The NHL playoffs kick off tonight with five games including three Western Conference battles. The top 16 teams in the league have spent months preparing for this moment, fine tuning their roster and lineup card to make sure they have the very best group available to them. With that in mind, this postseason is about to kick off with an incredible amount of salary sitting in the press box. Many of the teams about to take the ice have decided to do so without some big earners, instead using breakout performers that have overtaken their veteran counterparts. Let’s take a look at the expensive names (above $2MM cap hits) on the sideline:
Tampa Bay Lightning:
Who says it’s easy to coach the best team in the league? Jon Cooper has made some tough decisions for his opening lineup, sitting veterans in Callahan and Coburn. Both players were big parts of Tampa Bay’s 2015 Stanley Cup Final run but will now find themselves watching from the press box as the action begins. Jan Rutta and Mathieu Joseph will both be making their postseason debuts tonight against Columbus.
Columbus Blue Jackets:
Alexander Wennberg – $4.9MM cap hit
When Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel were acquired earlier this season the pressure was on for Wennberg to try and get back into the lineup, but it will be Alexandre Texier that pushes him out for the first game. Texier has made an impact on head coach John Tortorella in the first two games of his NHL career and will be jumping right into the fire against the Lightning tonight. The 19-year old forward scored a goal in his second NHL game and has shown a confidence beyond his years.
It’s not clear if Dumoulin will be ready for tonight’s game, but if he is Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweeted that it would be Jack Johnson coming out of the lineup. The idea of sitting Johnson in the first game of the playoffs certainly wasn’t the plan when the Penguins signed him to a five-year deal last summer. To be fair, this is more a situation of having too many options for the Penguins, as they currently employ six defensemen all making at least $3.25MM. If Marcus Pettersson stays in the lineup, someone expensive is coming out.
New York Islanders:
Thomas Hickey – $2.5MM cap hit
Hickey missed a huge chunk of the season with injury and while he was gone Devon Toews made a name for himself on Long Island. The veteran defenseman will find himself on the outside looking in as the playoffs begin, but he’ll likely be the first man up if the team suffers an injury against the Penguins. At least Hickey won’t be alone in the press box, as Michael Dal Colle, Ross Johnston, Luca Sbisa and Dennis Seidenberg all worked as extras today.
St. Louis Blues:
The Blues went out and added some depth to the back end at the trade deadline by acquiring Del Zotto, but won’t have him in the lineup tonight when they take on the Winnipeg Jets. He and Gunnarsson will be watching and waiting for their chance to help the team while 22-year old Vince Dunn makes his playoff debut. Dunn has turned into a top option for the Blues this season and will skate next to captain Alex Pietrangelo as they try to slow down the Jets attack.
Nathan Beaulieu – $2.4MM cap hit
Just like the Blues, the Jets went out at the deadline and added a pair of depth options on the blue line to give them somewhere to turn if things go awry. Beaulieu will be a restricted free agent this summer and will have to hope for a chance to prove what he can do in the playoffs. The 17th-overall pick from 2011 has played only 17 postseason games in his career, and could potentially find himself without a qualifying offer after the season is over.
The Stars have the most money sitting on the sidelines out of any team in the playoffs, and a huge chunk of that is just Spezza. The 35-year old didn’t bounce back like many had hoped this season and scored just 27 points in 76 games. Combine that with his declining defensive game and you have a player that will have to watch and wait for his chance. At least Spezza scored at all this season, something you can’t say about Nichushkin. The return from Russia has not gone well for the 24-year old, who somehow went an entire season (57 games at least) without scoring a goal or committing a penalty.
Vegas Golden Knights:
Colin Miller – $3.875MM cap hit
Though it hasn’t been confirmed yet, David Schoen of the Las Vegas Review-Journal tweets that Miller looks to be a scratch on opening night. The 26-year old has 29 points in 65 games this season but could come out for Jon Merrill who has been used more and more over the last month by head coach Gerard Gallant.
David Backes – $6MM cap hit
Backes hasn’t been what the Bruins were expecting when they signed him to a five-year, $30MM deal in 2016. The veteran forward’s offense has completely dried up and though he tried to reinvent himself this season as a physical force, the Bruins are going with a bit more speed and skill as they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Undrafted rookie Karson Kuhlman is expected to suit up on the right side of Jake Debrusk and David Krejci, a big step for a 23-year old forward who played just 11 games this season.
Michael Stone – $3.5MM cap hit
It’s a testament to just how quickly Rasmus Andersson has developed that a veteran option like Stone is on the sidelines to begin Calgary’s first-round series. The team put a lot of responsibility on Andersson this season and he has responded extremely well, putting him in line to be a top option for the team down the road. Stone meanwhile is just experiencing another setback in what has been a dreadful season, marred by a blood clot in his arm early in the year. He has played in just 14 games but will have to be ready to go if someone suffers an injury.