Navigating the salary cap is one of the more important tasks for any GM. Teams that can avoid total cap chaos by walking the tightrope of inking players to deals that match their value (or compensate for future value without breaking the bank) remain successful. Those that don’t see struggles and front office changes.
PHR will look at every NHL team and give a thorough look at their cap situation for the 2021-22 season and beyond. This will focus more on players who are regulars on the roster versus those who may find themselves shuttling between the AHL and NHL. All cap figures are courtesy of CapFriendly.
Current Cap Hit: $69,244,521 (under the $81.5MM Upper Limit)
F Dylan Cozens (two years, $894K)
F Peyton Krebs (three years, $863K)
While Cozens hasn’t been lighting it up in his sophomore season, he has taken some positive strides and has played his way into a bigger role. That said, it’s not the type of performance that is going to set him up for a long-term second contract and he’ll have some work to do in the second half if he wants a shot at hitting any of his ‘A’ bonuses. A bridge deal in the $3MM range looks like a possibility if his slow but steady development continues. Krebs was a key part of the Jack Eichel trade and his first handful of NHL games haven’t been great. That said, he still figures to be a key part of their long-term plans and with such a limited sample size to judge off of, it’s way too early to be able to reasonably forecast his next contract.
One Year Remaining, Non-Entry-Level
G Craig Anderson ($750K, UFA)
D Johnny Boychuk ($6MM, UFA)
D Jacob Bryson ($889K, RFA)
D Will Butcher ($2.823MM, UFA)*
F Drake Caggiula ($750K, UFA)
F Cody Eakin ($2.25MM, UFA)
D Robert Hagg ($1.6MM, UFA)
F John Hayden ($750K, UFA)
F Vinnie Hinostroza ($1.05MM, UFA)
D Colin Miller ($3.875MM, UFA)
F Victor Olofsson ($3.05MM, RFA)
D/F Mark Pysyk ($900K, UFA)
G Malcolm Subban ($850K, UFA)
G Dustin Tokarski ($725K, UFA)
*-New Jersey is retaining another $910K of Butcher’s contract.
Following Olofsson’s somewhat surprising rookie season two years ago, they opted for a bridge contract to see if it was a sign of things to come or just him getting hit at the right time. Today, there’s still some question about what he’ll be worth. He’s doing well enough to be qualified at $3.25MM which would be a small jump on his $3.05MM AAV but at the same time, GM Kevyn Adams may not be ready to commit to a long-term deal yet. As a result, a second bridge contract makes sense but with him being two years away from UFA eligibility, it’ll have to just be a one-year deal. He’s eligible for arbitration and if they were to look at a long-term pact that bought out some UFA years, something in the $5MM range may be required.
Eakin’s contract from a year ago came as a bit of a surprise after a quiet 2019-20 season and his value certainly hasn’t improved since then. He can still kill penalties and win faceoffs but the role he has is usually valued at closer to $1MM than $2MM. Hinostroza is getting a bigger opportunity with Buffalo than he had over the last few years and it was a wise decision as he’s hovering near the half-a-point-per-game mark, his best average since 2018-19. Has he done enough to show he’s worthy of a middle-six role on a better team, however? If yes, he could come close to doubling his price tag. If not, his raise for next season may be minimal. Hayden and Caggiula are low-cost role players and are likely to stay at or close to the league minimum on their next deals.
Boychuk was traded to Buffalo just before the Eichel trade to allow the Sabres to stay above the cap floor but his playing days are done. The addition of Butcher was an interesting one as it gave him a chance to rebuild his value. That hasn’t happened as he has largely been limited to a role on the third pairing when he has played. Still, his rookie season should give him a reasonable market as some will view him as a bounce-back candidate so he could come in around half of his $3.733MM AAV on his next contract.
Hagg is one of Buffalo’s more intriguing rental trade candidates over the next couple of months as a physical, stay-at-home defender that can upgrade a third pairing. There’s still a good market for those players so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him surpass the $2MM mark in the summer. Bryson isn’t putting up many points but the fact he’s averaging nearly 20 minutes a game will help since he’s arbitration-eligible this summer. A one-year deal should earn him somewhere around $1.5MM but a multi-year deal could be an option here around the $2MM AAV range. Pysyk has had to settle for one-year contracts the last two seasons and that will likely happen again although he, too, isn’t far off from 20 minutes a night which could push his value past the $1MM mark which would be an improvement on his last two deals.
