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 Metropolitan Division buyout candidates, 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 Division and will work our way into the Western Conference over the next few days.
Cam Ward – One year – $3.3M
Buyout cap hit – $1.23M, $1.03M
Eddie Lack – One year – $2.75M
Buyout cap hit – $.75M, $1M
With Scott Darling now a Hurricane either one or both of the incumbent netminders will be gone. Since Carolina can only protect one (Darling) from the expansion draft Vegas will likely get a crack at both Ward and Lack. In my eyes, the Golden Knights will select either Lack or Lee Stempniak depending upon whether better overall forward or goalie options emerge. I seriously doubt they’ll take Ward.
If Vegas doesn’t take 29 year-old Lack, he becomes the cheaper, younger, and probably best overall backup option in Raleigh. If they do take Lack, Carolina has to balance the need for a little over $2.07M in added buyout cap space next year, with keeping the declining Ward as a 33 year-old veteran presence behind Darling in his first campaign as a fully-anointed number one.
The bottom line – Lack won’t get bought out. If he isn’t selected, Ward gets bought out. If Lack is selected, Ward probably sticks around unless a good trade option arises.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Scott Hartnell – Two years – $4.75M
Buyout cap hit – $1.5M, $3M, $1.25M, $1.25M
The Blue Jackets are in tough financial shape. Columbus currently has just under $3M in cap space next season with Alexander Wennberg, Josh Anderson and possible expansion selection Joonas Korpisalo seeking new deals as RFAs. Sam Gagner is a UFA who should get a decent raise after his 50-point campaign and $650,000 contract/cap hit expiration.
The 35 year-old Hartnell, after a 12-point decline including time on their fourth line could be the guy to go. His trade prospects look bleak, and it’s difficult to imagine any deal improving their money matters much. With his no movement clause he can’t be exposed to the expansion draft and Vegas wouldn’t select him anyways, so a buyout may be best. With an added $3.25M in cap relief next season, and $1.75M more in 2018-19 when Cam Atkinson reaches unrestricted free agency, such a move could be a crucial piece to their future.
New York Islanders
Jaroslav Halak – One year – $4.5M
Buyout cap hit – $1.17M, $1.67M
The Islanders can protect one goalie and that will be Thomas Greiss. In spite of a strong finish to the regular season the 32 year-old Halak is not a preferred option for the Isles. Friction between him and the brass made that clear, along with a horrid first half last year. With his past history of success one might envision Vegas or a trade partner interested in him as an extra piece, but with less pricey, younger options in goal out there it won’t be easy to unload him. Jean-Francois Berube seems much more likely as Greiss’ understudy, but he is an unrestricted free agent that would net at least a modest increase over last year’s $675,000 cap hit.
Currently looking at just a shade over $2M in cap space next year, the Isles could use the $3.3M in relief a Halak buyout would bring. If they target a free-agent defensemen to shore up their lacking blue line, bank on a buyout. If not Halak probably still gets one, but they might consider keeping him around one more year just to get his contract off the books going forward, as a John Tavares re-singing in 2018-19 will not be cheap.
New York Rangers
Dan Girardi – Three years – $5.5M
Buyout cap hit – $2.61M, $3.61M, $3.61M, $1.11M, $1.11M, $1.11M
Marc Staal – Four years – $5.7M
Buyout cap hit – $2.13M, $2.13M, $3.13M, $3.93M, $1.43M, $1.43M, $1.43M, $1.43M
East of the Dallas net, the first two names mentioned in tandem with “buyout” are Ranger defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. Fueled by frustration over the squad’s postseason blue line play and questionable deployment, and with a relatively little $9.2M in cap space, there will be a buyout unless an unlikely trade occurs.
Both are modest scorers. While Girardi (age 33) contributes a bit more in terms of hits and blocks and plays most often on a top pairing, Staal (age 30) is a bit further down the depth chart. Each gives up an inordinate amount of shots on the ice, with Girardi’s numbers a bit worse than Staal’s last year. A telling 65% of shots on goal that landed in the net while Girardi skated were opponent scores.
Staal’s greater contract length and more money saved over the next three years are appealing. After this time period, Girardi’s buyout would be much shorter and less expensive. When evaluating which to let go, the Rangers must decide if short- or long-term savings is most crucial. For the free-spending, results-oriented Rangers I think Staal will be leaving.
Marc-Andre Fleury – Two years – $5.75M
Buyout cap hit – $1.92M, $1.92M, $1.92M, $1.92M
The hot rumor for months, a Fleury buyout is now illogical, especially on the heels of his thus-far fantastic postseason. The real trick is figuring out how they’ll protect Matt Murray, 23 years-old next fall, from the expansion draft. Fleury’s no movement clause exempts him from being left exposed to the draft, and even if the rules permitted it, Pittsburgh wouldn’t unless they made a deal with Vegas to insure he wouldn’t be picked. Perhaps that’s the route they’ll go, as it would allow them to protect Murray. It would be interesting to see what the Golden Knights might ask in return for such an arrangement. Likely enough to help Vegas start play with a firm foundation of ex-Penguin talent.
If they have to choose one and prefer a future with Murray, Fleury’s trade value is currently extremely high. With the goalie supply scarce and shrinking after the Darling and Ben Bishop signings, Even at age 32 Fleury would bring the Pens a mint in assets. So no buyout for the ultra-valuable “flower”.
Brooks Orpik – Two years – $5.5M
Buyout cap hit – $2.5M, $2.5M, $1.5M, $1.5M
Like Columbus, the Caps have some key pieces to either pay or say goodbye to this offseason. They do have a good-looking amount of cap room with more than $22.8M available, but their UFA list is long, including T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner and Daniel Winnik. The RFA roster is also solid with Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky, Dmitry Orlov and Phillip Grubauer (a likely expansion draft selection). So they can use some extra cash.
An Orpik buyout would add $3M in cap room each of the next two years and makes a re-signing of perhaps T.J. Oshie more tenable. That’s a worthwhile exchange for a blueliner who generates hits and blocks, but allows too many dangerous opponent chances and will be 37 years old as next season begins.
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