The first buyout period for the NHL this year opens on whichever date occurs later, June 15 or 48 hours after the Stanley Cup Final ends. That means chatter of potential buyouts is going to start picking up very quickly. As there is every year, there are teams stuck with bad contracts and in need of some instant cap relief. This year will be like every other, featuring some buyouts and some interesting ones at that.
Nikita Zaitsev is in the final year of his seven-year contract and has now played for three different teams since signing that deal. The Ottawa Senators were having plenty of trouble finding good help on the right side, partly due to Zaitsev not carrying his weight for his large cap hit. He was even waived and played three games in the American Hockey League (AHL) this season. But the Chicago Blackhawks were willing to take on the final year of his bad contract.
Little did they know that they would win the draft lottery and now have a different mindset heading into next season. While they still want to take on some bad contracts, the Blackhawks also want to get some young players more experience next season. With Seth Jones, Connor Murphy, and Zaitsev on the right side, it doesn’t give much space for young defensemen like Ian Mitchell and Alec Regula. Not only can the Blackhawks afford to buy him out, but it will also only cost $2.83 million next season and $833,334 in 2024-25.
If there’s one contract that absolutely needs to be bought out, it’s Josh Bailey‘s. Not only is the 33-year-old’s age catching up to him, but he was also a healthy scratch down the stretch leading up to playoffs and didn’t dress for one game in the first round. He only suited up for 64 games this season and scored just eight goals, which was a pretty significant drop-off from last season.
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The New York Islanders need the cap space next season and to add scoring. The wing is where they can add that as the team has better internal candidates to take over Bailey’s roster spot, or they can look to bring someone in through free agency. Bailey has a cap hit of $5 million for one more season, and buying him out would allow the Islanders to save $2.67 million next season but be on the hook for $1.17 million in 2024-25. I think that’s a fair tradeoff they will be willing to make to get the team into a place to be a Stanley Cup threat again.
The Toronto Maple Leafs really only have two options with Matt Murray at this point, with one year left on his deal at $4.687 million average annual value (AAV). They either have to trade a goalie with a good asset attached for the second year in a row or buy out the final year of his deal. A buyout seems much more likely, as the Maple Leafs used enough assets at this past trade deadline to get what they thought they needed.
Ilya Samsonov is the main concern since he is the team’s starter but is a restricted free agent and needs a contract. Heading into 2022-23, Samsonov and Murray were expected to split time and see who emerges as the better option. We have since seen who the Maple Leafs favour, and even when the starting job was up for grabs in the playoffs after Samsonov got injured, they gave Joseph Woll the net over Murray. If it wasn’t clear that Murray was moving on already, it was at that point. If a buyout occurs, the cap hit will be $687,500 next season and $2 million in 2024-25.
The Boston Bruins are going to have a tough summer as they will have plenty of pieces getting moved around. They will not only lose a number of free agents they brought in at the trade deadline or already had, but they may also have to make some trades. For most of this season, Mike Reilly‘s contract plagued the team by being buried in the minors. Unfortunately, they made a mistake by signing him to a three-year, $3 million AAV deal in 2021 that he has not lived up to.
Reilly spent all but 10 games in the minors in 2022-23 for the Bruins and picked up just one assist. He also averaged under 17 minutes of ice time. It will cost the Bruins an asset to trade him, and that was likely already on the table this season. It costs too much against the cap to keep him in the minors again, and he’s not a viable option for them on the blue line because then he would cost the full $3 million (from “Bruins’ Mike Reilly on being buried in the AHL: ‘I was pretty crushed. Still am’”, The Athletic, Jan. 27). To buy him out, the Bruins will save themselves over $2.65 million next season and have to pay $1.33 million in 2024-25.
Even with all of the players set to hit free agency for the Montreal Canadiens this offseason, they still have a lot of talent at forward. Due to all of the injuries in 2022-23, many of the younger players received a chance, and some ran with the opportunity. Players like Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Jesse Ylonen were the two standouts, but if the team doesn’t make some more changes, both will have a hard time making the roster in 2023-24.
Joel Armia is a buyout candidate for the Canadiens, as his production has significantly dropped off the past three seasons, and his health has taken a decline over that span as well. He is the only player here with multiple years remaining on his deal, but the team will not want to continue paying his $3.4 million AAV. His buyout will cover four years since two years are remaining on his contract, and it will save the Canadiens a total of $2.87 million. The cap hit will be $33,333 next season, $1.03 million in 2024-25, and then $1.43 million the following two seasons, which isn’t so bad. There’s a lot pointing to a buyout here.
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I wanted to include a couple of honorable mentions in Kailer Yamamoto and Chris Driedger. There has been some talk about Yamamoto getting bought out if the Edmonton Oilers can’t trade him, while the Seattle Kraken had Driedger playing in the minors this season on a $3.5 million AAV deal. There’s a strong chance all five of these players get bought out this summer, and there’s also a good chance for a surprise or two. But one thing is for sure. Teams aren’t going to be quiet in clearing cap space while the cap hardly rises.