The NHL’s signing season kicks off Saturday, and in order to clear up cap space ahead of free agency, a number of teams have trimmed the fat from their rosters ahead of the closing of the first buyout window on Friday evening.
Already, several notable buyouts have taken place. Among those was the buyout of goaltender Antti Niemi by the Dallas Stars and four defensemen: Matt Greene by the Los Angeles Kings, Simon Despres by the Anaheim Ducks, Dan Girardi by the New York Rangers and Francois Beauchemin by the Colorado Avalanche. And there’s already reported interest in two of those players.
Niemi, it has been reported by Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, is a potential target of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who will be searching for an NHL-ready backup to play behind Matt Murray after the departure of Marc-Andre Fleury in the expansion draft. Meanwhile, Girardi, a stay-at-home defender who’s more than willing to block some rubber, has apparently drawn interest from several teams. Friedman noted, however, that it appears a deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning may already be done.
But Niemi and Girardi aren’t the only buyout victims-turned-free agents who will be looking for new homes. Here’s who else has hit the open market after being bought out Friday, including a few players who are sure to draw interest:
Jimmy Hayes, RW, Boston Bruins
Buyout Cap Hit: $566,667, 2017-18; $866,667, 2018-19.
Hayes, 27, came Boston’s way almost two years ago to the day in a July 1, 2015, deal that sent Reilly Smith and Marc Savard’s LTIR contract to the Panthers. Days later, Hayes, who had put up 19 goals and 35 points the year prior, was inked to a three-year, $6.9-million contract. To say things didn’t work out in Beantown for the Boston native would be an understatement, though.
In his first year, he put up 16 goals and 29 points, not a poor effort, but he was almost invisible this past season for the Bruins. Hayes chalked up only two goals and five points, suiting up in 58 games and averaging little more than nine minutes of ice time per night. It was a massive disappointment, and it’s far from surprising to see the Bruins cut ties.
Where does Hayes land now? Likely on a team that’s willing to give him a shot in their bottom six. Signing with a team lacking depth and chasing size would make the most sense for Hayes. His options will certainly be limited, though.
Ryan Murphy, D, Calgary Flames
Buyout Cap Hit: $100,000 in 2017-18; $137,500 in 2018-19
When Calgary landed Eddie Lack on Thursday, Murphy came as part of the package. Initially, the thought was the 24-year-old might get a shot to try his hand at the Flames’ third pairing, maybe rejuvenating his once promising career and finding a fit in Calgary. That won’t be the case, however, as almost as soon as he got to the Flames, he finds himself on the free agent market.
Where Murphy goes now is anyone’s bet, but he’d certainly make an interesting pickup if a team wants to give him a shot to prove he can turn into a consistent contributor. He had promise as an offensive defenseman, but the shortcomings in his defensive game have limited him to bottom-pairing minutes for the bulk of his NHL career. He’s a project, but one that might be worth taking a shot on if defensive depth is weak.
Lance Bouma, C, Calgary Flames
Buyout Cap Hit: $666,667 in 2017-18; $766,667 in 2018-19
Talk about cashing in on a stellar season. Bouma scored 16 goals and 34 points in 78 during the 2014-15 campaign and parlayed his performance into a three-year, $6.6-million deal. Since his new contract deal has kicked in, though, the pivot has managed to score five goals and 14 points in 105 games, truly ugly totals for a player earning as much as Bouma. It could have been seen coming, however, because Bouma shot an incredible 15.4 percent that season. In the years since, Bouma has shot 4.1 and 5.7 percent. That’s not to mention his ice time has slipped to an average of 11:38 per game over the past two seasons.
If Bouma is going to land anywhere in the big league, he’s likely going to have to do so on a one-year, league-minimum contract, and there’s a realistic possibility that any contract he signs is going to have to be a two-way deal. At 27, he’s through the best years of his career and he’s not likely to reach the heights he did during his career-best year again.
Scott Hartnell, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets
Buyout Cap Hit: $1,500,000 in 2017-18; $3,000,000 in 2018-19; $1,250,000 in 2019-20; $1,250,000 in 2020-21
Quite possibly the most notable buyout of the off-season thus far is the Blue Jackets deciding to part ways with Hartnell. The veteran winger wasn’t playing awfully for Columbus — he chipped in 13 goals and 37 points in 78 games — but the issue was that Hartnell, 35, was making far too much to play fourth line minutes for a team that is looking to get younger, faster and more skilled to keep up in the cutthroat Metropolitan Division.
At the time of the buyout, Hartnell was carrying a $4.75-million cap hit, and buying him out cleared more than $3 million in space and that can go a long way with Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg needing new deals as RFAs. That’s not to mention Columbus has been identified as one team chasing Ilya Kovalchuk and, more recently, Matt Duchene.
As for Hartnell, he shouldn’t be without a job for long. Yes, he’s up there in age, but his production in a limited role was impressive and he can still bring offensive punch to a team needing third- or fourth-line help. That’s not to mention he can still be an effective power play contributor. He has 20 goals with the extra man over the past three seasons.
