The Red Wings are $3 million over the salary cap and could be looking at trades to help open up cap space. Meanwhile, Hobey Baker winner Will Butcher, drafted by the Avalanche, could become this summer’s Jimmy Vesey.
Last week, the Detroit Red Wings re-signed left wing Tomas Tatar to a four-year, $21.25 million contract. While ensuring Tatar's long-term future in Detroit, the move leaves the club with limited salary-cap space.
The Wings sit above the $75-million ceiling by over $3 million. They'll get some relief by placing all-but-retired winger Johan Franzen ($3.9-million cap hit) and perhaps defenseman Ryan Sproul ($625K) on long-term injured reserve.
However, that won't be enough to re-sign winger Andrea Athanasiou. The 22-year-old is a restricted free agent without arbitration rights. He's in line for a pay raise after earning an annual average value of over $900K on his previous contract.
Following Tatar's signing, NBC Sports' James O'Brien examined possible cost-cutting options for the Wings. One could be a buy out of 33-year-old defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, 33, who has three years left on his contract worth an annual cap hit of $4.25 million. The cost will be two-thirds the remaining value over twice the remaining terms of the contract. O'Brien noted that gambit would provide the Wings with an immediate savings for '17-'18 of $2.61 million. The downside, however, is they'll carry six years of dead cap space.
The Athletic's Craig Custance subsequently reported the Wings don't intend to go the buyout route. If they want to shed significant salary, it'll have to be with a cost-cutting trade. Custance listed goaltender Petr Mrazek and forwards Gustav Nyquist and Riley Sheahan as possible trade options.
Nyquist, 27, has two seasons left on his contract at $4.75-million annually with a no-trade clause. Mrazek ($4 million) and Sheahan ($2.075 million) are both 25, have one season remaining on their respective deals and lack no-trade protection. Of the trio, Nyquist has the best trade value. Though a streaky scorer, he's exceeded 40 points in each of the last four seasons. He'd have to agree to waive his no-trade. Even then, interested clubs could insist on the Wings picking up part of his cap hit.
Mrazek and Sheahan carry more affordable contracts but they're also coming off disappointing performances last season. Teams seeking goaltending depth might wince at Mrazek's cap hit.
WHERE COULD WILL BUTCHER LAND?
Last summer saw 2016 Hobey Baker Award-winning winger Jimmy Vesey test the free-agent market, signing with the New York Rangers. This year's Hobey Baker winner, University of Denver defenseman Will Butcher, is following Vesey's example.
Butcher's agent, Brian Bartlett, told BSN Denver's Adrian Dater the 22-year-old blueliner intends to explore unrestricted free agency when he becomes eligible on Aug. 15.
The lack of talented depth in last summer's free-agent pool worked to Vesey's advantage. That ongoing trend could also make Butcher an attractive commodity this year. Though small by NHL standards (5-foot-ten, 186 pounds), he's a skilled puck-moving defenseman who plays a responsible game in his own zone.
Because of the strict cap on NHL entry-level contracts, money won't determine where Butcher signs. Joining a club with upside where he'll get an opportunity to quickly establish himself as a regular defenseman could become the deciding factor
The Score's Sean O'Leary suggests the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins as options. Both could use an affordable young depth blueliner. Proximity to Butcher's hometown of Madison, Wisconsin could make the Blackhawks enticing, but so could the opportunity to play for the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
O'Leary also suggested theToronto Maple Leafs, who took a big step forward in their rebuilding program with a surprise playoff berth last season. While the left-shooting Butcher could make a good long-term addition, he won't address the Leafs' immediate need for an established top-four, right-shooting rearguard.
NJ.com's Chris Ryan feels Butcher would be an intriguing target for the New Jersey Devils. GM Ray Shero is still seeking blueline depth this summer.
As with the Leafs, Butcher could bolster the Devils' defense corps over the long run, but it's doubtful he can step make an immediate impact this season. Fortunately, Shero has over $18 million in salary-cap space. That's enough to perhaps pursue Butcher, re-sign restricted free agent d-man Damon Severson and add an experienced blueliner via trade or free agency.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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