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Which teams benefit most from potential buyouts?

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Today is the day that the NHL’s buyout window officially opens. Teams that are looking to rid themselves of certain contracts to open up cap space can do so by buying players out from June 15-30.

With the salary cap projected to increase from $75 million to anywhere between $78-82 million, we may see teams be less willing to bite the bullet because of the additional space. But that doesn’t mean certain organizations won’t go this route to give them a little more breathing room heading into the summer.

PHT’s Adam Gretz took a look at some of the buyout candidates for 2018, so feel free to check out his list by clicking here.

Now, we’ll look at which teams stand to benefit most from buying out a player or two.

• Minnesota Wild

The Wild already have over $67.5 million committed to the salary cap for 2018-19 and they still have to ink restricted free agents Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba to a new contracts. If they hope to make an impact signing or two in free agency, they’ll have to find a way to open up some cap space.

This is where Tyler Ennis comes into focus. Ennis is coming off a season eight goals and 22 points in 73 games. The 28-year-old has a long injury history and he comes with a cap hit of $4.6 million next season. According to Cap Friendly’s buyout calculator, buying out Ennis would cost the $2.167 million on the cap next season and $1.216 million two seasons from now. That works out to a cap savings of $2.433 million in 2018-19. Every penny counts for Minnesota.

• Pittsburgh Penguins

There’s an excellent chance the Penguins will look to tinker with their lineup after being eliminated by the Washington Capitals in the second round of the playoffs. To do that, they might need to find some additional cap space via trade or by buying out a player or two.

The most common player linked to a buyout on the Pens roster is Matt Hunwick. The 33-year-old is set to earn $2.25 million per year over the next two seasons. For a guy that was a healthy scratch for the most part in the second half of the season and in the playoffs, that’s too much money.

If GM Jim Rutherford decides he’s seen enough from Hunwick, he could save almost $1.8 million in salary next season by buying him out. The problem, is that the veteran blueliner would be eating into the Penguins’ salary cap for the next four years. His buyout cap hit would go from $458,3000 to $1.208 million to $708,333 over the final two years.

An outside-the-box buyout candidate might be Carl Hagelin, who comes with a $4 million cap hit in the final year of his contract, but that’s a long shot. The Pens could probably find a taker for him via trade, which would eliminate their need to buy him out. A hypothetical buyout would save them over $1.5 million next season. Again, it’s extremely unlikely, but it’s interesting to look at because he’s in the final year of his contract.

• Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning have already spent almost $67.8 million for next season. That doesn’t include the money they’ll have to pay RFA J.T. Miller.

Bolts GM Steve Yzerman isn’t shy about buying players out, as he already did so with defenseman Matthew Carle back in 2016 (Carle’s contract counts for $1.83 million for two more years).

In order to make room for youngsters like Slater Koekkoek or Jake Dotchin, the Lightning could opt to buy out Braydon Coburn, who has one year remaining on his contract at $3.7 million. The 33-year-old wasn’t terrible last season, but paying $3.7 million for a guy that averaged 16 minutes of ice time per game is a lot. Buying him out would cost Yzerman $1.233 million over the next two years. That’s a cap savings of $2.466 million next season, but it’ll also cost them $1.233 million in 2019-20.

The Lightning may also be tempted to buy out forward Ryan Callahan, who has had his share of significant injuries over the last few years. The 33-year-old has two years left on his current deal that comes with a cap hit of $5.8 million (he’s the second-highest paid forward on the team behind Steven Stamkos).

Buying out Callahan would save Yzerman $3.13 million over the next two seasons. It would also cost him $1.567 million three and four years from now. That’s a steep penalty to pay down the road, but it’s something to look at for a team that’s in win-now mode.

The issue with Tampa is simple. Saving money in 2018-19 is great and all, but paying buyout money in two years from now could become a problem because Nikita Kucherov, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman and Yanni Gourde will all need to be paid again before next summer.

• San Jose Sharks

The Sharks already took care of some major business when they locked up Evander Kane to a seven-year, $49 million contract extension this offseason. Now, they have $67.49 million invested in their current group of players and they still have to re-sign RFA Tomas Hertl and potentially UFA Joe Thornton.

