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.
After taking a look at the first ten teams, we move on to the middle third of the NHL:
Detroit Red Wings: Justin Abdelkader
– When Abdelkader signed a seven-year extension with an AAV of $4.25MM following his career-best season in 2014-15, it was perceived to be a bargain at the time and few expected that it would turn out poorly. Yet, with three years still to go Abdelkader has failed to impress in each of the first four seasons, recording a total of just 78 points and consistently missing time due to injury. On a young rebuilding team, the 33-year-old forward’s slow, plodding game is not a fit and his salary is not commensurate to his role on the club. New GM Steve Yzerman wouldn’t hesitate to buy out the career Red Wing if given the opportunity.
Edmonton Oilers: James Neal
– Last summer’s swap of Neal for Milan Lucic was labeled as two teams exchanging bad contracts. However, Neal got off to a hot start and ended up with 19 goals and 31 points despite being limited to just 55 games due to injury. That being said, the 32-year-old forward, who was a -20 this season, is still probably the worst contract on the team. The likelihood of Neal playing up to his remaining $17.25MM over three years seems slim and the Oilers could use the cap space to add a younger, better winger. If Neal has earned the trust of the team, Kris Russell could be bought out before his final year at $4MM.
Florida Panthers: Sergei Bobrovsky
– Would the Panthers move on from Bobrovsky just one year after handing him a seven-year, $70MM deal? That could be the biggest question of the off-season if compliance buyouts become reality. The star goalie’s first season in Florida could not have gone worse as he posted a career-worst GAA and didn’t boast a shiny save percentage either. Expected to be the Cats’ savior in net, Bobrovsky was anything but. If they hesitate to cut ties with Bobrovsky and his play does not improve, he would undoubtedly become the worst contract in hockey. Though on the other hand, if Bobrovsky goes elsewhere and succeeds and Florida cannot find a suitable location, some would surely say that they didn’t give him enough of a chance.
Los Angeles Kings: Jonathan Quick
– The rebuilding Kings have been trying to move Quick for a couple of years now and it would be a surprise if they did not take advantage of a compliance buyout opportunity. A holdover contract from the days of yore, Quick’s ten-year, $58MM deal signed in 2012 remained a bargain for the first half of the term until Quick hit a wall last year. While his play rebounded this season, Quick is still not playing up to the all-world level that had become the norm. L.A. is still a ways away from contending and can make more use of extra cap space over the next three years than a goalie who is past his prime.
Minnesota Wild: Zach Parise
– The Wild and new GM Bill Guerin came awfully close to trading Parise at the deadline this season and in recent years players who have been rumored to be leaving Minnesota are always eventually dealt. However, the potential trade included the team taking back bad salaries to facilitate the movement of Parise’s remaining five years and $37.69MM. Although Parise showed a return to form somewhat over the past two years, he has never been able to replicate his numbers from earlier in career and the team has generally been unhappy with the results of their 13-year gamble. If the possibility to dump the 35-year-old Parise without any cap repercussions opened up, it would become a serious conversation. More interesting would be if the Wild also discuss Mats Zuccarello as a buyout candidate after he was a bust in the first of a five-year, $30MM deal.
Montreal Canadiens: Karl Alzner
– While there will be those that find some of the bigger names on Montreal as intriguing buyout candidates, Alzner seems like an obvious choice that will improve the roster without any risk of releasing a good player or upsetting team chemistry. Few players in recent history have had their team turn on them following a major contract as quickly as the Canadiens did with Alzner. After signing the physical defenseman as a top free agent in 2017, the Habs decided just a year later that he was not worthy of an NHL roster spot following a difficult first season. Alzner has played just 13 NHL games over the past two years, buried in the AHL for the remainder. With two years at $4.625MM remaining, Montreal would be happy to be completely rid of Alzner’s contract rather than receiving just minor saving from sending him to the minors instead.
Nashville Predators: Kyle Turris
– For a long time, Nashville GM David Poile was opposed to handing out expensive, long-term contracts. That policy served him well for quite a time, as the Predators ended up with a number of tremendous values on the roster. Since the team has started to move away from that practice, things have not gone so well. Turris is the poster boy for this statement. He signed a six-year, $36MM extension with Nashville not long after being acquired by the club early in the 2017-18 season and has never lived up to the expectations. His 54 total points over the past two years is less than the one-year total the season prior to his joining Nashville. Turris has become an expendable player, not only missing time due to injury but also as a healthy scratch. The team has been eager to move him and they likely wouldn’t hesitate to do so with a compliance buyout.
New Jersey Devils: Cory Schneider
– An overpaid, under-performing starting goalie is one thing; an overpaid, under-performing backup is another. It has been quite a time since Schneider was the top man in net in New Jersey and young Mackenzie Blackwood has now taken the reins. However, Schneider’s horrific numbers over the past two year suggest that he isn’t even capable of being an NHL backup at this point in his career. With two years remaining at $6MM, Schneider’s might be the worst goalie contract in the league and a rather obvious buyout candidate.
New York Islanders: Andrew Ladd
– Ladd, part of the infamous 2016 class of terrible free agent contracts, Ladd has never provided adequate value to the Islanders compared to his $5.5MM AAV. The team finally buried him in the AHL this season after recording just 71 points through his first three years. With the majority of their forwards signed to substantial long-term deals, there is almost no chance that Ladd can ever work his way back into the NHL mix for the Islanders. New York was ready to move him at the trade deadline and would be quick to buyout the final three years of his deal rather than continue to pay major money for him to play in the minors.
New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist
– While it would be a sad day for the Blueshirts and their fans, the reality is that Lundqvist is the best use of a compliance buyout on the team. New York was considering moving young Alexandar Georgiev at the deadline rather than continue to carry three goaltenders, as Igor Shesterkin looks like the starter of the future and King Henrik has become an immovable contract. However, the team would be far better off retaining both young goalies and moving on from Lundqvist, who at 38 years old had the worst season of his career and still has a season remaining at $8.5MM. That’s a hefty salary to pay the man who would be your third-string goalie next season if Georgiev is not moved. The Rangers have no shortage of options though if they cannot overcome the loyalty they feel toward Lundqvist. Defensemen Marc Staal, $5.7MM AAV, and Brendan Smith, $4.35MM AAV, have both outworn their welcomes in New York and would not be missed in the final years of their respective contracts.
Stay tuned for Part III coming soon.