Bryan Bickell (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
The NHL’s buyout window opens Wednesday and with the salary cap not expected to rise by much, teams may look to add cap space through buyouts. Here are 10 players who could be bought out this summer.
Nothing says the off-season quite like the threat of buyouts, and we’re inching ever-closer to the NHL’s buyout window opening and several players could see their time with their current teams come to a close.
For some of the candidates, massive contracts are at fault, while other will fall victim to underperforming or simply not fitting within a team’s structure any longer. Unfortunately, some are a combination of all three.
With the salary cap remaining relatively flat according to all reports, several teams are going to be in tough financial situations. Even a rise of $2 million in the salary cap, which is a rough estimate of the maximum amount the upper limit will rise, would still see several teams in tough cap positions. That’s not to say all players on this list will be bought out, but there’s at least a fair chance several from this list will be sent packing by way of a buyout.
All salary cap information via CapFriendly.
Eric Nystrom, Nashville Predators
Predators GM David Poile made it clear that Nystrom won’t be coming back to Nashville next season. Whether by way of trade or buyout, Poile said, the Predators and Nystrom had agreed that it was best if the 33-year-old found another place to play next season, and it’s understandable why. Nystrom appeared in only 46 games this past season, and one in the playoffs, scoring seven goals but no registering not a single assist. When he was in the lineup, he barely saw the ice.
So, yes, production does play a part in it, but so does his $2.5 million cap hit. While far from the highest cap hit on this list, Nystrom takes up a chunk of salary that a budget team like the Predators can’t necessarily afford. That same salary will make it tough for Poile to find a trade partner.
Buyout Details: Buying out Nystrom would save the Predators $2 million this coming season, but add an extra $1 million to their cap in 2017-18.
Bryan Bickell, Chicago Blackhawks
Of all the excellent moves Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman has made, Bickell's contract is his one, glaring misstep. Bickell’s contract has been an anchor for a cap-strapped Blackhawks team, and the only move Bowman could make to get Chicago some relief this past season was demoting Bickell to the AHL and taking the costly hit on the buried deal.
In the past two seasons, Bickell has played 105 games in the NHL scoring 14 goals and 30 points, but his average ice time has been at or below 12 minutes per game. That’s one expensive fourth-liner.
Bickell would probably still be an all right fit in Chicago were it not for his $4 million cap hit, but that’s something the Blackhawks can’t change at this point. Trading Bickell would be the favorable option, but, like Nystrom, Bickell’s cap hit is going to scare off most, if not all, suitors.
Buyout Details: The Blackhawks would save $3 million in 2016-17, but leave Chicago on the hook for $1.5 million in 2017-18.
Dave Bolland, Florida Panthers
The Panthers have already moved out Marc Savard’s deal to free up some cap space, and another way to make some serious cap space would be ditching the remaining three seasons and $16.5 million of Bolland’s contract. It’s not as if they would miss Bolland in the lineup.
Bolland has played 58 games over the past two seasons combined, scoring seven goals and 28 points and playing middle-six minutes. His injury trouble over the past few seasons has been troubling and there’s nothing to indicate he’ll ever return to being a near 20-goal scorer. Those years have passed.
There’s definitely not going to be anyone willing to take on Bolland’s deal in a trade. With Vincent Trocheck, Quinton Howden and a handful of other RFAs, as well as top-pairing blueliner Brian Campbell as a UFA, the Panthers need the cap room.
Buyout Details: Florida would have $3.67 million in additional cap space in each of the next three seasons, but they’re on the hook for $1.83 million each season from 2019-20 to 2021-22.
Chris Higgins, Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks commended Chris Higgins on heading to the AHL and continuing to play hard, but there was no one willing to bite on acquiring the 33-year-old winger, who managed nine goals and 13 points in 22 games with the Utica Comets.
Vancouver probably could have found a fit for trading Higgins if they were to retain some of his salary, but that doesn’t do the Canucks much of a favor. They have five RFAs they’d like to retain, and there have been reports of the Canucks being interested in bringing in Milan Lucic or Loui Eriksson. Signing either isn’t going to come cheap.
Higgins could probably still latch on somewhere at league minimum or take his game overseas. But for the time being, it doesn’t seem his career is going to continue with the Canucks.
Buyout Details: The downside isn’t huge. Vancouver would save $1.67 million in 2016-17, with only $833,333 counting against the cap in 2017-18.
R.J. Umberger, Philadelphia Flyers
This one might not take long. In fact, this one might be the most obvious of the bunch.
Umberger will carry a cap hit of $4.6 million this season, and the 34-year-old registered just two goals, 11 points and averaged 10 minutes of ice time across 39 games this past season. That’s a massive overpayment and almost certainly has the Flyers regretting shipping out Scott Hartnell in exchange for Umberger.
If Umberger is bought out, though, it should go smoothly. When the Flyers’ season ended, he told CSN Philly’s Jordan Hall that he’s expecting a buyout. “Who wouldn’t after my season?” Umberger asked. “That’s something up to them, their decision. Business side of it, you can’t control that.”
