The clock is ticking. The calculator buttons are being smashed in front offices. With the Stanley Cup Final set to begin on Saturday, the NHL’s first buyout window of the offseason will begin the latter of June 15 or 48 hours after Lord Stanley is hoisted. Teams will have approximately two weeks to deliberate, as the buyout window closes at 5 o’clock on June 30.
Teams likely won’t know next season’s salary cap figures until the week of the Draft in Nashville, adding a wrinkle of chaos to the calculus.
Will it go up by the prescribed $1 million? Or will the NHL and NHL Players’ Association negotiate on a larger increase that will smooth out a large jump in one year’s time once the pandemic debt from players to owners is paid off early next season?
Last summer, seven players were bought out of their deals. This year, the pool doesn’t seem as deep. Yes, plenty of teams want to move off problematic contracts, but in some cases the buyout is either too long or too punitive, or both. In that case, it might be easier to cut their losses and spend an asset or two to trade away the player. Or try to make it through one more season before ripping off the band aid.
Here are five players who may be staring down early exits from their contracts:
2023 Buyout Candidates
(All contract and buyout data courtesy of CapFriendly.com)
1. Kailer Yamamoto
Right Wing, Edmonton Oilers
Contract: 1 more season, $3.1 million AAV
Buyout Structure: 2 seasons at $433,334 and $533,334
Scoop: Yamamoto struggled through this season with a lingering neck issue that impacted his production and consistency, suffering from a whiplash-type of hit. At just 10 goals and 25 points, the Oilers can ill afford that little impact next year – particularly on the right side – at a $3.1 million cap hit. They can use the space better this summer. The preference, of course, would be to get a team to take a flier on rehabbing Yamamoto for no cost – as they did with Jesse Puljujarvi at the trade deadline. Short of that, it makes little sense to attach an asset to move him, not when the resulting cap hit from a buyout is approximately half of league minimum pay given that Yamamoto is just a one-third buyout because he is under age 26.
2. Mike Reilly
Left Defense, Boston Bruins
Contract: 1 more season, $3 million AAV
Buyout Structure: 2 seasons at $333,334 and $1,333,334
Scoop: Reilly spent the bulk of last season in AHL Providence, playing just 10 games for the Bruins. There seemed to be some question about Reilly’s health, which could prevent a buyout, but the bottom line is the Bruins can’t go through next season the way they did last. They’re carrying $4.5 million in bonus overages as a result of the Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci contracts. They can’t spend $3 million on a third pair defenseman, or have a $1.9 million buried charge if he’s in the minors. Derek Forbort is in a similar situation with the same cap hit. The Bruins have tough decisions to make up and down their lineup but don’t seem eager to pay teams to take problematic contracts off their hands.
3. Mikael Granlund
Forward, Pittsburgh Penguins
Contract: 2 more seasons, $5 million AAV
Buyout Structure: Next season at $833,333 and then 3 seasons at $1,833,333
Scoop: This is a difficult one to project, as we don’t even yet know who will be the Penguins’ next GM. But Ron Hextall left whomever that is a mess on the salary cap table, including Granlund, Hextall’s big trade deadline addition gone wrong. Granlund was awful in his 21-game stint as a Penguin, scoring one goal. Granlund is a grinder and the thought is his game will bounce back, but $5 million each of the next two seasons is a bet that the new manager might not be comfortable making. A buyout would represent almost $4.2 million in immediate cap savings in an all-important year, one of the last chances for the Pens’ core to compete. Of course, it might be easier to retain a bit of salary and limit the pain to two years instead of four, which is why a trade might make more sense.
4. Anthony Mantha
Left Wing, Washington Capitals
Contract: 1 more season, $5.7 million AAV
Buyout Structure: 2 seasons at $1,366,667 and $2,166,667
Scoop: Has there ever been a trade with both teams more dissatisfied in the result than Mantha for Jakub Vrana, a 1st, 2nd and Richard Panik? Probably not. The Capitals have let teams know that they’re ready to move on from Mantha, who was a healthy scratch at times last season. They’re likely going to have to attach a sweetener to that deal, so the buyout factor will probably have to be weighed. The thought might be that the only thing worse than Mantha for one more year at $5.7 million is two more seasons on your cap with Mantha. It all depends how aggressive GM Brian MacLellan wants to be reshaping the team. The argument could be made that the Caps are better off taking the buyout, finding a third line player at $3 million that they like better, and they’d still be $1.5 million south of Mantha’s current $5.7 million.
5. Ryan Suter
Left Defense, Dallas Stars
Contract: 2 more seasons, $3.65 million AAV
Buyout Structure: 2 seasons at $733,333 followed by 2 seasons at $1,433,333
Scoop: There is a heavy dose of recency bias here, but if it happens, Suter would become the first player in the NHL’s salary cap era to be bought out twice. The Wild are paying him $833,333 until 2029. Suter’s four-year term in Dallas never really made sense given that he was 36 at the time. His game noticeably dropped in the playoffs, making him a liability for the Stars. A buyout would represent nearly a $3 million saving each of the next two seasons, plus two more seasons when the cap should theoretically increase in a significant way. Nonetheless, Suter still played north of 20 minutes a night this season, the Stars don’t have anyone in the organization ready to take his job, and Pete DeBoer clearly trusts veterans. Don’t hold your breath on this one, but the possibility can’t be dismissed out of hand.
Under Consideration: Matt Murray, Toronto (LTIR candidate); Mitchell Miller, Boston (why create a cap charge?); Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Vancouver (too costly, too long, too punitive); Marco Scandella, St. Louis (gut out the season?); Barclay Goodrow, New York Rangers (intriguing credit, but too long); Joel Armia, Montreal (hope for rebound); Josh Bailey, New York Islanders (make it through last season).
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