When NHL General Managers are tasked with opening up cap space during the offseason, the buyout is a unique accommodation. In many cases it allows a GM to shift much of the burden of a bad contract into the tenure of the next GM. If their job is on the line and they can immediately reclaim 66% of a player’s cap hit, it’s not that difficult to justify the long-term pain of a buyout.
Here’s the rundown on how buyouts work: Signing bonuses cannot be bought out. For players over the age of 25, two-thirds of the remaining salary is spread over twice the years remaining. For players 25 or younger it’s one-third. Then the difference between actual salary and cap hit is factored in. Assume a 30 year old player has a cap hit of $4m and two seasons remaining on their contract, and the salary is $4m then $5m. Two-thirds of $9m remaining, divided over 4 years is $1.5m. That is the buyout cost. In years 1, 3, and 4, that would be the cap penalty. In year 2 though, since the $5m salary was $1m more than the cap hit, that is subtracted from the buyout cost for a cap penalty of $0.5m.
The explanation for that is rather long winded, and far less important than how it effectively incentivizes teams to buy out certain players. You can see that for yourself by using PuckPedia’s buyout calculator. In each of the past 5 seasons, NHL clubs have spent at least $40m in cap space on buyouts collectively. With $47m in dead space from buyouts already, 22-23 is likely to have well over 2% of the cap committed to buyouts.
Based on the structure of their contracts, I have identified players who can be bought out for minimal cap penalty. In this piece I will consider how likely a team is to buy a player out, and what opportunity that opens up for the team/player. Not all of these guys will get bought out though, and I’m certain that as a player it doesn’t feel very good to have your name mentioned in an article like this. Some of these players stand to lose millions of dollars in a buyout, along with having their life turned upside-down. I don’t take any of that lightly, and I will do my best to outline the situation objectively without piling on a player who could be having a down year for any number of reasons not limited to injury, or family tragedy, or lack of ice time, which is out of their control.
The Senators aren’t exactly hurting for cap space, but GM Pierre Dorion has recently said they won’t be spending to the cap unless they get full buildings for every home game. So the Senators will probably be a floor team. Colin White was a 1st round pick in 2015 who signed a big contract after his ELC, but hasn’t risen above 3rd line duties even though he turned 25 this season. White suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery right at the beginning of the 21-22 season, which had the potential to be a breakout year for him.
Players age 25 or under only cost 1/3rd on the buyout, so this is Ottawa’s last chance to take advantage of that. White had 10 points in 24 games this season on a $4.75m cap hit, and his $4.75m salary next season is 3rd highest on the Senators roster. If they can’t find a taker in trade, they could save $3.875m in cap hit and real salary next season with a buyout. If you don’t buy White out, you’re stuck with 3 more years with $15.75m in actual salary remaining, compared to 6 years of a buyout with $5.25m total.
The cap penalties would be as follows:
Yes, Ottawa would actually get a cap credit in year 3. In the final year of White’s contract, his $6.25m salary is $1.5m more than his cap hit. That is subtracted from his $875k buyout penalty, and the buyout cost ends up in the negative. Overall, it is a very minor long-term penalty to open up some cap space to push towards the playoffs as young players like Stutzle and Tkachuk enter their primes. If Ottawa can find a trade partner that is the preferable route to take, but absent that a buyout is far less painful this offseason than at any point in the future.
For White, it would represent an opportunity for a fresh start. He loses out on the highest paying seasons of his current contract, but he would also be a 25 year old guaranteed $5.25m, and free to sign wherever he wants. White was born in Massachusetts, played for Boston College, and might be a good fit with the Bruins if Bergeron doesn’t come back. If White signs a 1-year “show me” deal, that would expire RFA. If he can get in the $2-3m range on a 2 year deal, he can get right back to UFA, and potentially make up a good portion of the money he lost in the buyout.
There is a little less urgency on this one for the Sens, if you ask me they would be better off waiting until 2023 if they wish to buy Murray out. Again they are not tight to the cap, and if they buy White out I would not expect them to buy Murray out as well. I think the 1/3 buyout is more of a motivating factor than the cap space right now. If they choose to buy out Murray now, the cap hit is as follows:
Ottawa has three NHL ready goalies in Murray, Forsberg, and Gustafsson, Mads Sogaard isn’t far behind either but, they have said they are prepared to go with the 3-headed goalie monster for now. They can wait a year, trim a year of $2.5m off the back end of the buyout, then turn the net over to the Scandinavians. If Murray is bought out this offseason though, he would instantly be one of the better and more experienced goalies on the UFA market. He could put himself in a very good situation with a contender in need of a cheap option.
