David Backes

NHL Power Rankings: Off-season buyout candidates

Monday would have marked the latest day that the NHL’s buyout period would open. Per the CBA, the window begins 48 hours after the Stanley Cup is awarded or “the later of June 15.”

Well, since this season is like no other, we won’t be seeing Commissioner Gary Bettman handing out the Cup until the fall — if that even happens at all.

The financial implications of the COVID-19 shutdown will have a major affect on the NHL’s salary cap going forward. Before the pause, it was believed that the 2020-21 cap ceiling would rise to between $84-$88.2 million. Now? It may remain at $81.5 million, squeezing some teams who have money committed and more extensions to give out.

That will cause plenty of teams to get creative in trying to get under the ceiling and be able to ice a competitive roster. Compliance buyouts have been discussed but owners are reportedly against them. While keeping the compliance buyouts costs off your books may not be an option once the NHL’s regular business resumes, traditional buyouts will still remain a tool for teams to ease the pressure on their salary cap picture.

In this week’s Power Rankings we take a look at five players who would make for prime buyout candidates this off-season.

1. Karl Alzner, Canadiens: It has been not a fun ride for Alzner in Montreal since signing a five-year, $23.125M deal in 2017. Since cashing in during free agency, the 31-year-old defenseman has played 95 games over three seasons with the Canadiens. He’s played nearly as many (87) with their AHL affiliate in the last two seasons. Alzner has two years left on a contract that carries a $4.625M cap hit, which includes a $1.5M signing bonus due this off-season.

A buyout would put a heavy hit on the Canadiens’ cap for next season — $3,958,333M — but for 2021-22 that would go down to $1,958,333M and then $833,333 in the final two years. Montreal is already at $63M committed for next season and that doesn’t include extensions for restricted free agents Max Domi and Victor Mete.

2. David Backes, Ducks: The 36-year-old forward was part of that 2016 free agent class of forgettable contracts that featured the likes of Frans Nielsen, Milan Lucic, Andrew Ladd, Loui Eriksson, and Troy Brouwer. Backes’ production and ice time diminished over his four seasons in Boston as he battled through injury and an inability to find a consistent spot in the lineup. He moved on in February in a deal that sent Ondrej Kase to the Bruins.

Anaheim is attempting to trend towards youth, and while a Backes buyout won’t free up a large amount of cap room ($3M in 2020-21, $750K in 2021-22), the move would open up a roster spot and ice time for one of their younger players. It would also help a team that is currently tied to nearly $76M in cap space for next season.

3. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers: The emergence of Igor Shesterkin has put Lundqvist’s future in New York in doubt. The 38-year-old netminder has one year remaining on his deal, which carries a pricey $8.5M cap hit. Considering the Rangers are in a transition phase and looking to get younger, getting out from Hank’s number would assist long-term in easing cap pain and helping continue to build for the future.

The Rangers spent big last summer, bringing in Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panarin. That’s put them with a little over $67M committed for next season. Due for extensions are RFAs Brendan Lemieux, Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome, and pending unrestricted free agent Jesper Fast. One more RFA who’s owed a new deal is goaltender and long-time piece of trade bait Alexandar Georgiev.

Buying out Lundqvist would mean $5.5M on the Rangers’ books next season, plus Shesterkin’s $925K and either a few million for Georgiev to be part of the picture or a cheap, veteran backup. New York’s cap picture in 2021-22 would see Lundqvist’s buyout hit drop to $1.5M.

Before any move happens with Lundqvist he has to agree to waive his no-move clause. GM Jeff Gorton could always seek a trade, but the goalie’s cap hit would make that difficult.

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4. Kyle Turris, Predators: Nashville has $72M committed for 2020-21 and it’s clear Turris’ place in their lineup has diminished. He’s been a healthy scratch at times and still has a $4M cap hit with him for the next four seasons. A buy out would put $2M on the Predators’ cap picture through 2027-28.

In a normal off-season there would always be the possibly of David Poile looking to dump Turris’ contract to a team looking to get above the cap floor. But that will likely not be an option for teams looking to unload money in a tight-cap world.

5. Loui Eriksson, Canucks: Part of that rich 2016 free agent class, Eriksson has not been able to recapture the scoring touch that saw him net over 25 goals four straight seasons in Dallas and hit 30 in his final year with the Bruins. In 245 games with the Canucks he’s scored only 38 times. If compliance buyouts were a thing, he’d be a no-brainer, but a regular buyout? That decision would be a tough one for GM Jim Benning.