Assuming those are the two moves they’re going to make, the Sharks will have enough cap space to make that work. Here’s the thing, they’ve also been linked as a potential landing spot for John Tavares.

If they want to take a serious run at JT, they’ll need all the flexibility they can get. That means that they could let Thornton walk, but it also means that they can stand to buy out the final year of Paul Martin‘s contract.

Martin, who has one year remaining on his current deal, is set to count for $4.85 million on the cap. Buying him out would save GM Doug Wilson $2.833 million in 2018-19.

The 37-year-old spent time in the minors and he was made a healthy scratch often enough. It would be surprising to see a team take on his salary via trade. This might be the Sharks’ only option if they want to open up money for a big splash in the free-agent market.

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.

Brad Marchand is tired of being labelled a goon

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Brad Marchand wants you to know he’s trying.

He’d like you to know that he’s a changed man (despite his recent five-game suspension for a brutal and needless elbow to the head of New Jersey Devils forward Marcus Johansson).

He’d like you to know he isn’t the same person that’s been suspended five times previously and fined an additional three times during his nine-year career.

It’s a tough life.

Speaking to NBC Boston’s Joe Haggerty on Monday, Marchand said his image as a dirty player is growing tiresome.

“I’ve tried for a while now to try and get away from that role and I just can’t seem to escape it,” Marchand said with one game left to serve of his latest suspension.

Two years ago, Marchand’s game changed. Handed more minutes, Marchand thrived and put up 37 goals and 61 points in 77 games, the highest totals of his career up to that point in both categories.

Last year, Marchand did one better, improving to a point-per-game player with 39 goals and 85 points in 80 games.

This season, Marchand is again on pace to put up big numbers. In 38 games, he’s amassed 21 goals and 50 points.

“I think, obviously, if you look back at the past few years, I’ve turned into a decent player and it’s tough to be branded with that name consistently,” Marchand said. “Obviously, it’s from my own doing but it’s tough to escape it a bit.”

Yet, despite the fact he’s lost close to $900,000 over 19 games missed due to suspension, Marchand seems to refuse to let go of his past, even if he alludes to it being a burden.

“Devil’s advocate there, it’s what I had to do to get into the league,” he said. “I’ll never say that I wouldn’t go back and play the same way again coming into the league. It’s what I had to do to earn a job.”

A look at Marchand’s suspension history:

  •  2010-11: Suspended two games for elbowing R.J. Umberger in the head.
  •  2011-12: Suspended five games for a low-bridge on Sami Salo.
  •  2014-15: Suspended two games for slew-footing Derick Brassard.
  •  2015-16: Suspended three games for clipping Mark Borowiecki.
  •  2016-17: Suspended for two games for spearing Jake Dotchin.

A look at Marchand’s fine history:


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Victor Hedman returned ahead of schedule for Lightning

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If Victor Hedman‘s recovery fell on the long end, he could have missed as many as six weeks. Instead, he only missed five games for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

He actually beat the three weeks that was considered the low end of that three-to-six week window, playing for Tampa Bay in a 3-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. While he didn’t turn the tide for Tampa Bay, he wasn’t a negative presence, either.

Hedman actually logged exactly 25 minutes of ice time in that return. That’s impressive, although head coach Jon Cooper admits that it wasn’t exactly the blueprint, as NHL.com’s Tim Campbell reports.

“[Hedman] is our best defenseman and he probably had to play more minutes than we had planned,” Cooper said. “So we basically had to play the whole first period with five defensemen. But he’s missed three weeks, so it takes a little time to get back in the game. For missing that long, he’s a big part of our team, but he was fine tonight.”

(Dan Girardi was a little banged up in this game, hence the Lightning being limited to “five defensmen.”)

After losing their first two games without Hedman, the Lightning managed a three-game winning streak to cap off his absence heading into the All-Star break. Anton Stralman and Jake Dotchin served as the Lightning’s top pairing with Hedman out, while the big Swede replaced Stralman upon his return. Beyond Hedman’s superlative talent, the Lightning simply piece things together more reasonably with him in the lineup, as Hedman can prop up a player still learning to make it in the NHL in Dotchin while Stralman can provide similar guidance to Mikhail Sergachev (who, for all of his offensive accomplishments, had been a recent healthy scratch).