Myers was no 1st round pick, in fact he was never drafted, but he’s in a similar situation to White. They were born 5 days apart, so Myers’ buyout would also be 1/3rd. He was acquired by Nashville in the Ryan Ellis trade, but never found a home on the Predator’s blue line, and was waived right at the deadline. Considering no team put in a claim on the 6’5″ RHD, it’s unlikely Nashville deems him worthy of his $2.55m cap hit next season. Myers was loaned to the Toronto Marlies after clearing waivers, which might hint at his 2022-23 destination should he indeed be bought out.
Since Myers’ salary is $3.8m next season, the $1.25m difference between salary and cap hit is subtracted from the $633,334 buyout cost for a cap credit of $616,666 in 22-23. That would be followed by a $633,334 cap hit in 23-24. This presents the option of trading Myers to a cap strapped team who could then buy him out themselves to essentially borrow ~$0.6m in cap space from a future season.
With all due respect to Myers, his contract is structured in such a way that buying him out actually provides more utility than the player can provide on the ice. Would you rather have a defenceman that cleared waivers, or $3.16m? That means he is rather likely to become a UFA at 25 years old, and would also be RFA after a 1-year contract. If a team like the Leafs can sign him for under $1m, he would be uniquely valuable as the Leafs don’t have many prospects of his prototype. Jack Han pointed that out here:
TOR will value this type of player because they havent drafted for size and defensive ability. Real money is no issue for MLSE. Cap constraints can be maneuvered around.
— Jack Han (@JhanHky) April 30, 2022
Myers has been getting in fewer and fewer NHL games over the past 3 seasons, a trend I’m sure he’s eager to reverse. If he is bought out, he will have the opportunity to sign with a team who has NHL opportunities for him, at a cap hit that will keep him in the big league. With 142 NHL games under his belt, the 6’5″ RHD should have multiple teams interested.
It is no secret that the Oilers are looking for cap space this offseason, and they might be willing to sacrifice Kassian’s 19 points last year to open up ~$2.5m. This is a wildly constructed team that made a deep run in the playoffs, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ken Holland is motivated to go all in. The buyout penalty is under $1m in 3/4 seasons, giving Edmonton a chance to ditch their worst contract over the next 2 seasons in an offseason where they need it most:
Edmonton could instead look to waive Kassian and bury $1.125m of his contract. They could also likely trade him for a small price, as cap floor teams often like to have tough guys around when their roster is full of young players. As much as the Oilers like this type of player, they can’t afford to pay Kassian $3.2m next season.
San Jose hasn’t made the playoffs in 3 seasons, and their 3 highest paid D have a combined age of 103 and cap hit of $26.5m. And they’re all signed until at least 2025. I doubt that any team is taking those contracts in a cap dump, and Karlsson/Burns have signing bonuses and front-loaded contracts that make their buyouts highly improbable. Not only that, but they were averaging well over 23 minutes a game while Vlasic took on 3rd pairing duties with 15:13 a night.
Something has to give, and it might have to be a Vlasic buyout. It would immediately open up over $3.3m, which can be used to re-sign RFA Mario Ferraro who stepped into the top 4 in Vlasic’s place. Instead of a $7m cap hit for 4 more years, the Sharks would have:
It seems like a lot of long term pain, especially for a new GM just taking over in San Jose. Vlasic has signing bonuses in the final two years of his contract which makes things pricier, but the idea here is that the Sharks could get a better defenceman next season with the ~$3.3m in savings. Then in 24-25 and 25-26, even with $1.8m-$2.8m it shouldn’t be difficult to find someone more effective than a 37-38 year old Vlasic. If they’re looking to turn things around quickly, this is probably the most cap space the Sharks can open up in one shot.
As for Vlasic, he’s a monumentally respected defenceman who won gold for Canada at the Olympics, has over 1000 NHL games under his belt, and has been on 12 playoff runs with the Sharks. He’s played his whole career in San Jose, and reaching UFA for the first time would be an opportunity for him to go to any contender he wants. It could also be an opportunity to return to his hometown of Montreal to help turn things around there. He probably has a couple years of bottom pairing minutes left in the tank, for the right price he could be a great fit there.
In any case he would be on a 35+ contract, so if it’s multi-year teams would want to keep the salary even across each season to avoid a 35+ rule where the player’s cap hit still applies if they retire.