Eriksson has two years left with a $6M cap hit per season. The Canucks would be stuck with $5,666,667M and $3,666,667M on their cap the first two seasons post-buyout before a more palatable $666,667 in the final two years. Right now they have almost $64M tied up for next season and have UFAs and RFAs to decide on like Jacob Markstrom, Tyler Toffoli, Jake Virtanen, Adam Gaudette, Chris Tanev, and Troy Stetcher.

As Benning navigates this off-season for his transitioning Canucks, he’ll more certainly be keeping an eye on the summer of 2022. That off-season is when Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes can become RFAs. Cap room will be needed to re-sign those two cornerstone pieces.

All salary cap data via the wonderful CapFriendly

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Looking at the 2019-20 Boston Bruins

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Boston Bruins.

Boston Bruins

Record: 44-14-12 (70 games), first in the Atlantic Division, first in the Eastern Conference
Leading scorer: David Pastrnak — 95 points (48 goals and 47 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves:

• Acquired Ondrej Kase from the Anaheim Ducks for David Backes, Axel Andersson, 2020 first-round pick
• Traded Danton Heinen to the Anaheim Ducks for Nick Ritchie

Season Overview: 

There isn’t much to complain about this season if you’re a fan of the Bruins. Not only did they have the best record in the Atlantic Division, they were also the top team in the Eastern Conference and they were the only squad to hit the 100-point mark at the COVID-19 pause.

After losing in the Stanley Cup Final last year, it appeared as though they’d be back there in 2020. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but this edition of the Bruins was impressive.

It’s easy to see why Boston was so good this year. Sure, most fans feel like they’re still missing a second-line forward to complete their team, but you know you’re in good shape when that’s all you’re really missing on your roster.

In goal, they arguably have the best one-two punch in the league with Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. Is that a luxury they’ll be able to afford next year? Probably not. But they were both rock-solid throughout the season. Rask went into the pause with a 26-8-6 record, a 2.12 goals-against-average and a .929 save percentage. As for Halak, he had an 18-6-6 record, a 2.39 goals-against-average and a .919 save percentage. Impressive.

The defence is balanced. They have Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk. Each one of those five has played at least 61 of the team’s 70 games this season. The group might not be together next year, as Krug is scheduled to become a free agent, but they were impressive heading into the pause.

And, of course, up front they had some of the elite offensive talent in the NHL. Pastrnak finds himself in third in league scoring with 95 points. He’s also tied for first in goals, with 48. He’s emerged as one of the premiere forwards in the NHL and he’s signed to a very reasonable contract of $6.6666 million per year for three more years.

Pastrnak was a big part of the Bruins’ success, but he had help. Brad Marchand has 87 points in 70 games at the pause and Patrice Bergeron is up to 31 goals and 56 points in 61 contests.

How far can the Bruins go? Maybe we’ll find out, maybe we won’t. But there’s no denying this was an elite team in 2019-20.

Highlight of the Season So Far:

There were many highlights for the Bruins this season, but putting up eight goals on your biggest rivals’ rink has to be right up there.

On Nov. 26, Boston beat Montreal, 8-1, at the Bell Center. Pastrnak had a hat trick, Marchand had three points and Bergeron didn’t even play.

MORE:
Bruins’ biggest surprises, disappointments
What is the Bruins’ long-term outlook?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Looking at the 2019-20 Anaheim Ducks

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Anaheim Ducks.

Anaheim Ducks

Record: 29-33-9 (71 games), 6th place in Pacific Division; out of playoff spot
Leading scorer: Adam Henrique — 43 points (26 goals, 17 assists)

In-season roster moves

Season overview

Things looked somewhat promising at the beginning of the year when the Ducks won six out of their first eight games, but it quickly turned into another season of regression and disappointment after that.

At the time of the season suspension the Ducks were in sixth place in the Pacific Division and on track for their worst overall record since the 2003-04 season.

They rank among the bottom-five in goals scored, goals against, power play percentage, penalty kill percentage, and shots on goal per game. It is going to be their second straight season without the postseason and the third consecutive year with a decrease in total points. Ryan Getzlaf, Jakob Silfverberg, and Rickard Rakell proved to still be productive players, but none of them made a significant impact that could help carry the offense. Most concerning is that none of their young forwards took a meaningful step forward offensively.

Along with a lack of offense, they have also been hit hard by injuries, especially on defense. Not one of their defensemen has played in more than 60 games this season, while Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, and Josh Manson (their top-three blue-liners) combined to miss 49 man-games due to injury.

