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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.

With window approaching, here are some NHL buyout candidates

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Now that the Stanley Cup Final has wrapped up we are less than two days away from the start of the NHL’s buyout window where teams can attempt to get away from some of their less desirable and otherwise unmovable contracts. For a price.

Which teams might be willing to exercise that option?

Let’s take a look at some candidates.

The Buyout Proof contract

Milan Lucic, Edmonton Oilers: Okay, this is one that probably will not happen but it is still worth looking at because it is the exact type of situation that usually ends in a buyout — a big-time free agent signing that just does not work out because the team made a poor evaluation and signed an aging player to a contract that was destined to fail. So why won’t this situation end with a buyout? Because along with making a costly investment, the Oilers also gave Lucic what is, for all intents and purposes, a buyout proof contract in how much of the money is tied up in signing bonuses.

According to CapFriendly, if the Oilers were to buyout the remainder of Lucic’s deal they would have to pay out the remainder of his salary over the next 10 years with minimal salary cap savings over the next five years. I suppose they could do that if they really wanted to, but it doesn’t seem likely. Instead, they might sweeten the pot in a trade and give up a potentially useful asset to rid themselves of the contract an option that … does not really seem much better, now does it? Let’s just chalk this move up to another swing and a miss by the Oilers as they continue to waste Connor McDavid.

Costly, but might be worth it

Matt Hunwick, Pittsburgh Penguins. This is another contract that just did not work out. Hunwick signed a three-year, $6.75 million contract before last season and it became pretty obvious in the very beginning that it was going to come with some regret. The Penguins could save more than $1 million against the cap over the next two years if they buyout Hunwick this summer, and for a team that is consistently pressed against the salary cap and is in a clear win-now mode that could be significant.

Troy Brouwer, Calgary Flames. Brouwer is two years into a four-year, $18 million contract with the Calgary Flames and to this point has produced 19 goals in 150 games and still has a modified no-trade clause over the next two years. The odds of him improving at this point are slim. The odds of finding a trade partner willing to take on that contract seem slimmer. A buyout saves the Flames $3 million against the cap over the next two seasons and then they would have to carry $1.5 million in dead cap money in the two years after that. Not cheap, but certainly an option that should be explored because this is a team that should have the talent on its roster to compete right now. An extra $3 million in cap space this upcoming season and the one after that would be a huge asset.

Matt Moulson, Buffalo Sabres. Moulson is entering the final year of a five-year, $25 million contract and it is clear that his days as a top-six scorer in the NHL are finished. He played only 14 games for the Sabres this past season and recorded zero points while averaging less than one shot on goal per game. The rest of the year he was in the American Hockey League. Buying out the final year of his contract would save the Sabres just a little more than $1.5 million this season and cost them around $667,000 in empty cap space next season. Considering how low his trade value has to be at this point it might be worth it.

Definitely worth it

Jori Lehtera, Philadelphia Flyers. The key to the Brayden Schenn-for-Lehtera swap was always going to be the draft picks involved. Good thing, too, because Lehtera did not really offer the Flyers much this past season. He is entering his age 31 season and has scored only 10 goals in his past 126 games. A buyout would save the Flyers more than $3.3 million against the salary cap this season. They would be stuck with a $1.6 million hit the following year, and that might be tough to swallow, but this is a playoff team that could make a significant addition with some extra cap space.

Tyler Ennis, Minnesota Wild. After back-to-back 20-goal campaigns in Buffalo a few years back Ennis’ career has pretty much cratered. He is coming off of a miserable year with the Wild that saw him manage just eight goals and 14 assists in 73 games while once again being a blackhole in terms of possession metrics. The Wild would save $2.4 million against the salary cap this upcoming season by buying out the final year of his contract. The Wild are once again pressed against the salary cap and have to re-sign restricted free agents Jason Zucker and Matt Dumba this summer.

Maybe give him one more year?

Jason Spezza, Dallas Stars. Spezza is an interesting one because he is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career offensively and a buyout would save the Stars $5 million(!) against the salary cap this upcoming season. You can do a lot with an extra $5 million.

The problem is they would get hit with $2.5 million in empty space the year after.

What makes it a tough call is that even though Spezza had a terrible year and is going to be 35 years old when the season starts he is just one year removed from being a 50-point player (in only 68 games) and had really strong underlying possession numbers, indicating that he might still have something to offer, especially under a new coach and in a different system.