Pittsburgh is looking for cap space. They like Zucker, but he’s had trouble with injuries and had just 17 points in 41 games this season. Since his 64 point season in 17-18, it’s been 5 straight seasons of declining point totals. Still only 30 years old, I think a lot of teams in the league would be interested in Zucker as a middle 6 winger with something to prove. Just not for $5.5m.
The Penguins can open up nearly $3.5m next season with a buyout, which would go a long way in convincing Evgeni Malkin to take a last stand with the team. Since Zucker is entering the final year of his contract, the cap penalties only last 2 years:
That’s not a bad option for the Pens, even if it means saying goodbye to a player who really seemed to fit into their group. Interestingly enough Zucker was drafted, and signed thrice by Chuck Fletcher, now GM of Philadelphia. That would be quite the revenge story.
Jake Oettinger is the Stars future in net. That much is clear, and he’s an RFA due for a new contract this offseason. Same goes for Jason Robertson, who is their future on offence. It’s going to be an interesting offseason in Dallas. As it stands they have $19m to sign those two and John Klingberg (or his replacement). It will really depend on how much term Robertson/Oettinger get, but I think Dallas would be wise to lock them up at least until Jamie Benn’s $9.5m contract comes off the books in 2025. With how good the pair was down the stretch, they might need every dollar they can get.
With Ben Bishop hanging up the skates (and subsequently being traded to Buffalo), it would seem that Khudobin has an open path to the backup role. The trouble is that Dallas can get $2.5m of his $3.33m cap hit back this season with a buyout, and Scott Wedgewood proved a viable replacement after the trade deadline. If it’s the difference between signing Robertson for 3 years and 8 years, this buyout cost should be a no-brainer for the Stars:
Khudobin has stepped onto teams and made himself a really useful piece many times in his career, perhaps he can do it again if he is bought out. His 4 years in Dallas is the longest he’s stayed in one place, it’s just my opinion but I think if he is bought out at age 36 that would be it for him. Maybe he goes back to the KHL in that scenario.
Prefacing this one by saying Bernier finished the season injured, and cannot be bought out if he doesn’t pass a physical. He had hip surgery on January 4th, I’m no doctor but there’s no guarantee he can pass. Looking at the Devils situation in net, it was a mess last season. It seems like Mackenzie Blackwood is going to be one of their options moving forward, but their GM did not mince words when it came to their plans:
.@MattLoug asked Tom Fitzgerald
“Does that mean you're looking for someone who's an NHL goalie?“
Fitzgerald: “Yes. Again, I’m not going to hide behind or tiptoe around it. We need another NHL goalie to challenge and be able to play lots of games. I don’t know who that is.”
— Amanda Stein (@amandacstein) May 5, 2022
It seems like Bernier is not that guy. New Jersey is not tight to the cap, but they would free $3.1m of his $4.125m cap hit next season by buying him out:
It is really tough to be a goalie in the NHL, and it’s even tougher after a hip injury. If Bernier can get healthy though, he’s handled a big workload recently enough that there might be some interest as a UFA. Again, all of this would be contingent on passing a physical. In the grand scheme of things, I just hope Bernier can get healthy again so he can enjoy life, and give the NHL another run if he wants to.
I have openly admitted that I don’t understand goalies. As such, I feel bad for suggesting three of them get bought out in a row. Getting bought out is often times more of an indictment of the GM that signed the contract than the player themselves, I think that is be the case here. If Kyle Dubas can’t find a relatively inexpensive way to get out from under this contract as he did with Nick Ritchie, I think it would be a notable misstep. Notable in the sense that Dubas hasn’t made many, but this one would hurt in the final two years:
It opens up a little under $3m for the next two seasons, which would go a very long way for the Leafs. That being said, it’s still $1m in dead space, and I think the Leafs would find a lot more value in adding a sweetener to trade Mrazek. If it weren’t such an all or nothing season for Toronto I think giving him another chance would be an option, simply because the alternatives (buying him out or adding a sweetener) are so costly. If Mrazek is indeed bought out, there are lots of teams looking for a cheap project goalie every year.
Much like with Zucker in Pittsburgh, I think Hornqvist is a guy the Panthers like, but they’re also tight to the cap and pushing to do something big. Hornqvist played 4th line minutes all season, a contender just can’t be spending $5.3m on a 35 year old 4th liner. This one just makes too much sense not to happen, as Hornqvist’s salary is the same as his cap hit in each season, his buyout cost is pretty low:
Florida is sitting at about $4m in cap space next season with 9 forwards, 5 D, and 2 goalies. The extra ~$3.5m they get from buying Hornqvist out would go a really long way for them, perhaps not enough to re-sign Marchment but enough to find an upgrade on the declining Hornqvist.