None of Buffalo’s goaltenders are in a position to command much of a raise. Subban cleared waivers in training camp and has struggled in limited action this season which will have teams viewing him as a third-stringer over an NHL backup and will price him accordingly. Anderson settled for the minimum for this season and while he played well early, his injury situation offsets that. As for Tokarski, his AAV will go up by default since it’s below the minimum salary but he’s another goalie that’s more viewed as organizational depth than a full-fledged NHL regular. That will keep him around the minimum as well.
Two Years Remaining
F Rasmus Asplund ($825K, RFA)
F Anders Bjork ($1.6MM, RFA)
F Kyle Okposo ($6MM, UFA)
F Tage Thompson ($1.4MM, RFA)
F Zemgus Girgensons ($2.2MM, UFA)
Okposo is part of that ill-fated 2016 UFA class and he hasn’t lived up to that contract. That said, he’s very quietly having a pretty good season and has produced at a pace that would be close to his best year with Buffalo. It doesn’t mean he’s going to get a lot of interest two summers from now though. He’ll be looking at something closer to a quarter of his current rate unless this production sustains itself for the next season and a half. Girgensons just hasn’t been able to produce with enough consistency to justify an above-average contract for someone whose best suited to play on the fourth line. There was some hope of late-blooming upside before but he’ll be 29 at the end of this deal. If the improvement hasn’t come by then, it’s probably not coming at all.
As for the restricted free agents, Bjork wasn’t able to sustain his late-season uptick in points after being acquired from Boston. At this point, with a $1.8MM qualifying offer needed, he looks like a non-tender candidate with his UFA market value being around half of that number. Thompson, on the other hand, is on an upward trajectory. His offensive production has finally come around and his combination of size and skill make him a candidate for a long-term deal with how much teams are willing to spend in the hopes of keeping a power forward in the fold. As long as his scoring burst isn’t just a short-term thing, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he triples his $1.6MM qualifying offer. As for Asplund, he has provided a decent return on close to a league minimum salary this season. A similar showing in the second half of this season and next could put him in the $2MM range on his next deal. All three of these players are arbitration-eligible in 2023.
Three Years Remaining
D Rasmus Dahlin ($6MM, RFA)
D Henri Jokiharju ($2.5MM, RFA)
F Casey Mittelstadt ($2.5MM, RFA)
Mittelstadt hasn’t been able to stay healthy this season which makes it hard to make any early forecast on this contract. If he can secure a regular top-six role by then, that should at least have him in line to push beyond his $2.6MM qualifying offer in his final year of RFA eligibility. A long-term contract that buys out some UFA time could push him past the $4MM mark, more if his production is strong over the next two seasons.
The decision to bridge Dahlin made sense as the 2018 top pick hasn’t been able to become that elite number one defender just yet but was still showing some positive development signs. If he can get to that level by the end of this deal, he’d earn well beyond his $7.2MM qualifying offer and he’ll only have one RFA season remaining in 2024. The bridge buys them some time but at some point, a long-term pact will need to be worked out. Jokiharju has turned into a capable second-pairing player in Buffalo and should be a useful secondary piece of their long-term future core. That should have him pushing for more than $4MM on his next contract if he can pick up his production as this deal goes on. Again, he’ll only have the one RFA year left at this time.
Four Or More Years Remaining
F Jeff Skinner ($9MM through 2026-27)
F Alex Tuch ($4.75MM through 2025-26)
Skinner, like Okposo, is quietly having a decent year offensively. It’s nowhere near the level of his contract but this has easily been his best season on this deal. The contract is still in the discussion for the worst in the league and a buyout isn’t palatable at this time with that many years remaining. Buffalo also isn’t tight to the cap so there’s no immediate rush to consider that route anyway. Tuch is getting the opportunity to play a consistent big role, one he didn’t have with a much deeper Vegas team. Power forwards are highly regarded and often overpaid and at this price point, he doesn’t have to produce a lot to provide value on this deal relative to other NHL power forwards. He’ll also only be 30 when this deal is up and another long-term contract with a decent-sized raise is definitely achievable for Tuch.
D Christian Ehrhoff ($0 cap charge but he’ll receive $857K per year through 2027-28)
F Cody Hodgson ($792K through 2023-24)
Retained Salary Transactions
Best Value: Thompson
Worst Value: Skinner
One of the good things that can come from a seemingly perpetual rebuild is that it’s a pretty clean cap situation for Adams to work with. Yes, a lot of players need new deals for next season but most of those won’t break the bank and there aren’t many long-term commitments on the books. They’re well-positioned to take on money to add assets at the deadline if they so desire and whenever Buffalo decides the time is right to emerge from this latest rebuild and try to add some core veterans, they will have plenty of cap flexibility at their disposal.