(Salary and buyout information via CapFriendly)

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.

Don’t blame expansion draft rules for Vegas’ success, blame your GM

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After completing their four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night, the Vegas Golden Knights began Wednesday as the new favorites to win the Stanley Cup, at least according to the folks at Bovada.

Whether they actually do it doesn’t really matter at this point because this season is already one of the most stunning stories in North American sports history. A first-year expansion team finishing the regular season as one of the best teams in the league, winning its division, and then blowing through an organization in the first round that just a couple of years ago was one of the elite powers in the league is the stuff that gets turned into movies.

The popular consensus on how this all happened always seems to go back to the expansion draft and the rules that opened Vegas up to more talent than any first-year team in league history.

In all fairness to the teams that preceded them, Vegas certainly had an advantage in that area.

It still should not have resulted in a team this good, this fast.

The fact it happened is not an indictment on the rules the league put in place to aid Vegas in becoming an immediate success.

It is an indictment on the NHL’s 30 other general managers, the way they build their teams, the way analyze and value their own talent, and what they value.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The NHL begins to make a lot more sense if you just go into every season with the mindset that nobody really understands what they’re doing, what will happen, or why it will happen, and that everything is just random.

Maybe that’s overstating things. Maybe it’s unfair. Maybe there a lot of variables that go into moves that get made (or do not get made), but every year otherwise smart people that have been around the game forever make inexplicably dumb transactions that just look like a mistake the second they get completed. The 2017-18 season was a treasure trove for this sort of thing. Look no further than the Artemi Panarin trade, or the fact that Taylor Hall is probably winning the MVP one year after being run out of Edmonton.

The expansion draft also exposed a lot of the sometimes backwards thinking that goes on around the NHL.

To be fair, there were some teams that were stuck between a rock and a hard place when it came to protecting assets in the expansion draft. A lot of teams were going to lose a good player through no fault of their own, other than the fact they had too many good players to protect.

Nashville comes to mind as one. The Predators needed to protect four defensemen (P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis) which meant a really good forward was going to be left exposed. Maybe you can quibble with the fact they chose to protect Calle Jarnkrok over James Neal, but their decision makes sense. Jarnkrok is $3 million cheaper under the cap this season (that extra cap space would come in handy for moves that followed — signing Nick Bonino, trading for Kyle Turris) and signed long-term, while Neal was probably going to leave after this season anyway as an unrestricted free agent.

Pittsburgh was definitely going to lose a good goalie (it turned out to be Marc-Andre Fleury).

Washington was definitely going to have to lose a good defenseman or a good goalie (it turned out to be Nate Schmidt).

Anaheim was kind of stuck because it had to protect Kevin Bieksa (no-move clause) which meant it had to leave Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen exposed. So the Ducks gave Vegas Shea Theodore to entice them to take Clayton Stoner, leaving Manson and Vatanen in Anaheim. That was a lot to give up, but Manson is a really good player and Vatanen was used as the trade chip to acquire Adam Henrique from the New Jersey Devils when the Ducks quite literally ran out of centers.

Vegas was able to get a solid foundation out of that. Fleury has been everything they could have hoped for him to be and probably more. Had he not missed so much time due to a concussion, he might have been a Vezina Trophy finalist (he probably could have been anyway), and he just dominated the Kings in the first-round. Neal scored 25 goals in 71 games, while Theodore and Schmidt look like solid young pieces to build their blue line around.

Those players alone weren’t enough to turn Vegas into an overnight Stanley Cup contender. Other than Fleury, none of them were really the most important pieces on this year’s team.

So who is most responsible for what happened in Vegas?

[Related: Golden Knights sweep Kings, becomes first team to advance to second round]

Let’s start with the St. Louis Blues, a team that has seemingly escaped criticism for the way they handled the expansion draft which resulted in them losing David Perron.

In his first year with the Golden Knights, Perron went on to finish with 16 goals and 50 assists in 70 games and was one of their top offensive players. While his production increased from what it was in recent years, Perron has still been a 20-goal, 50-point player in the NHL with a really high skill level. He’s a good player. Sometimes a really good player.

The Blues decided that it was more important to protect Ryan Reaves and Vladimir Sobotka over him. Why? Who knows. Maybe the Blues soured on Perron because he had a bad playoff run a year ago (which would be dumb). Maybe they figured they weren’t going to re-sign him after this season and he was going to leave as a free agent (more sensible). But even if it was the latter, protecting Sobotka, and especially Reaves, over him just seems like misplaced priorities.

