The NHL offseason is moving now.
The expansion draft and the entry draft are done. We’ve seen some huge trades that have moved out significant salaries. And some of the highest-profile buyouts that we’re likely to see in the NHL’s first buyout window — Keith Yandle, Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Tony DeAngelo — have already been executed, further stocking up the secondary unrestricted free agent market for this upcoming week.
As the clock ticks relentlessly toward the opening of the free-agent market on July 28, time is getting short for NHL teams to exercise buyouts. The buyout window will slam shut at 5 p.m. ET on July 27, meaning that any player without a no-movement clause will have to be on waivers Monday in order to be eligible to have their contract bought out.
Teams typically prefer to wait until the last moment on buyouts, whenever possible. But with the closing of the buyout window two days out, it’s last resort time, so let’s review eight potential buyout situations around the NHL that are worth monitoring, with the help of contract data contained at CapFriendly.
Mikko Koskinen, Edmonton Oilers
James Neal, Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers had a ton of salary flexibility entering this offseason and a lot of it has already been spoken for.
The club has extended Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, added Duncan Keith in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks and are on the verge of signing Zach Hyman to a seven-year deal that will carry approximately a $5.5 million cap hit, according to reports from TSN’s Darren Dreger.
As it stands, the Oilers are poised to have about $7.5 million in salary-cap space once they sign the Hyman deal on Wednesday. They’re still relatively well-positioned cap-wise overall, although there’s still work to be done to flesh out this roster.
That work includes identifying a top-four defenceman to replace new Seattle Kraken defender Adam Larsson, which could be an expensive proposition and a tricky negotiation with restricted free agent forward Kailer Yamamoto. Yamamato has managed 47 points in his past 79 games since establishing himself as a full-time NHL player midway through 2018-19 and is a complementary piece for an Oilers side that still lacks depth.
With Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl at the peak of their powers, the time is now for the Oilers. Every move they’ve made this offseason backs that up.
If general manager Ken Holland is going to continue to push chips into the middle of the table, carving out additional cap space is crucial to permit Edmonton to spend on Larsson’s replacement, add term to a Yamamoto extension and improve a middle-six forward group that still has significant room for improvement.
Over the next couple of days, the Oilers have an opportunity to do that by buying out a pair of contracts that are inefficient holdovers from the Peter Chiarelli era.
Mikko Koskinen was Chiarelli’s last transaction as Oilers general manager. He carries a $4.5 million cap hit on a contract with a buyout-friendly structure and is rather obviously surplus to requirements with Mike Smith extended and Alex Stalock in the fold.
Since the Oilers already have a backup for Smith signed, the cap benefit of buying out Koskinen is that none of the cap savings would have to be reallocated to a replacement backup netminder.
James Neal, meanwhile, was acquired in a swap-our-problems deal in 2019 with the Calgary Flames for Milan Lucic — a signature Chiarelli signing. Neal has a $5.75 million cap hit this year and next and a relatively buyout-friendly contract structure with no signing bonus due to him over the remainder of his deal.
If the Oilers buy out the pair, they’d add nearly $7 million in cap space ahead of free agency. It would allow them to continue big game hunting on both the trade market and in free agency in the weeks to come.
Loui Eriksson, Arizona Coyotes
Loui Eriksson didn’t make sense as a buyout candidate for the Vancouver Canucks, but now that he’s been dealt to the Arizona Coyotes, the arithmetic may change.
There’s limited cap benefit to executing an Eriksson buyout because of the signing bonus-laden structure of his contract. But since his signing bonus was paid out by Vancouver on July 15, it leaves just $3 million in salary owing to Eriksson on the final season of his six-year, $36 million contract.
Eriksson was dealt to the Coyotes by Vancouver along with a couple of the team’s other inefficient contractual commitments in Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel. But unlike Beagle and Roussel, who carry matching $3 million cap hits, there’s really no path for the Coyotes to resuscitate Eriksson’s trade value. Even if the Coyotes were to retain half of his cap hit, the veteran winger’s rapidly declining usefulness makes him too difficult to move.
The Coyotes’ options, then, are to either:
Play Eriksson on the fourth line, carry his $6 million cap hit on their books and pay him $3 million.
Bury Eriksson in the AHL, carry his roughly $5 million cap hit on their books and pay him $3 million.
Execute a buyout, carry $4 million on their books this season (and $1 million in 2022-23) and pay him $2 million in salary, saving $1 million in real cash.
For a budget-conscious team like the Coyotes, option No. 3 seems like the obvious choice.