NHL teams combined to use precisely one quarter of their allotted compliance buyouts during the 2013 window last month. As many as 45 players can still be subject to such a move when the second and final compliance buyout period runs in the early summer of 2014.
Odds are there will not be nearly that many. In fact, it will likely be less than the 15 who have already had their contracts and roster spots revoked for the sake of their team opening cap space or otherwise.
Even so, there are some teams who project to have no choice but to buy somebody out in advance of 2014-15. Some of those teams have a noticeable potential target, whether it is based on his swollen cap hit or his recent underachievement; others do not.
Here are five teams that may need to shed substantial cap space next summer and/or individuals who could be sacrificed for that purpose.
Unless otherwise indicated, all salary information for this slideshow was found via capgeek.com
As they stand right now, the Pittsburgh Penguins are $1,098,333 above the cap for 2013-14. It could get even murkier heading into the season that follows.
Pittsburgh has but a dozen players―seven forwards, four defenseman and one goaltender―under contract for 2014-15. Their combined cap hits, including rising hits via Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin, amount to a projected $10,675,000 in spare room.
Unless at least one player is moved, particularly a high-grossing one, that will be all the Pens have to work with as they try to lock in at least five more NHL-caliber forwards, two blueliners and another goalie. Naturally, a couple of spare skaters would be most ideal.
It is impossible to envision some of the core Penguins (i.e. Sidney Crosby, Letang and Malkin) being let go and extraordinarily difficult to imagine for the others. But for the purpose of sheer financial practicality, it might come to that for one or two of their incumbent players in 11 months.
Seven members of the Los Angeles Kings are slated to impose a cap hit greater $4 million both this coming season and in 2014-15.
As the team stands for the latter campaign, it needs a contract for five forwards, two defensemen and a goalie to give them an NHL-caliber quorum of four full lines, three defensive pairings and a spare skater of both positions.
The catch: L.A.’s projected cap space to plug those eight payroll vacancies is a brittle $10,190,606.
Based on what they have already done and what they could potentially do for the franchise in the future, most of the seven highest-grossing Kings are thoroughly untouchable. Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick and Slava Voynov all come readily to mind.
Then there are Mike Richards ($5.75 million) and Jeff Carter ($5,272,727), two other outstanding holdovers from the 2012 Stanley Cup championship.
Somehow or other, the reality of the cap is going to strike within the next year. If only for the sole sake of clearing room, one or two players of $5-plus million will either need to be traded before the next deadline or bought out within the next window.
This applies if and only if the player in question plays at least a decent portion of 2013-14 and is in certifiably good health by season’s end.
With that said, just because a June surgery kept Martin Havlat from being bought out in 2013 does not mean things cannot fall into place for the Sharks to cut him loose in 2014.
While listing him among 10 bounce-back candidates this season, nhl.com’s John Kreiser wrote of Havlat, “the Sharks need him to generate 50-60 points and fill a top-six role.”
Anything short of that may usher Havlat out of the Bay Area, assuming he is buyout-eligible when the time comes.
In terms of cap hits, Havlat’s $5 million is currently one of a big four, if you will, among San Jose forwards currently under contract for 2014-15. The three higher-grossing strikers are Brent Burns, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, while veteran mainstays Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton are both due to hit free agency.
For what it’s worth, Marleau and Thornton currently combine for a $13.9 million cap hit. Fellow 2014 free agent Dan Boyle’s is $6,666,667 while two other forwards, two other defensemen and backup goalie Alex Stalock combine for $4,730,000.
If, hypothetically, all of those players and positions would cost as much to retain as they do to employ this year, it would amount to $24,671,667. That’s a good $4,906,667 more than the $19,765,000 that the Sharks currently have open for 2014-15.
Rich Peverley is gone, so Chris Kelly can no longer try to renew the chemistry he altogether briefly formulated with his fellow February 2011 acquisition. But he will need to do something to renew his worth as a Boston Bruin.
Kelly set a tone for his Boston tenure with a solid 2011 playoff (5-8-13 scoring log in 25 games). He followed up with a career campaign of 20 goals and 39 points, but was still somewhat erratic in 2011-12, particularly in a second half that featured three six-game pointless skids and another cold spell lasting five games.
Kelly subsequently plummeted this past year, finishing his regular season with nine points and a minus-eight rating, and his postseason with three points and a minus-seven.
Doesn’t read like the output of the third-line center on a Stanley Cup runner-up, does it?
That notwithstanding, Kelly’s margin for error could still be thick enough, except for the fact that the Bruins are facing a cap squeeze as it is and will again in 2014-15. They have 11 forwards, four defensemen and a goaltender set for that season, but only about $7.37 million in cap room to fill the rest of their NHL roster with.
Barring an assertive 2013-14 rebound, Kelly and his $3 million cap hit look to be the Bruins’ front-runners for sacrifice next June.
The fact that the New York Rangers chose to keep Brad Richards on their roster and payroll for this coming season does not mean he is off the buyout block for later.
As GM Glen Sather told Newsday in early July, Richards has “been a good player. He had an off-year and we think he'll be much better next year. That’s probably the deciding factor.”
Because of the swollen $6,666,667 cap hit on Richards’ contract, which runs through 2019-20, whether or not Sather’s prophecy comes true will likely be the deciding factor next summer as well.
Right now, the Rangers are down to $2.1 million in open cap room with fast-blossoming center Derek Stepan still lacking a new contract. Of those who are locked in for the coming campaign, 10 forwards, six defenseman and both goalies are due to hit free agency in July of 2014.
If young players like Chris Kreider, who is entering the final year of his entry-level deal, are for keeps, a raise is likely in order for at least some of those FAs.
That could render any performance on Richards’ part irrelevant in terms of his staying power in Manhattan. If it comes down to ensuring multiple promising players of the future, then relinquishing the team’s second-highest cap hit for 2014-15 would be the most logical tradeoff.