Buyout Candidates: Central Division

Buyout Candidates: Central Division

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Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen are NHL buyout candidates for the Dallas Stars

We’re less than a month away from the NHL buyout window opening (the later of June 15 or 48 hours after the Stanley Cup Final), and as we know the incoming 31st team in Vegas will alter the buyout landscape a bit. This offseason, teams can buy out players who have a no-movement clause that they otherwise would need to protect in the expansion draft.

Such players, once bought out, will count toward team exposure requirements. One main incentive to buy them out is to protect other draft-eligible players their respective teams consider more valuable. Of course the regular buyout philosophy still applies as, Golden Knights or no, teams will look to save valuable cap space by unloading contracts for players that offer less than equal return, and prefer to use less cap space up front in exchange for extended installments.

Let’s take a look at potential Central Division buyout candidates (there don’t seem many serious ones), their remaining contracts’ cap hit amounts, and how much cap space they would cost their current teams to buy out and for how long (stats courtesy of CapFriendly.com and some rounded up slightly by me to save space). We started with the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions of the Eastern Conference and will wrap up our look at the Western Conference by profiling the Pacific Division shortly.

Colorado Avalanche

Francois Beauchemin – One year – $4.5M

Buyout cap hit – $4.5M (no cap relief)

A buyout would remove the declining Beauchemin from blue line prospects’ NHL path and, since he has a no movement clause that otherwise forbids his exposure without consent, count him as exposed in the expansion draft. Players on “35+” contracts like Beauchemin (those aged 35 or older by June 30 of the year their contract starts) don’t bring cap relief, so no extra space comes back. With almost $18.6M in Colorado cap room already that’s not a fatal flaw.

Bottom line – do they drop Beauchemin to protect an additional player from Vegas and give greater opportunity for young Avalanche defensemen?

It sounds smart. Depending on whether they employ the 7F/3D/1G or 8F-D/1G protection plan, a buyout enables them to re-sign and keep some combination of forwards Sven Andrighetto, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Matt Nieto and/or rearguards Patrick Wiercioch and Mark Barberio. They can also get a more extensive look at promising young defenders including Chris Bigras, Sergei Boikov, Andrei Mironov, and maybe Nicolas Meloche or Will Butcher.

Dallas Stars

Antti Niemi – One year – $4.5M

Buyout cap hit – $1.5M, $1.5M

Kari Lehtonen – One year – $5.9M

Buyout cap hit – $2.57M, $1.67M

Finally the time is right. With Ben Bishop now a Star, the long anticipated departure of at least one Dallas goalie is fast approaching.

With Lehtonen’s stats (22-25-7, .902, 2.85) superior to Neimi’s (12-12-4, .892, 3.30) working behind the same sub-par defense, the first seems the keeper. When you consider his cap hit would save only about $300,000 less next year than that of Niemi and cost less in 2018-19, Lehtonen looks a more worthy back-up to Bishop.

By year’s end he’ll be an unrestricted free agent and perhaps Dallas can groom a young goalie to take his spot. While the in-organization prospect pickings are slim, several good ones will likely be available in this year’s entry draft when Dallas picks, certainly with their Anaheim-derived selection from the Patrick Eaves deal in the 28-31 range and 39th pick in round two. Perhaps even their third round 70th overall pick can fetch a solid one.

Names projected as available in this range include the top five draft-eligible prospects in net – Mike Dipietro, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Maksim Zhukov, Cayden Primeau and Jake Oettinger.

Minnesota Wild

Jason Pominville – Two years – $5.6M

Buyout cap hit – $4.35M, $1.85M, $1.25M, $1.25M

Pominville didn’t have an awful year, totaling 13 goals and 34 assists. He’ll be 35 next season and his numbers have declined from the 80, 73, and 60-point efforts of days gone by, but increased by 11 over 2015-16. Nonetheless, that price tag and tire tread won’t fetch much in a trade.

While some have called for it, a buyout currently doesn’t make sense. Signing-bonus dynamics raise his buyout cap hit leaving Minnesota with just $1.25M in extra cap space this upcoming campaign from such a move. The dead cap expenses would also drag into 2021-22. That’s not worth it for a useful, veteran middle-six forward on a squad with Stanley Cup aspirations. At least not now.

If they wait until next summer, although Pominville will be 35 years old his deal was signed at age 30 so he’s not under a “35+” contract. At that point, his signing bonus will no longer figure into the equation, and a buyout saves the Wild $3.3M in cap room for 2018-19, with $1.6M in dead money only reaching into the next campaign. It’s most wise to see what they can get out of him this season, then more strongly consider a move. Perhaps his trade value will rise in the process.

Buy out candidates for the Atlantic Division | Metropolitan Division

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