With the Las Vegas expansion draft less than a year away, you can bet GMs have begun to look at their rosters and already have their own ideas as to who they might lose to Vegas. Some of them are probably nervously eyeing a few of their no-move clause contracts that they’ll be forced to protect due to the NHL expansion rules. That doesn’t seem like a huge deal, until you realize that it will mean that they won’t be able to protect some other players who have far more value.
The only rule-compliant way out of these contracts for NHL GMs? Buyouts. That’s why I would expect to see a slew of buyouts next offseason; GMs will be too worried about losing valuable assets that they can’t protect, and thus they’ll cut loose some of their more onerous NMC contracts to free up protection slots.
If you’re unclear on the 2017 NHL expansion rules, read them in full here. Furthermore, here is a link to the ever-so-helpful General Fanager, in which it explicitly states that players on NMC contracts are still indeed eligible for buyouts.
Now that we’re all up to speed, let’s get right into it. Here are the 15 most likely players to be bought out before the 2017 Las Vegas expansion draft:
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15 Frans Nielsen
Frans Nielsen would likely be higher on this list if the Red Wings hadn’t just signed him to a six-year deal this offseason (complete with a no-move clause). It seems unlikely that they’d just turn around and buy him out after one year of service, but nonetheless he cracks our top 15.
This was, in my opinion, one of the worst offseason signings for 2016, which is surprising given that Ken Holland and the Red Wings are usually quite adept at the ‘ole team management. But Nielsen will be 33 by the end of the season, meaning this current contract will run until he’s 38. In fact, he’s currently at the age where your average player will begin to regress.
The Red Wings have too many other players who are at least as good as Nielsen that need protection, so a Nielsen buyout makes logical sense—if you ignore the fact that he was just signed.
14 Dion Phaneuf
Much like Nielsen, Dion Phaneuf is one of the new guys on his team in Ottawa. That is the only reason I can think of that the Senators wouldn’t buyout Phaneuf’s contract before the Las Vegas expansion. The defenseman’s current contract comes with a $7 million cap hit through 2020-21, and that’s too expensive for a player of his caliber.
Another possibility in Ottawa is that the Senators decide to part ways with Bobby Ryan instead, who comes with a $7.25 million cap hit through 2021-22 (also with a NMC). Either way, it appears as though Ottawa will want to cut at least one of these guys loose before the 2017 expansion draft, as they have other players they’d likely prefer to keep over these two aging vets.
13 Jeff Petry
The Montreal Canadiens only have one contract on the books with a no-move clause for 2017-18, and that’s defenseman Jeff Petry’s. Petry is slotted to earn $5.5 million a season through 2020-21, and although that’s not an incredibly bad contract for a capable defenseman like Petry, there are other players in Montreal who the Habs would likely want to protect ahead of Petry.
The Candaiens would likely be going the seven forwards/three defensemen route, as they do have a wealth of young forwards who are just not quite young enough for expansion exemption. Given the status of their contracts, it’s reasonable to assume that Montreal will want to retain the services of Alexei Emelin and Nathan Beaulieu beyond next summer, and it’s not like they’ll expose P.K. Subban replacement Shea Weber.
That leaves Petry as the odd man out, but that pesky NMC means they’ll have to buy him out or live with losing one of the aforementioned players.
12 Johnny Boychuk
When it comes to the 2017 expansion draft, it’s tough to find a team more up against the eight ball than the Islanders. Only one comes to mind, and that’s the Tampa Bay Lightning, and you can bet there will be more on them later. The Islanders have so many forwards that need protection they’re pretty much forced to go the 7F/3D route.
Newcomer Andrew Ladd and franchise cornerstone John Tavares are the only two forwards with NMCs, and the Isles just signed Ladd so it’s unlikely they view him as a buyout option. Add in essential forwards Nikolay Kulemin, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, and Ryan Strome, and you can see why they need to protect seven forwards.