“But Adam,” you might be saying. “The Blues had to protect Reaves so they could trade him a week later at the draft to the Penguins to move up 20 spots in the draft where they selected Klim Kostin, and he’s a really good prospect! It worked!”

Fair. Fair point.

But do you really think Vegas was going to select Reaves over the other players the Blues had exposed? I know Reaves later ended up in Vegas, but that was mostly due to the Penguins having to send a warm body their way in an effort to re-work that convoluted Derick Brassard trade. Reaves barely played once he arrived in Vegas and may never see the ice in the playoffs. And beyond that, St. Louis traded Jori Lehtera to Philadelphia three days after the expansion draft for Brayden Schenn and didn’t feel the need to protect him in order to preserve that trade.

It was just bizarre asset management to protect two bottom-six players over a top-six winger.

Then there’s Minnesota, who ended up trading Alex Tuch — who was a 2014 first-round pick — to Vegas in exchange for the Golden Knights selecting Erik Haula.

Where teams like Minnesota come away looking bad is that, 1) They may have given up more than they had to in an effort to protect other players, and 2) Not really realizing what they had in previous years.

Tuch, playing in his first full NHL season at age 21, scored 15 goals for Vegas while Haula went on to score 29 goals in 76 games, nearly doubling his previous career high.

Minnesota was another team in kind of a tough spot. It had to protect Jason Pominville (no-trade clause) and one of the players left unprotected as a result was Eric Staal, who went on to score 40 goals this season in Minnesota. They also left a couple of solid defensemen exposed.

Back in November, The Athletic’s Michael Russo wrote about the anatomy of the deal that sent Tuch and Haula to Vegas and the thought process for both teams. According to Russo, general manager Chuck Fletcher’s approach was to clear salary cap space (which was necessary) while also protecting his defenseman so he could trade one for forward help.

All of that ended up happening. Vegas didn’t take a defenseman, and the Wild eventually traded Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville to the Buffalo Sabres for Marcus Foligno and Tyler Ennis. When combined with losing Haula (who ended up signing for $2.75 million per season) the Wild definitely cleared a lot of salary cap space. They also ended up getting the short-end of the trade-off talent wise when you consider what Haula and Tuch did. Together Foligno and Ennis scored 16 goals this season.

Tuch scored 15 on an entry-level contract and Haula scored 29.

Here’s where Minnesota is deserving of some criticism: Why wasn’t Haula scoring 29 goals for them? Why didn’t they realize what they had in him, and maybe given themselves a reason to keep him instead of giving him away to protect someone else? Or, perhaps having a trade asset that could have actually brought them something meaningful in return if they had to lose him. Over the past two years Haula was getting third-or and at times fourth-line minutes for the Wild and still scoring 15 goals.

On a per-minute basis he was consistently one of their most productive players. Before you write off his 29-goal season this year as a fluke, just look at what he was doing individually during 5-on-5 play.

Kind of the same. The big difference this season is that in Vegas he had the opportunity to play 18 minutes per night instead of 12 minutes per night. Keep in mind that last year Minnesota had Haula on their roster and decided it had to trade for Martin Hanzal (giving up first-and second-round draft picks) and then gave him more minutes than Haula over the final 20 regular season games and playoffs.

It’s your job as a GM to know what you have. The Wild had Haula and wasted him, then willingly gave him away plus another pretty good young forward.

Then there is Columbus, who traded William Karlsson and a first-round draft pick in an effort to rid itself of David Clarkson‘s contract and to protect Josh Anderson and their backup goalie. Karlsson, of course, went on to score 40 goals. I’m skeptical that Karlsson will ever come close to duplicating this season, and I’m a little hesitant to really fault them too much here because nobody should have expected this sort of a breakout from Karlsson at this point in his career. But the optics are certainly bad when you look at who Columbus was trying to protect.

That, finally, brings us to Florida’s contribution to the Golden Knights roster, and with every passing day and every goal that Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith produce it becomes more and more indefensible.

And it was never really defensible.

The Panthers were looking to shed Smith’s $5 million per year contract and were able to trade him to Vegas for a fourth-round pick. In return, Florida would also leave Marchessault, quite literally their leading goal-scorer from a year ago, unprotected as payment for taking Smith’s contract. Wanting to get out of Smith’s contract on its own wasn’t a terrible thought. It was pricey and he was coming off of a down year. But there had to be a better way to do it than by trading a player as good as Marchessault (no contract is untradeable).