Put those two things together, along with a down year (by his standards) season from starting goalie John Gibson and it is the recipe for a long season.

Highlight of the season so far

This is an easy one. Nicolas Deslauriers recording a natural hat trick against the Ottawa Senators. Before this game he had just four goals in 58 games this season and only 28 goals in 375 career games.

MORE:
Ducks’ biggest surprises, disappointments so far
Ducks’ long-term outlook

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Backes, Bruins come to agreement he will not play in AHL

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David Backes will not be reporting to the AHL, according to the Bruins, two weeks after the veteran forward was placed on waivers.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney announced Thursday that the two parties have agreed for Backes to continue sitting out.

“After speaking with David, we have agreed that it is in the best interest of David and the Bruins for him not to play in Providence at this time. David is fit and able to play, but in order to preserve all potential options for both David and the Bruins moving forward, we have decided this is the best course of action.”

Backes has one goal and three points this season in 16 games, while playing a career low 8:33 per night. He played only 43 AHL games in his career, which came after leaving Minnesota State University in 2005-06.

“We’re going to look at younger guys and just felt at the end of the day, you do what’s best for your team, what makes you the best team,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy after Backes was waived. “Ultimately [Sweeney] put him on waivers, feeling that was the best thing. I know David doesn’t agree with the situation, but that’s the decision we made [was] for the good of the team. I respect David as a person, as a player. We just felt we had better options, and that’s how we’re going to go forward and see how it plays out.”

Now what?

There is no clarity about Backes’ future, however, beyond Sweeney’s statement. We don’t know if he plans to retire — he has one year left on a contract that pays him $4M in salary this season and next — or if a trade could come or if Backes will continue to sit out until the possibility of returning to the Bruins’ lineup appears.

As we looked previously, a summer buyout would put $4M on the Bruins’ salary cap in 2020-21 and $1M on it for 2021-22, per Cap Friendly. With the money still owed to him, it’s hard to believe Backes would retire right now.

Backes carries a $6M NHL cap hit and is currently putting $4.925M on their books with an AHL buried deal. Sweeney has some gymnastics to do in the future to keep the team competitive while navigating a difficult cap picture. Jake DeBrusk is a restricted free agent this summer and Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, and Jaroslav Halak can hit the UFA market. Those dollars will add up.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Bruins place David Backes on waivers

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David Backes has played only 16 games for the Bruins this season and spent many a night as a healthy scratch. On Friday the 35-year-old forward was placed on waivers.

“At the end of the day, you do what’s best for the team,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy on Friday.

Should he clear, which he will, Backes will report to Providence of the American Hockey League.

This season Backes has only one goal and three points while playing a career low 8:33 per night.

“We’re going to look at younger guys and just felt at the end of the day, you do what’s best for your team, what makes you the best team,” Cassidy said. “Ultimately [general manager Don Sweeney] put him on waivers, feeling that was the best thing. I know David doesn’t agree with the situation, but that’s the decision we made [was] for the good of the team. I respect David as a person, as a player. We just felt we had better options, and that’s how we’re going to go forward and see how it plays out.”

It’s been downhill for Backes in Boston since signing a five-year, $30 million deal in 2016. His offensive output has declined and he’s dealt with numerous injuries. Under Cassidy he’s found it difficult to carve out a role in the Bruins’ lineup and be a consistent face among their 12 forwards.

“It’s gymnastics, there’s no question about it,” said Backes last week. “But that’s where we’re at right now, that’s a sign of a good team. If I’m not cracking the lineup, I think we’ve got a pretty good team. That’s kind of my perspective on it and I’m going to be called on at some point, kind of same way I was in the playoffs where didn’t start in there but was able to I feel like make an impact on a few games and help our team win. That’s what we’re about here is team first, and I’m trying to exemplify that when I’m in, when I’m out and be ready whenever I get called.”

Backes has one year left on a contract that carries a $6 million cap hit and $4 million salary through the end of the 2020-21 season. A buyout this summer would put $4 million on the Bruins’ salary cap in 2020-21 and $1 million on it for 2021-22, per Cap Friendly. That could be an option for GM Don Sweeney, but it’s going to be another offseason with a tight salary cap picture. The salary cap ceiling may rise only a few million dollars and extensions will be due this summer for restricted free agent Jake DeBrusk and unrestricted free agents Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, and Jaroslav Halak.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.