Buyout Details: Philadelphia would save $3 million this coming season, but would be on the hook for one more year at $1.5 million.
Thomas Vanek, Minnesota Wild
Sure, Vanek only has one year remaining on his deal, and sure, he might be able to turn it around after a tough season, but the 32-year-old’s tenure in Minnesota has been wholly underwhelming, he’s getting paid big bucks and the Wild are in a position where they could need cap space in a hurry. Buying out Vanek achieves that.
Vanek is coming off of a career-worst 18-goal campaign and it’s the second consecutive season his goal production has fallen. Signing Minnesota seemed like a fit — and a foregone conclusion — when Vanek was a free agent, but it hasn’t worked for either side.
With Vanek, the Wild have eight forwards who were NHL regulars under contract with only $7.6 million in cap space. The upper limit is supposed to rise and could go up to as much as $73.5 million, but that still leaves Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher without much wiggle room to improve his team. Coach Bruce Boudreau can only do so much with what he’s given, and Fletcher can give Boudreau a lot more if Vanek is out the door.
Buyout Details: Buying out Vanek saves the Wild $5 million in 2016-17, which could be used to sign two roster players. The only problem? It will cost them $2.5 million in 2017-18.
Kari Lehtonen, Dallas Stars
It might not be the popular choice, but Lehtonen’s save percentage has been much more volatile than Niemi’s and Lehtonen is the higher-paid of the Stars’ two goaltenders. If they’re going to get rid of one — and they probably should — the right move would be getting rid of Lehtonen and saving the money where they can.
As always, trading one is the better option but that’s going to be tough to do after the post-seasons Lehtonen and Niemi turned in. They were the Stars’ Achilles heel.
The Stars need to work on their defense this off-season and that’s not going to come cheap. They have only four defensemen under contract, with Jordie Benn, Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski and Kris Russell all set for unrestricted free agency. The Stars do have $13.8 million in cap space, but they could land some big fish in free agency with even more.
Buyout Details: Lehtonen’s deal has two seasons remaining, which means two seasons of savings. The Stars would save $4.17 million in 2016-17 and $3.17 million in 2017-18 before having to shell out $1.83 million in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
Jared Cowen, Toronto Maple Leafs
Cowen’s tenure as a Maple Leaf was a bizarre one. He was acquired by Toronto as part of Ottawa’s acquisition of Dion Phaneuf, but Cowen made no impact whatsoever for the Maple Leafs. In fact, he didn’t even see the ice.
He came to Toronto with 31 games remaining in the season, remained with the big club for eight games, was assigned to the AHL and then proceeded to sit out the remainder of the campaign. Cowen was reportedly even told to start looking for places to play next season by the Maple Leafs, which really doesn’t bode well for him.
Just 25 and a ninth-overall pick of the Senators in 2009, Cowen never lived up to his projections. The final year of his deal is almost certain to be bought out.
Buyout Details: The Maple Leafs would save $3.75 million by buying out Cowen this off-season while being on the hook for a mere $750,000 in 2017-18.
Fedor Tyutin, Columbus Blue Jackets
Here’s something one wouldn’t likely expect: the Blue Jackets have the fourth-highest cap hit of any team heading into the 2016-17 off-season. Pair that with a losing record and changes are coming. One of which could see the final two years of Tyutin’s contract bought out in favor of getting younger and faster.
At 32, Tyutin’s one of the oldest Blue Jackets, but he’s not exactly an effective veteran. Tyutin is the highest paid rearguard in Columbus and he’s not really playing that role anymore. In the past season, he played more of a second- and third-pairing role than he did one of a top-unit defenseman. He scored one goal and three points in 61 games this past season.
The Blue Jackets have to take care of RFA deals for Seth Jones and William Karlsson this off-season, and there are several members of the Calder Cup winning AHL squad without deals for the upcoming season.
Buyout Details: If the Blue Jackets buyout Tyutin, they would save $3.29 million in 2016-17, $2.54 million in 2017-18, but be hit with $1.46 million penalties in 2018-19 and 2019-20.
Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings
The Kings’ cap situation isn’t exactly a favorable one and Brown’s contract, which looked like an overpayment at the time and a massive mistake now, isn’t helping at all. The eight-year deal carries an annual cap hit of $5.875 million and Brown is only entering the third season of the contract. Add to it that Brown was stripped of the Kings’ captaincy and that only makes matters worse.
Brown falls into the Bickell category of a player who could still be useful if only his cap hit wasn’t exorbitant for the return. Over the past two seasons, which Brown has played all 164 games, he has 22 goals and 55 points, but his production has been halved compared to his most effective years. He managed the 22 goals and 54 points during the 2011-12 season alone.
The worst part for the Kings is the cap penalties down the road, but it might be worth it for some relief now. Without relief, the Kings will have to keep putting together a patchwork bottom-six and third defense pairing.
Buyout Details: The Kings would get relief for six seasons, ranging from $5.19 million in 2016-17 to $2.194 million in 2021-22, but then get hit with six consecutive seasons of a $1.8 million penalty.