Benoit Pouliot, LW, Edmonton Oilers
Buyout Cap Hit: $1,333,333 in 2017-18; $1,333,333 in 2018-19; $1,333,333 in 2019-20; $1,333,333 in 2020-21
Pouliot’s tenure in Edmonton started off so strong. In that first season, back in 2014-15, he scored 19 goals and 34 points while taking second line minutes, and the signing looked rather solid for the Oilers. The next season, though, Pouliot managed 16 goals and 36 points before slipping all the way into a fourth line role and netting just eight goals and 14 points in 67 games this past season. And at $4 million per season, that was simply too much for Edmonton to pay out.
The concern here was the next two years of the deal, especially with new extensions set to kick in for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in the coming years, and that’s why Pouliot was bought out. Like Hartnell, though, the 30-year-old Pouliot should be able to find work elsewhere, even if only to play limited minutes on a fourth-line. He’s a smart enough two-way player to help out, and with options limited, a team may be able to nab him for a song.
Jussi Jokinen, Florida Panthers
Buyout Cap Hit: $1,333,333 in 2017-18; $1,333,333 in 2018-19
Unless the Panthers are set to make a splash in free agency or are really concerned with cutting costs for the upcoming season, it’s hard to make sense of buying out Jokinen.
Was Jokinen as effective this past season as he had been in the past? Absolutely not. Was he a sure thing for another 15-goal, 30-point season? Nope. But Jokinen was still a decent contributor and even if it meant moving to the third line, he could have provided some offense in Florida. Instead, he’s looking for a new job.
The most likely possibility for Jokinen, 34, is a new gig on a team looking for center depth that can also provide some scoring punch, and he certainly seems as though he’ll have some suitors. He scored 11 goals and 29 points in 2016-17, putting up four on the power play and one while shorthanded. He’s defensively responsible and a versatile forward, and a team up against the cap looking for some help could certainly come calling. Jokinen has something left to give.
Mike Cammalleri, LW, New Jersey Devils
Buyout Cap Hit: $1,666,667 in 2017-18; $1,666,667 in 2018-19; $1,666,667 in 2019-20; $1,666,667 in 2020-21
Injuries have really hampered Cammalleri recently and he’s missed more than 60 games across the past two campaigns. That said, if Cammalleri is healthy and ready to go, there may be no better way to inject cheap, veteran scoring into a lineup than inking the 35-year-old to a deal.
Even at his age, Cammalleri has consistently been able to light the lamp, and 2016-17’s 10-goal, 31-point performance was more of an aberration than anything. He had the worst shooting percentage of his career — a measly seven percent — after posting 17.3 and 13.9 shooting percentages during his first two campaigns as a Devil. For his career, Cammalleri has shot upwards of 12 percent. That’s impressive.
Maybe Cammalleri is starting to slow down, and that’ll happen with age. However, if there’s a team looking for a potential second power play unit triggerman or some scoring help on the wing, it’s hard to pass up Cammalleri. He’s not a 30-goal guy anymore, but in the right situation, 20 is far from far-fetched.
Devante Smith-Pelly, RW, New Jersey Devils
Buyout Cap Hit: $175,000 in 2017-18; $225,000 in 2018-19
Smith-Pelly has bounced from Anaheim to Montreal to New Jersey over the course of his six seasons in the NHL, but he’s never found a real fit. He’s a checking-line guy who can get in on the forecheck and mix it up, but he’s not the type of bottom-six winger who can be relied upon for consistent contributions. His 14-goal, 25-point season in 2015-16 is the best Smith-Pelly has ever put forth, but he managed just five goals and nine points in 53 games this past season. That’s proof of how wildly his offense can fluctuate.
Of all the players bought out Friday, Smith-Pelly seems to be the most likely to end up overseas, and maybe a turn across the pond can be just what he needed. He hasn’t really found his fit in the NHL, but some experience in a bigger role could do him well. If he does land back in the big league, you can almost be assured it’ll be a two-way deal.
Mark Stuart, Winnipeg Jets
Buyout Cap Hit: $1,458,333 in 2017-18; $583,333 in 2018-19
Stuart was a fixture of the franchise since joining the Jets, playing more than 350 games in Winnipeg since the team moved north of the border. Over the past three seasons, though, the Jets’ draft and development model, not to mention the acquisition of Tyler Myers, has made Stuart obsolete. His ice time has slipped from 19-plus to little more than 12 minutes in three seasons, and he was often a healthy scratch during the 2016-17 campaign.
It’s hard to say what the market is going to be like for Stuart, especially with the breadth of middle- and bottom-pairing defenders available in free agency, but the 33-year-old could potentially be a fit for a squad looking to land a physical presence who can slot in as a sixth or seventh defender. Stuart has very little offense to his game, but he can fill a hole as a defensive defenseman. A team might really covet his leadership, too. He spent four seasons as an alternate captain in Winnipeg and captained USA’s World Championship squad in 2011.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.