As the current Coronavirus crisis wears on, it seems more and more likely that the NHL will not return to action soon and when play resumes, it will almost certainly not be the full remaining regular season schedule. That lost revenue is expected to impact the 2020-21 salary cap, perhaps even keeping the current $81.5MM upper limit in place. Given that teams expected an increase, initially projected to be between $84-88.2MM, this stagnation could have a harsh impact on a number of clubs’ cap situations. As such, many expect that compliance buyouts will return in some form or fashion to ease that pain. These buyouts, which do not count against the salary cap, would allow for teams to open up space that they otherwise expected from a cap increase.
Here is a rundown of the top compliance buyout candidates for the first third of NHL teams:
Anaheim Ducks: Adam Henrique
– The first team on the list is a tough call. Henrique has had a good season and the Ducks are not in significant cap trouble. However, with a long list of promising forward prospects and a defense that needs work, the team could opt to move on from the veteran forward and to create roster space and cap flexibility. Henrique, 30, is signed for four more years at $5.825MM.
Arizona Coyotes: Phil Kessel
– The Coyotes are in one of the worst positions in the league in terms of cap space, so the team would have to use a compliance buyout if the opportunity is offered to them. Kessel has been a relative bust in his first season with the ‘Yotes and is signed for two more years at $6.8MM. He has the potential to improve in year two, but Arizona may not have the luxury of taking the chance. The added cap space would be a major relief for the team.
Boston Bruins: John Moore
– Given the Bruins’ depth on defense in both veteran assets and budding prospects as well as Moore’s relegation to a backup role on the Boston blue line, he has become an expendable asset, especially if both Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug are back next season. Moore is signed longer than any current Bruins defenseman with three years and $8.25MM remaining, but the team’s commitment to him seems less than any of his fellow blue liners.
Buffalo Sabres: Kyle Okposo
– Unfortunately for the Sabres, the Okposo signing in 2016 has never panned out. His production dropped from 64 points with the New York Islanders in 2015-16 to just 45 points in his first year in Buffalo and that total has gone down in every year since. Okposo was on pace for just 24 points this year and may not even reach that mark. The Sabres would be quick to part ways with Okposo, who has three years at $6MM annually left on his contract, taking up valuable cap space that the team needs to use to improve the rest of their roster.
Calgary Flames: Milan Lucic
– Even with the salary being retained by the Edmonton Oilers on Lucic’s contract, his $5.25MM cap hit is still a pain for the Flames. The veteran power forward is not going to score 20+ goals or 50+ points in a season ever again and Calgary could do more with the added cap space over the next three years.
Carolina Hurricanes: Jake Gardiner
– For whatever reason, the Gardiner signing simply has not worked out as the Hurricanes had hoped. Gardiner, who was signed late last summer at a relative discount, has been a fine addition, but hasn’t been the point producer and power play ace that Carolina had hoped for. Following the deadline addition of Brady Skjei to arguably the deepest blue line in the NHL already, Gardiner and his remaining three years and $12.15MM are expendable.
Chicago Blackhawks: Brent Seabrook
– One of the more obvious choices on this list, Seabrook’s contract may the worst in the NHL right now. The 34-year-old has four years left at $6.875MM AAV on an eight-year, $55MM deal signed back in 2015. Over the term of the contract, Seabrook has declined rapidly and is a shell of his former self, regardless of health. The cap-strapped Blackhawks would not think twice about moving on.
Colorado Avalanche: Erik Johnson
– Johnson is a well-liked and well-respected long-time member of the Avalanche. However, as time has gone on the team has surrounded him with better, younger, and more affordable blue line options. As valuable as Johnson’s experience and leadership may be, he is an expendable piece without a clear future role. Signed through 2022-23 at a $6MM cap hit, Johnson is an expensive piece to keep around just for the intangibles and the Avs could look to use this opportunity to clear some space for some anticipated big game hunting this off-season.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Alexander Wennberg
– Blue Jackets fans have been calling for Wennberg’s head for years now and may finally get their wish. The once-promising young forward turned a 59-point 2016-17 season into a six-year, $29.4MM contract and then proceeded to regress immensely over the past few seasons instead of continuing to improve as expected. With another three years left at $4.9MM per, Wennberg doesn’t seem likely to get back to a level of play that would warrant his current cap hit and Columbus could move on, even from a 25-year-old homegrown product.
Dallas Stars: Andrew Cogliano
– The Stars are a team with numerous big names and long contracts, but their most inefficient name might just be Cogliano. Rather than using a buyout to move a heavy cap hit, Dallas could opt to trim the fat by removing a player that hasn’t been a good fit. Cogliano has showed that his six points in 32 games last season with the Stars following a trade from Anaheim was not a fluke; he followed it up with 14 points through 68 games this year. Expecting Cogliano to get back to 30+ point form in 2020-21 in his final year at $3.25MM seems hopeful at best and Dallas could use that space elsewhere with some lineup holes to fill this summer.
Stay tuned for Part II coming soon.