It’s do-over season!
On July 1, the first window for buyouts opens and will run through July 12, the day before the unrestricted free-agent (UFA) market opens. Now is the time for GMs to use an option they have to dump salary cap space and begin to position themselves for any moves or plans they have in mind for the summer months ahead.
The buyout, of course, is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, though.
There is a penalty for going down this route. First off, buyouts are paid out over twice the remaining years of a player’s contract. So if you’re buying out someone who has two years remaining, there will be a cap benefit for the first two years, and then a charge for the two years beyond that. What that charge is depends on a few things, including if there are any buyout-proof signing bonuses in the contract, how the deal is structured, and how old the player is. For players who are 26 or older the rate of payout is two-third the remaining salary; for those 25 and under the cost is just one-third the rate.
So there is a bit of give and take here, and it’s a last resort for GMs to try and save cap space that they can’t otherwise achieve in trade. For a full rundown of how buyouts work, head over the Cap Friendly’s FAQ page.
In the meantime, here are five interesting potential buyout candidates to monitor over the next 12 days.
Zack Kassian, Edmonton Oilers
The clock is ticking. Three years left on Leon Draisaitl’s contract and four to go on Connor McDavid. The window to get this just right is narrowing and, after an appearance in the Western Conference Final ended in a sweep, there’s some accomplishment to build on here.
There’s a lot the Oilers would like to do, like firming up the bottom six, locking in a solid top-six scoring winger, solidifying the netminding and, perhaps, improving the D group. But with $7.13 million in projected cap space, GM Ken Holland is going to have to pick his priorities and adapt based on the trade or free-agent market.
On Thursday Mark Spector reported that the Oilers and winger Jesse Puljujarvi are ready to part ways, but his value on the trade market is tepid. And besides, moving Puljujarvi doesn’t help the cap picture since he’s a restricted free-agent this summer. In fact, without bringing a body back, it makes the need for a forward all the greater.
One salary-saving move could be to trade Tyson Barrie’s $4.5 million off the books and make room for a younger blue liner, such as Philip Broberg, to get a shot. Another could be to deal away Kassian, but acquiring two more years of a $3.2 million cap hit on a six-goal fourth liner is not likely a priority for anyone around the league. A buyout could come into play here.
Buying out Kassian this summer would save the Oilers $2.533 million on the cap next season — if you combine that with dumping Barrie, suddenly Edmonton would open over $7 million in extra space and double their room to do business.
Edmonton would save another $1.33 million on the cap for the 2023-24 season when Duncan Keith is ready to come off the books. The penalty would come afterwards, when the Oilers would have $966,667 in dead cap space from the Kassian buyout. If that’s the price for making the tweaks they need to this summer, it’s probably worth paying at this time.
Colin White, Ottawa Senators
This is an interesting situation to monitor. On one hand, White is a 25-year-old player with first round pedigree who had a 14-goal, 41-point season in his full year in the NHL. that was back in 2018-19. So, on the other hand, you have a player here making $4.75 million against the cap who has had declining offence, dealt with a shoulder injury this season, and is slowly falling out of the plans for en emerging top-six in Ottawa that’s beginning to look quite promising.
In a lot of situations you might try and ride out the contract. The Sens aren’t a cap team anyway, so it’s not as though they are making cap-saving moves to do any necessary business at this point.
But where a buyout on White starts to make some sense is when you consider his would only come at a one-third cost instead of a two-third costs, and that this is the last year Ottawa can take advantage of that math.
Buying out White now would save Ottawa $3.875 million on the cap for the next two seasons and then they’d get a nice $5.375 million savings in 2024-25 due to the fact is actual salary climbs over the cap hit that season. The Senators could, perhaps, be ready to use some of their cap space to help the core forward at that point.
From 2025-26 through 2027-28, Ottawa would have a leftover cap charge of $875,000 for this buyout. The actual money they’d pay out for this move would be $5.25 million, so as much as the organization wouldn’t like paying a player to not play, the team would be saving $10.5 million in the long run.
There will be no other time where it makes sense to get out from this contract, but there is still a chance that a possible breakout season in 2021-22 was delayed by his shoulder injury and that there’s still something to uncover here. Tough decision for the Senators.