If they don’t buy out Boychuk, they’ll likely lose either Thomas Hickey or Calvin de Haan to expansion. Not ideal, as de Haan is one of their better young D-men, and Hickey just enjoyed somewhat of a breakout year in 2015-16.
11 Zdeno Chara
Slovakian giant Zdeno Chara is the first captain to appear on our list, and although it’s possible the Bruins decide against this for that very reason, a buyout would still be a smart move from the business side of things. Chara will be heading into the final year of what will likely be his last contract in 2017-18, and the Bruins have a lot of young players they’ll want to protect ahead of Chara.
Four of their forwards—David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, and Brad Marchand—have NMCs for the 2017 expansion draft, so they need to be protected. Then there’s David Pastrnak, Matt Beleskey, Ryan Spooner—that’s seven forwards right there.
On defense, they have youngsters Colin Miller, Torey Krug, and Adam McQuaid, all of whom are under 30 and have much higher long-term value to the club than Chara. As you can see, a Chara buyout might be the best option for the Big Bad B’s.
10 Marian Hossa
The Chicago Blackhawks were a different team back in 2009 when they signed Marian Hossa to a fat 12-year contract that would make the two-way winger a part of the team until he turned 42. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were still on ELCs, and they were just about to embark on a three-Cups-in-six-seasons stretch. Life was good.
Not that the sky is falling these days in Chicago or anything, but they are definitely starting to feel the cap crunch. With Toews and Kane now on matching deals that are accompanied with $10.5 million annual cap hits, things are getting tight in the Windy City. With Artem Anisimov also with a NMC, that’s four forwards the ‘Hawks will be forced to protect. Does it make sense to cut the then- 38-year-old Hossa loose?
9 Scott Hartnell
The Columbus Blue Jackets have quite the mess on their hands. Up front they have four forwards on NMCs for the 2017 expansion draft, and they could stand to buy out a few as it is. The Jackets have already snuck a buyout in a season early, as they cut ties with D-man Fedor Tyutun this offseason—likely to ensure they’re able to keep David Savard, Seth Jones, and Ryan Murray on the back end.
Although Scott Hartnell is still ticking away at 34, the fact remains that the Jackets will want to protect a few of their younger forwards before Hartnell. Boone Jenner, Cam Atkinson, and Matt Calvert are just a few that come to mind. Even on D, they are bound to lose one of the three aforementioned plus Jack Johnson. For a team that’s already not very good, the Jackets sure are in a pickle for 2017 expansion.
8 Ryan Callahan
GM Steve Yzerman looks like a darn genius these days with what he’s managed to do in Tampa Bay since his arrival. Today, though, not a lot of opposing GMs are jealous of the situation he has to deal with. Even before next summer’s nightmare pertaining to the expansion draft, he has to find a way to ink superstar Nikita Kucherov to an extension (they have cap issues standing in the way).
The thing is, most of these problems would be solved if they could shed a few problematic contracts that have NMCs attached to them, and one of those belongs to Ryan Callahan. Acquired in the infamous Martin St. Louis trade, Yzerman was adamant he got a useful player in return for his franchise cornerstone. My money says Stevie-Y is wishing he just asked for a few decent draft picks rather than the expensive, regressing, immovable Callahan.
7 Francois Beauchemin
Francois Beauchemin is a solid defenseman and he has been for a long time. His potential buyout is more for the purposes of freeing up the extra protection slot come expansion. Beauchemin has two years left on his current deal, meaning he’s a prime target for a buyout for the Avalanche.
The Avalanche have a wealth of young forwards they’re going to want to protect over Beauchemin, who will be 37 at the time. On D, they’ll need to protect Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson for sure, and you have to think they’d protect one of their younger defensemen over Beauchemin if they could. Eric Gelinas is probably the best candidate for this, but either way a Beauchemin buyout might be a savvy move for Colorado come next summer.
6 Dan Girardi
Dan Girardi’s on-ice performance has dipped substantially over the past two seasons—especially if you’re the type who buys into advanced statistics. Girardi’s current deal takes him until the end of 2021-22, and it carries a $5.5 million annual cap hit. With a wealth of young forwards in need of protection and Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, and likely Kevin Klein all viewed as superior options, a Girardi buyout is possible.
