April 8: All three players have cleared waivers and can be assigned to the taxi squad or minor leagues.
April 7: Three players have been placed on waivers today, as Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reports that Richard Panik of the Washington Capitals, Nick Merkley of the New Jersey Devils, and Martin Frk of the Los Angeles Kings all find themselves available to the rest of the league.
Panik was scratched again last night for the Capitals, the third time he had been out of the lineup in the last five games. That is what happens when you are brought in for secondary scoring and record just three goals and nine points in 36 games. Panik hasn’t been close to effective enough in his role this season, failing to record a point in his last eight and only generating five shots on goal during that stretch. Remember that the 30-year-old forward is on a four-year contract he signed with the Capitals in 2019 and carries a $2.75MM cap hit. $1.075MM of that can be buried by putting him on the taxi squad, giving the Capitals a little more cap flexibility as the deadline approaches.
Merkley is in a nearly opposite situation in New Jersey, where he is still just trying to establish himself at the NHL level. The 23-year-old actually has six points in 13 games this season but doesn’t have a consistent enough effort at the defensive end of the rink. A first-round pick in 2015, there is obvious offensive skill locked away in Merkley, but it’s hard to rely on him in a top-six role at this point in his career. The bottom-six isn’t a great fit for the 5’10” forward, meaning he’s stuck in a difficult situation. Just like New Jersey did when they included him in last year’s Taylor Hall deal, perhaps another team believes they can unlock the next level for Merkley and grabs him off waivers. Given he cleared in January though, that seems unlikely.
If Panik is an overpaid veteran and Merkley is a young player trying to find his way, Frk falls somewhere in the middle. The 27-year-old has been given countless opportunities to really establish himself at the NHL level and despite being an elite minor league contributor, can’t seem to keep his head above water when he moves up. Armed with an incredibly hard shot, Frk scores goals on a consistent basis in the minor leagues but has just 18 in 118 NHL contests. He’s played just one game for the Kings this season after spending most of it on injured reserve, and is likely headed for the taxi squad if he clears.