Patric Hornqvist, Florida Panthers
The Panthers were aggressive at the trade deadline and after getting swept in the second round of the playoffs, seem in line to be as aggressive this summer to try and improve the roster and take the team to the next level.
Here’s the problem: They only have about $3 million in cap space (Anthony Duclair’s injury potentially opens more through LTIR during the season) with nine forwards, six defencemen and two goalies signed. Breakout star Mason Marchment is a UFA they’d like to keep, as is deadline pickup Claude Giroux and even Ben Chiarot. To keep them all — and maybe add from there — some major change needs to take place.
One possibility that’s been floated in the rumour mill is to trade Sergei Bobrovsky and retain half of his $10 million cap hit. Or, heavens, buy him out to save a little less and then get pinched with a nearly $2 million cap charge four years beyond his contract’s expiry. That would be an extreme option.
Another, perhaps easier, buyout to consider would be Hornqvist. And not because he’s a liability necessarily. It’s just that the 35-year-old has become a fourth-liner averaging 12:40 in ice time per game this season and scoring 11 goals and 28 points. He’s the type of depth player a playoff team should want and a pain around the net, but his $5.3 million cap charge is an awful lot for a team that needs all the space it can get right now.
Buying out Hornqvist would create another $3.533 million in savings for the Panthers next season, but the cost would be a $1.766 million cap charge in 2023-24, when Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar and Spencer Knight would be due raises.
Do you do the deed now and deal with the consequences later, or ride out Hornqvist for another year and create cap in other creative, blockbustery ways? All eyes on on Bill Zito as another exciting time awaits armchair Panthers GMs.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose Sharks
Whoever the next Sharks GM is will have their hands full. The Sharks have committed big contracts to a core of players already and have just $5.66 million in cap space after missing the playoffs for the third consecutive year. You’d probably like a little more flexibility walking into a situation like that.
One way the new boss could create some room would be to consider buying out Vlasic, who was one of the better shutdown defenders of the 2010s and a Team Canada member, but has had decreasing impact for a few years now. This season, Vlasic averaged just over 15 minutes of ice time and had a 35.53 on-ice goals for percentage, one of the worst on the team. His $7 million cap hit, which runs another four seasons, ranks 24th among all blueliners in the league. Combined with Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, San Jose has $26.5 million committed to three ageing defencemen whose best years seem in the past.
The question around a Vlasic buyout will depend on what the new GM’s plan is. The Sharks will save a few million on the books for the next for years, but because of signing bonuses due in 2022, 2024 and 2025, the benefit isn’t optimal. And then there would be four years of a $1.687 million cap charge following the Sharks beyond Vlasic’s contract expiry.
So, if the new GM wants to start pushing for the playoffs with the roster in place, it may be imperative to get this contract off the books now. But if the plan is to take a longer approach and missing the playoffs another year or two to build through the draft is acceptable, it probably makes more sense to hang on to Vlasic for another year or two before the buyout comes into play again and the long-term dead cap isn’t so long.
Petr Mrazek, Toronto Maple Leafs
This is a tricky one because the goaltending market is always a wild one and there are never a shortage of teams looking for some sort of goalie, whether a starter or a backup capable of filling in for stretches. Heck, the Leafs signed Mrazek to be a tandem option. and while it certainly didn’t work out in Year 1, there could still be a team interested in taking him on, if the Leafs retain some cap, and/or offer up a pick. It’s a route Toronto has used before to dump cap.
Mrazek is owed two more years at a cap hit of $3.8 million, a hefty price tag for an .888 save percentage goalie. Toronto will need all the room it can generate to address its goaltending situation if Jack Campbell goes to market — as it appears he will — and address whatever other roster issue it wants.
Buying out Mrazek would instantly free up $2.766 million on the cap for next season, and nearly $3 million for the year after. The pinch comes in 2024-25 and 2025-26, when Mrazek’s buyout would charge back $1.433 million in dead cap.
Over those last two years each of Toronto’s core four forwards will come up for new contracts. And while the cap does project to rise by then, salaries will begin to correct as well, and the Leafs would already be short nearly $1.5 million of whatever boost the cap gets.
It’s not ideal, but it may be better than giving up a good asset to dump the contract now.