The Rangers easily have seven forwards who need protection, so there’s no doubt the go the 7/3 route as opposed to the any eight skaters route. Derek Stepan, Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, J.T. Miller, Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes—there’s seven right there, and any one of those guys would surely get plucked if left available. Is it possible the leave Nash and his $7.8 million cap hit exposed?
5 Jason Pominville
The Minnesota Wild are another team that simply has too many young players to protect ahead of some of the older, aging ones on NMC contracts. Jason Pominville is one of those players, and he’s probably the best bet on a buyout for the Wild.
Pominville is one of three forwards who have a NMC attached to their contracts, with the other two being Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise. Parise’s contract runs through 2024-25, so that one isn’t being bought out. Koivu is their captain and a superior player to Pominville, meaning the American is the most likely buyout candidate at this point.
If the Wild hope to keep young up-and-coming forwards like Nino Niederreiter, Jason Zucker, Eric Haula, Charlie Coyle, and Mikael Granlund, they’re going to need to shed Pominville’s NMC contract.
4 Kevin Bieksa
The Anaheim Ducks used to be a budget team, but that’s changed as they now find themselves with barely enough cap space to sign RFA Hampus Lindholm. Defenseman Kevin Bieksa is one of four players with a NMC contract in Anaheim, and he’ll be heading into the final season of his deal, making him a prime candidate for a buyout if the Ducks are looking to free up a protection slot next offseason.
Bieksa will be 36 before next season starts, and the Ducks have four other defensemen they will want to keep instead. Of course the aforementioned Lindholm is there, but let’s not forget Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen, and 25-year-old Simon Despres. It would be in the club’s best interest to eat the last year of Bieksa’s contract in order to retain some youth.
3 David Clarkson
David Clarkson may not even be an issue for the Blue Jackets in a year’s time, as it was recently reported that he failed his physical and won’t start the season on Columbus’ 23 man roster. Nonetheless, they still have him under contract, and one can only assume that Clarkson is working to get healthy.
Should he bounce back and become eligible to play, there is no doubt in my mind the Jackets will buy out Clarkson. The Jackets are absolutely saddled with terrible NMC contracts up front, and shedding Clarkson’s deal and perhaps even a second one (Hartnell was mentioned as a possibility earlier in the article) is definitely something they’ll want to do before it comes time for GM George McPhee to select his Las Vegas roster.
2 Tobias Enstrom
You get the feeling that the Winnipeg Jets have always sort of wanted more out of Tobias Enstrom, but at 31 years old I think it’s fair to say that what you see is what you get. Furthermore, he’s already begun to regress, so the fact that he has a NMC tied into his contract (which expires after the 2017-18 season) makes him a prime buyout candidate.
Just what type of predicament the Jets are in all depends on the Jacob Trouba situation. The RFA has requested a trade out of town, but that doesn’t necessarily mean bridges can’t be mended. Travis Hamonic, Nail Yakupov, and Jonathan Drouin have all requested trades in the past season, but none have been dealt (Yakupov’s could be imminent, though). Bottom line is the Jets are full of youth much more deserving of protection than Enstrom is.
1 Valtteri Filppula
As mentioned earlier in the article, Tampa Bay has some salary cap problems to deal with. Callahan was mentioned earlier as another Lightning buyout candidate, but if they only buy out one contract I’d venture a guess and say it’s Valtteri Filppula’s. Although GM Steve Yzerman has always been a major Filppula supporter, it might make the most sense for his club from a business standpoint.
The Lightning are stacked with quality players, so any way you slice it they’re probably going to lose a good one next June when McPhee makes his picks. But shedding Filppula’s NMC contract would allow them to keep at least one more of their young players who otherwise may not have made the cut. That could mean someone as good as Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, or even Alex Killorn. They need to shed Filppula’s contract, stat.
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