Six contracts with cap concerns that could be traded this summer

Los Angeles Kings left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, of Russia, waits during a television timeout during the first period of the team's NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, in Newark, N.J. (Julio Cortez/AP)

As a rule, even rich people hate spending money on nothing. It’s just one of those things that irks the human soul on a fundamental level.

Given that, there’s understandable hesitation when it comes to the potential of buying out players on cumbersome contracts. Sometimes it can’t be avoided and we’ll no doubt see some cheques cut this summer. In other cases, though, a little creativity could lead to someone on an unpalatable deal getting moved to a place that has more of an appetite for what he brings.

An assortment of factors can lead to teams trying to shed bloated deals, from cap-crunches to rebuilds to a younger, cheaper option squeezing out a vet. Usually, that includes the “seller” in any potential transaction eating some salary, sweetening the pot with a pick or prospect, and certainly asking for nothing more than pennies on the dollar in terms of a return.

With that in mind, we present a six-pack of players of who, despite being a cap concern to their present club, could be welcomed in a new burgh.

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Ilya Kovalchuk, LW, Los Angeles Kings
Cap hit:
$6.25 million
Years remaining: Two

After a five-year hiatus from the NHL, Kovalchuk was likely wishing he’d remained in Russia last season instead of coming to Los Angeles — and that’s saying something. Fun fact: Kovalchuk’s average ice time during his final year with the New Jersey Devils in 2012-13 was 24:44, a number that dropped by almost 10 minutes to 16:14 this past season with the Kings.

Despite a completely miserable campaign all around in L.A., Kovalchuk, now 36, still managed 16 goals in 64 outings — in other words, a 20-goal pace on the nose. There were rumblings at the deadline that a win-now team might take a shot at him and it’s very conceivable those conversations could be re-visited over the summer as the Kings look to get younger and faster.

Olli Määttä, D, Pittsburgh Penguins
Cap hit:
$4.1 million
Years remaining: Three

Määttä has completely fallen out of favour in Pittsburgh on a team that is always looking for ways to create cap space and hits the off-season determined to shake things up. His age (25 in August) and pedigree as a 2012 first-rounder would garner him another look on their own. Now consider this is a player who’s won a pair of rings and saw the third-most minutes of any Penguins blue-liner during the team’s title run just two years ago.

The healthy scratches surely hurt, but some team would be happy to offer Määttä a second chance.

Kyle Turris, C, Nashville Predators
Cap hit:
$6 million
Years remaining: Five

Remember when that three-way trade between Nashville, Colorado and Ottawa was a win-win-win? All the smiles belong to the Avs now.

Turris seemed like a perfect second-line fit with the Preds, who immediately inked him to a six-year extension after acquiring the right-shot pivot in November, 2017. He fared well enough during his first partial year in Tennessee, but last year was an injury-plagued flop and he registered just two points while averaging under 15 minutes per outing in the Preds’ six-game, first-round loss to the Dallas Stars.

Nashville, as much as any team in the league, is pushing hard to exploit a championship window right now. Everything is on the table and GM David Poile has never shied away from big moves. Turris, presently the captain for Canada’s entry at the World Championship, turns 30 this summer and is only two years removed from registering 27 goals for the Ottawa Senators.

Andrej Sekera, D, Edmonton Oilers
Cap hit:
$5.5 million
Years remaining: Two

Sekera is just weeks away from his 33rd birthday and red flags ripple any time you see a defenceman of that age endure consecutive injury-ravaged seasons (Sekera was limited to a combined 60 games the past two years thanks to knee issues and a torn Achilles tendon).

That said, this is a smart player playing the thinking man’s position. You might even draw some loose parallels to former Montreal Canadiens blue-liner Andrei Markov, who missed the majority of three straight years during his age 31, 32 and 33 seasons before rebounding to basically play every game — at a very high level — from age 34 to 37.

Sekera isn’t in Markov’s class, but if he can show for all 82, he figures to benefit someone. Edmonton’s options for clearing space are pretty limited given the unmovable status of Milan Lucic’s deal, so trading its top-paid defenceman might be one path to relief.

Ryan Callahan, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning
Cap hit:
$5.8 million
Years remaining: One

Every penny counts for the Bolts, who need to strike new deals with two-way monster Brayden Point and No. 1 goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy in the next two summers. Callahan carries modified no-trade protection, so he’d have some say on the move. He’s a fourth-liner these days, but one who has worn the ‘C’ with the Rangers and still carries alternate captain’s status in Tampa Bay. Callahan could play a valuable role grooming a crop of young players on an in-transition squad.

James Reimer, G, Florida Panthers
Cap hit:
$3.4 million
Years remaining: Two

With GM Dale Tallon’s bullseye thought to be firmly trained on UFA-to-be goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the Panthers have to clear some crease room. Maybe 40-year-old Roberto Luongo retires, maybe he doesn’t. Regardless, Florida would do well to float the notion of trading Reimer, still only 31 years old.

Realistically, if the Panthers do ink Bobrovsky to a pact worth, say, $9 million annually, the team might not be crazy about spending another $3.1 million in real salary on Reimer. The one-time Maple Leaf posted a .920 save percentage during his first campaign in South Florida three years ago, but has seen his numbers dip in the each of the past two seasons.

With more and more teams looking to pay a couple stoppers modest salaries to play 30-45 contests, Reimer is a decent bet to rebound.


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