Especially when Florida only protected four forwards and instead opted to protect Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk on the blue line.

Vegas was always going to get some solid players out of the expansion draft, but where would it be this season without Perron, Marchessault, Smith, Haula, Tuch, and Karlsson, players that their former teams all willingly gave away when they did not need to? They would not be playing in the second round of the playoffs, that is for certain.

But that’s not the only thing that Vegas exposed this season.

They went into the big, bad Pacific Division where all of the big, bad big boy hockey teams play and basically skated circles around them.

How many times have you heard somebody say that you need to be big and tough to compete with those teams in the Pacific and their brand of heavy hockey?

Edmonton, for example, has spent three years trying to build a team in that image, wasting Connor McDavid‘s entry-level contract in the process.

Now, look at the roster Vegas assembled.

They entered the year in the bottom-10 of the league in both height and weight and were the smallest team in the Pacific Division.

Of the top-200 tallest players in the NHL, only four of them played in Vegas this season.

Of the top-200 heaviest players in the NHL, only six of them played in Vegas this season.

Even those numbers are a little misleading because a lot of the Vegas players on that list barely played. Reaves was in both the top-200 in height and weight and played 20 games for them. Jason Garrison was in there, and he played eight games, as did Stefan Matteau.

It’s a speed game today and with a clean slate, able to build their team in any way they saw fit, Vegas smartly embraced where the league is and where it is going.

The Golden Knights were definitely given a pretty good hand in the beginning, and they deserve credit for taking advantage of that.

They also exposed one of the biggest market inefficiencies in the NHL. That inefficiency being that nobody really knows what they’re doing.

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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.

Just as things were looking up for Wild, they lose Parise

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Injuries have already been an issue for the Minnesota Wild early in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and health has been a regular concern for Zach Parise. The latest bit of news only makes things worse.

The Wild announced that Parise is “week-to-week” with a fractured sternum. Week-to-week sounds a little optimistic, so the Athletic’s Michael Russo provides a more specific timeline of six-to-eight weeks.

So, the Wild essentially lost Parise for most – if not all – of a possible playoff run.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Minnesota states that Parise suffered his injury during Game 3, but didn’t specify when, exactly, that happened. Russo believes that Parise was hurt during some of the late-game nastiness that’s typified much of the series, which the Winnipeg Jets leads 2-1 after the Wild showed fire in a Game 3 win.

TSN’s Michael Remis tracked down the collision(s) Russo referenced. Ouch:

The Wild were already dealing with a significant injury as Ryan Suter is sidelined with a fractured ankle suffered late in the regular season, an ailment that required surgery.

Parise already underwent back surgery in October, pushing his 2017-18 regular-season debut to early January. If that wasn’t enough of a shame for Parise, he has been playing well lately. The 33-year-old scored three goals in as many playoff games and generated nine points in his last nine games of the regular season.

It looks like Tyler Ennis will take Parise’s spot in Minnesota’s lineup alongside Mikko Koivu and Nino Niederreiter. In the likely event that sticks, it will be the first playoff appearance for Ennis since 2010-11 with the Buffalo Sabres. Ennis recently acknowledged his frustration with being a healthy scratch, so he’ll get a chance to prove himself starting tonight.

The Parise-less Wild host the Jets in Game 4 tonight on CNBC. Puck drops begins at 8 p.m. ET. Here’s the livestream link.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Monday night when the Los Angeles Kings visit the Minnesota Wild. Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET. You can catch all of the action on NBCSN or on our Live Stream.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

KINGS
Tobias RiederAnze KopitarDustin Brown
Tanner PearsonJeff CarterTrevor Lewis
Kyle CliffordAdrian KempeTyler Toffoli
Andy AndreoffNate ThompsonTorrey Mitchell

Derek ForbortDrew Doughty
Alec MartinezDion Phaneuf
Jake MuzzinChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Jonathan Quick

[NHL on NBCSN: Kings, Wild continue pursuit of important points]

WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET

WILD
Jason ZuckerEric StaalNino Niederreiter
Zach PariseMikko KoivuMikael Granlund
Tyler EnnisMatt CullenCharlie Coyle
Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkDaniel Winnik

Ryan SuterMatt Dumba
Jonas Brodin – Ryan Murphy
Nick SeelerNate Prosser

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk