nearly half of his 2020-21 salary, which they could put towards re-signing goalie Jacob Markstrom or defenseman Chris Tanev.
Milan Lucic – three seasons at $6 million AAV
A highly unlikely scenario since the 32-year-old’s contract has buyout protection with heavy signing bonuses, Lucic actually played well for the Flames in the playoffs and served a purpose in a physical role. A buyout would be split between Calgary and Edmonton (since the Oilers retained 12% of his $6 million salary in the swap for James Neal) but would save between $1.1 to $2.5 million over the three remaining years for the Flames.