National Hockey League clubs will have a challenging offseason with the 2020 Draft and free agency coming mere days after the completion of the Stanley Cup Final, but the task for many NHL general managers will be navigating a difficult financial path with the salary cap remaining at $81.5 Million next season and operating within a budget that may be well below that figure.
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Teams not involved in the playoffs have already started to make moves to shed salary, such as Pittsburgh’s trade of Nick Bjugstad to Minnesota for a conditional seventh-round pick to clear half of his $4.1 million cap hit or Carolina dealing the rights to defenseman Joel Edmondson for a fifth-rounder. Clubs may use the tactic of not issuing qualifying offers to certain restricted free agents in hopes of getting players to agree to deals less than the normal 10% minimum requirement, and also could choose to buyout existing contracts because they can save as much as one-third of the deal’s value and open up space by spreading out the cap hit over a number of years.
Here is a look at teams in the Metropolitan Division and which player is the most likely candidate to be bought out:
New York Rangers
Henrik Lundqvist – $8.5 million for one season
If Jeff Gorton had the luxury of unlimited buyouts, the Rangers GM might explore that avenue with multiple players on his roster with one year left on their contracts. The NHL limits each team to a maximum of three buyouts and New York has used two of them on Dan Girardi and Kevin Shattenkirk. Lundqvist’s status as a lifelong Ranger and future Hall of Famer might give the Rangers pause from a PR standpoint, but they have two quality goalies in Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin and would clear $3 million in cap space that could be used to re-sign RFA’s Ryan Strome or Anthony Deangelo
New York Islanders
Leo Komarov – $3 million for two seasons
GM Lou Lamoriello has a series of roadblocks when it comes to buyouts and opening up cap space needed to get RFA’s Ryan Pulock, Devon Toews and Mathew Barzal signed. Veteran Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ladd’s contracts are heavily laden with signing bonuses, making the money saved with a buyout negligible. Thomas Hickey missed most of last year with concussion issues and would have to be cleared medically to be bought out. Komarov scored just four goals in 48 games and a buyout would open up about $1 million in 2020-21 and $1.5 million in 2021-22.
New Jersey Devils
Corey Schneider – $6 million for two seasons
Cap implications do not factor into the Devils situation, since the club is rebuilding and will have to add players to get to the salary cap floor. Schneider is no longer a viable NHL starter and split time between AHL Binghamton and the NHL the past three seasons. With a buyout, New Jersey would save one-third of the $12 million owed to the 34-year-old goalie and spread out a cap hit of $2 million over the next four years.
James van Riemsdyk – $7 million for three seasons
The big winger was a free agent prize two summers ago, but scored 19 goals last season and saw his role diminish under Alain Vigneault during the playoffs because of defensive issues. Still capable of contributing offensively, Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher may resort to retaining salary and trading the 31-year-old to clear most of his $7 million cap hit instead of a buyout that would open up over $4 million in cap space the next two seasons but would be on Philadelphia’s cap for six seasons.
Petr Mrazek – $3.125 million for one season
Canes GM Don Waddell has to recognize that the club’s goaltending tandem of James Reimer and Petr Mrazek cost them in their first-round loss to Boston. Reimer’s over $2 million signing bonus may make the 32-year-old attractive as a cheap backup (owed only $850,000 in real salary next season) but a bad buyout candidate since it would clear only $567,666 in cap room. Mrazek’s $3.125 million cap hit is all base salary and a buyout would open up over $2 million in cap space.
Jack Johnson – $3.25 Million for three seasons
Penguins GM Jim Rutherford seems intent on making significant changes to the Pittsburgh roster to give the core group of Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang the best chance of winning another Stanley Cup the next couple seasons. Pittsburgh cleared over $2 million in cap space by moving Bjugstad to Minnesota and acquired a top-nine forward in Kapanen from Toronto. A buyout of Johnson would open up more than $2 million in cap space the next two seasons.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Alexander Wennberg – $4.9 million for three seasons
After scoring 59 points in 2017, the Blue Jackets signed Wennberg to a six-year, $29.4 million contract, but his production has averaged 27 points over the last three seasons. Columbus would save two-thirds of the $16.05 million salary owed and clear $4.4 million in cap room for the remaining three years since Wennberg is under the age of 26.
Nick Jensen – $2.5 million for three seasons
Acquired from Detroit at the 2019 trade deadline, the 29-year-old defenseman was signed to a four-year, $10 million extension, but has disappointed in a depth role, with 13 assists in 88 regular-season games. With Brenden Dillon and Radkos Gudas heading for free agency, GM Brian MacLellan may need more cap space to replenish his blueline and a buyout of the remainder of Jensen’s deal would clear over $4 million in cap space over the next three seasons.