How NHL’s salary cap squeeze is impacting rosters

Elliotte Friedman goes through the latest news in the NHL, including Canadiens forward Zack Kassian being sent to the NHL's substance abuse program, suspended without pay.

At the end of a summer that saw a number of veterans squeezed out of NHL jobs, the salary cap crunch claimed yet more victims: Those who thought they had security.

An unprecedented number of players on sizeable contracts were placed on waivers in recent days for the purpose of being sent to the American Hockey League.

None was more surprising than Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Andrew MacDonald, who is under contract through 2019-20, but found himself among the names on Monday’s waiver wire. He is due to make another $23.75-million in actual dollars on that deal and will almost certainly be earning his next paycheques while playing for AHL Lehigh Valley.

“It was a tough decision,” Flyers GM Ron Hextall told reporters. “He’s a NHL player but we were in a jam here with a roster spot and the cap issue, and we’ve also got to put our best team on the ice on Thursday night.”

When teams bury a player in the minors they only realize $950,000 in cap savings, so MacDonald will still account for $4.05-million of the $71.4-million the Flyers are allowed to spend this season.
Every team has to be down to a 23-man, cap-compliant roster by 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday — hence the flurry of waiver activity.

Among the other notables who were placed on the wire Monday: Flames forwards Mason Raymond and Paul Byron, Canucks defenceman Frank Corrado and forward Linden Vey, Jets defenceman Jay Harrison, Canadiens goalie Dustin Tokarski, Kings goalie J-F Berube, Bruins forward Max Talbot and Penguins defenceman Tim Erixon.

The squeeze is being felt around the league.

Edmonton, for example, sent defenceman Nikita Nikitin and goalie Ben Scrivens to AHL Bakersfield over the weekend and will carry $4.9-million in cap charges for doing so. Second-year pro Leon Draisaitl will start with the Condors as well.

Several teams have had to be tight with their money, which is why more than 60 veteran players attended NHL camps on a tryout. So far nine parlayed them into deals, including Blues winger Scottie Upshall ($700,000 NHL/$200,000 AHL) who signed on Monday.

As one team executive put it: “(Mid-level veterans) have to be cost competitive with entry-level contract players.”

There simply isn’t room to have under-performing players on bad contracts, especially for teams dancing with the upper reaches of the cap. That is a spot where we find Philadelphia every season.

The Flyers acquired MacDonald from Long Island at the 2014 trade deadline for a second- and third-round pick. About a month later, Hextall’s predecessor — and current team president — Paul Holmgren signed him to a $30-million, six-year extension.

It was a decision widely questioned at the time and MacDonald wound up as a healthy scratch on a couple occasions in the first year of the new deal. He didn’t even crack new coach Dave Hakstol’s roster out of training camp in Year 2.

“Mac’s a good player, we can’t forget that,” said Hextall. “I’m convinced he’s going to be back in the NHL being a productive player at some point. The dollars that everybody has, you’ve got to balance your cap and everything else, and sometimes it leads you to make decisions like this one.”

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