Generally speaking, the Lightning have been handling the challenges of a lot of road games and Hedman’s injury quite well. They still must weather some storms, though.

They played their last five games on the road, with the All-Star break providing a handy palate cleanser. Even so, they play three more games on this current trip, along with five of their next seven, and eight of their next 12 contests on the road.

Such a stretch might make it tough to totally hold off the red-hot Boston Bruins, who are making a somewhat surprising push for the Atlantic title.

On the other hand, this could be a helpful test for the Lightning. It gives Hedman some time to work his way back to full strength with the playoffs not that far away, and gives a dominant team some experience dealing with adversity during a season where they’ve largely rolled over competition.

Considering that a typical playoff series lasts no longer than two weeks, it’s likely helpful for a team to deal with injuries and other forms of bad luck now rather than trying to shake off those haymakers for the first time during the most important games of the year.

The Lightning now know that they can at least keep their heads above water without Hedman, even if they also realize just how crucial he is.

That said, maybe this is another push for management to add some useful depth to this defense at the trade deadline? Even a team as loaded as the Lightning could use a little help, at least with a Stanley Cup as the ultimate barometer for success in their case.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Lightning end three-game skid with 2-0 win over Blackhawks

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Jon Cooper called declared that his team was “out of sync” prior to Monday night’s game in Chicago.

It’s three words that haven’t been used at all this season to describe the Tampa Bay Lightning who, up until Sunday, was known as the best team in the NHL.

The Lightning came into Monday night nursing a three-game losing streak, another foreign concept for a team saw four of its players elected to the NHL’s All-Star Game this coming weekend.

But just as quickly as they dropped out of the top spot in the NHL — the Vegas Golden Knights assumed that throne for 24 hours after a win on Sunday night — the Lightning snatched it back in a 2-0 triumph over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City on Monday.

For a team that perhaps forgot how to play with one another, they looked comfortable in each other’s company against the Blackhawks.

The game was tight for the most part, and it took the Blackhawks being caught napping shorthanded to break a 0-0 deadlock late in the second period as Chris Kunitz took advantage of a defensive mishap. 

Jake Dotchin’s wrister sailed wide, but Kunitz was allowed to waltz behind the net, pick up the loose puck and put it behind Jeff Glass, nearly untouched through the whole process.

The NHL’s top goalie once again lived up to the distinction as Andrei Vasilevskiy turned aside all 40 shots that came his way.

The Blackhawks put up 10 or more shots in each of the game’s three periods, including 17 in the second frame. But the All-Star netminder played and exceptional game, including stopping 10 out of 10 on the power play to keep Chicago 0-for-6 on the power play.

Yanni Gourde sealed the game late in the third with a blast to make it 2-0.

It’s a win Tampa needed, especially after finding out they’ll miss forward Ondrej Palat indefinitely.

The struggles continued for the Blackhawks, meanwhile.

Chicago has now been shutout twice in their past three games and is on a three-game skid with a 4-5-1 record in their past 10.

The Lightning could afford their losing streak. They’ve earned an opportunity to slide a little bit.

For the Blackhawks, another loss means another chance missed trying to survive in a deeply competitive Central Division.

The Blackhawks are hanging by a thread and time is running out quickly.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Louis Blues

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CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

 

PROJECTED LINES

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards

Vladislav NamestnikovSteven StamkosNikita Kucherov

Ondrej PalatBrayden PointTyler Johnson

Alex KillornYanni GourdeCory Conacher

Chris KunitzCedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Defensemen

Victor HedmanJake Dotchin

Mikhail SergachevAnton Stralman

Slater KoekkoekDan Girardi

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

NHL On NBCSN: Lightning, Blues Square Off In Battle Of NHL’s Best

St. Louis Blues

Forwards

Vladimir SobotkaPaul StastnyVladimir Tarasenko

Alexander SteenBrayden SchennDmitrij Jaskin

Ivan Barbashev – Patrik BerglundMagnus Paajarvi

Scottie UpshallOskar SundqvistKyle Brodziak

Defense

Joel EdmundsonColton Parayko

Carl GunnarssonRobert Bortuzzo

Jordan Schmaltz – Vince Dunn

Starting Goalie: Jake Allen