Is there anything more wonderful than a mulligan?
Believe us, NHL GMs will be clamouring for them this fall as they try to solve their financial puzzles around overpaid players. Problem is, those do-overs won’t come cheap.
With the 2020-21 salary cap flattening in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, anchor contracts will weigh even heavier on the minds and spreadsheets of the NHL’s spend-happy general managers.
While owners were not in favour of easing their executives’ jobs with a round of compliance buyouts — those get-out-of-jail-free cards handed out after the 2013 lockout — the traditional buyout window is right around the corner.
GMs are permitted to buy out contracts of their untradables beginning Sept. 25 — with ownership’s blessing, of course. That first buyout window shuts on Oct. 8.
Here is a breakdown of 14 players who might be considered for a buyout, and the pros and cons of pulling the trigger on arguably the most uncomfortable tool at a GM’s disposal.
(For all the fine print on buyouts and a nifty buyout calculator, head over to the wonderful CapFriendly.com.)
Karl Alzner two years at a $4.625-million cap hit
Although Alzner did work his way back to the NHL for four games this winter, there is no mistaking the defenceman has been a supreme bust, a classic July 1 overpay. In the summer of 2019, he ranked second to Milan Lucic among CapFriendly.com’s most-searched buyouts.
After eight years of perfect NHL attendance, Alzner was scratched on opening night of the 2018-19 season and appeared in just nine big-league games for the organization before being demoted to Laval, where he’s quietly put in solid if overcompensated work for two seasons.
James Neal, three years at a $5.75-million cap hit
No stranger to cutting cheques in order to enhance cap comfort, the Oilers are currently paying three players to not be in Edmonton: buyouts Benoit Pouliot and Andrej Sekera, plus the traded Lucic, for whom they retained salary.
No doubt, Neal bounced back nicely with 19 goals in 2019-20, but he’s a dash-20 winger on the books until age 35. There are better ways than a power-play specialist to allot that salary during Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s prime.
Edmonton is expected to be active in the trade and free agency markets, but if Ken Holland needs to create space, buying out Neal and carving out an extra $3.83 million in cap space over the next three seasons should be a serious option.
Henrik Lundqvist, one year at a $8.5-million cap hit
This one is more about carving out space than saving money, and there was a distinct feeling that Lundqvist had played his final game for the Blueshirts when he left the Toronto bubble in August.