The nice thing for Hornqvist is that he would then be eligible for performance bonuses on a 1 year, 35+ contract. He’s the type of guy that GMs love to bring in as a veteran presence, I think he would actually have a lot of upside on a cheaper deal.
It’s not very often that a player with a $3.5m cap hit plays in the AHL, as Connolly did this season to the tune of 35 points in 37 games. When Chicago took him on from Florida at the 2021 trade deadline they knew they weren’t getting the player that won a cup with Washington, it was just a necessity to complete the trade. Connolly’s salary is equal to his cap hit in every season so it would have made sense for Chicago to buy him out before 21-22, but then the buyout lasts until 2025. This offseason, the equation changes a bit.
Chicago has $21m in cap space to sign RFAs Dominik Kubalik, Dylan Strome, Kirby Dach, Philipp Kurashev, and Caleb Jones. Those are important pieces for a rebuilding Hawks team, not to mention they don’t have an NHL goalie under contract for next season. Every extra dollar makes it easier to sign some of those guys long term, and it’s not like Chicago would lose anything off the roster if they buy out Connolly. It would open up $2,333,333 for 22-23, with a buyout penalty as such:
The cap penalty in 23-24 shouldn’t be a problem, as Kane and Toews combined $21m comes off the books. If I were the Blackhawks GM, I think that’s a pretty easy sell. Even if you aren’t going to need the cap space this season, you can add an asset with that $2.3m whether it be a cap dump or a rental that is worth the dead space the following season.
From Connolly’s perspective, he loses ~$1.17m but is only 30 and can probably make most of that back on a new contract. He was nearly a point per game in the AHL, and the only reason he was down there in the first place was to save Chicago cap space. Teams will be a lot more willing to give him a chance on a $1m contract. The last time he was a free agent he chose to go to Florida, where there is nice weather and no state income tax. He’s already been on both the Lightning and the Panthers, I wonder if the logical next step would be Arizona. They’ll be looking for veteran free agents who are actually willing to sign there, and their college arena might actually feel like an upgrade from AHL rinks for Connolly.
In each of these cases I have made the assumption that a buyout is the only way a team can get out of a cap hit, but many of these players still have value around the league and could be traded instead. That could be the case for Zucker, Kassian, Hornqvist, and Khudobin. Or a team like Ottawa or New Jersey or Chicago could decide they don’t need the cap space and opt to have a clean slate going into 23-24. I have made a pretty optimistic case for what each of these teams could use their cap space for, but often times it opens GMs up to spend on another bad contract in UFA.
Take Vancouver’s backup goaltending in the 2021 offseason, for example. Jim Benning had his back against the wall and thought he could get a slight upgrade in Halak over Holtby. The structure of Holtby’s contract was such that Vancouver would open up $3.8m of his $4.3m cap hit with a buyout. Even though Holtby was ultimately the better goalie in 21-22, opening up $3.8m was not such a bad move by Benning. A team that recognizes they are still rebuilding could take that money and sign an asset that would return more than Holtby at the deadline. The problem was that Benning instead signed Halak for a total of $3m, and went even further by making $1.5m of that Performance Bonuses which could also be shifted onto future Jim. Then that future Jim turned out to be Rutherford, not Benning.
All told, the rush to save one job cascaded into $3.15m in cap hits next season for two goalies who won’t play for the Canucks ($1.25m earned PBs for Halak, $1.9m buyout for Holtby). I’ve already spent too much time on this but it demonstrates how a string of not necessarily terrible decisions can accumulate into a ball and chain when the short-term benefits are not capitalized on. This is the extreme end of the downside buyouts have but there are teams like the Wild this year, who opened up over $10m in 21-22 by buying out Parise and Suter, and finished with the 5th best record in the NHL.
Generally buying out any contract longer than 2 years is being bought out by a desperate GM. I wouldn’t say that is the case in Ottawa, where the mechanism of the buyout makes White’s penalty relatively painless. There does seem to be many cases where a contract signed before the flat cap can be bought out and a replacement signed for cheaper. The flat cap depressed the market for 3rd liners, so if you can save $2.5m on a buyout you can pick up a higher quality player than you could 3 years ago.
If you enjoyed a look at the buyout market from my perspective, follow me on Twitter @EarlSchwartz27 for more salary cap & CBA information.
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