Looking at potential buyout targets with the second window looming

Teams who have arbitration hearings on the docket – or those who've cleared them up already – will have the opportunity to exercise a buyout during the second summer window.
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As the Vancouver Canucks continue to pursue a contract extension with sharpshooting restricted free agent Brock Boeser, the front office finds itself considering the corresponding moves and the ways in which they can clear cap space to ensure cap compliance before the start of the coming campaign.

As such, a number of options have been floated in recent weeks. Some have suggested shipping out a valuable piece such as defenseman Chris Tanev, who will become an unrestricted free agent next summer and is an intriguing trade chip if Vancouver decides to move him along. Others have posited that the best way for the Canucks to get under the cap is by sending some depth pieces packing, particularly those with mid-range salaries such as Tanner Pearson and Jay Beagle. And others yet have wondered if the Canucks could just go ahead and buy out Loui Eriksson, whose $6-million cap hit has become burdensome given his lack of production since arriving on the West Coast. After all, there is a second buyout window before the summer is up.

Unfortunately for Vancouver, though, that final option, executing a midsummer buyout of the 34-year-old winger, isn’t in the cards. Of course, that’s not entirely because the Canucks wouldn’t be interested – though, truth be told, they might not be given they passed on their chance in the first window – but because of rules outlined in the collective bargaining agreement. Only teams who have arbitration cases on the docket, either player- or team-elected, are eligible to use the second window. Vancouver doesn’t fall into that category. Thus, Eriksson, who was considered a prime buyout candidate earlier this summer, is either going to begin the season with the Canucks or have to be traded out of town if Vancouver has any designs on ridding themselves of his hefty cap hit before the 2019-20 campaign.

The Canucks aren’t the only team without access to such a window, however. Teams who are also without the opportunity to exercise a buyout in the second window are the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks and Toronto Maple Leafs. That does leave more than two-thirds of the league with the option to utilize the window, though, so who finds themselves on the buyout block?

Brendan Smith, New York Rangers
With RFAs Jacob Trouba, Pavel Buchnevich, Brendan Lemieux and Anthony Deangelo unsigned, the Rangers’ off-season work isn’t over, and with little more than $7-million in cap space, there’s going to need to be some sort of move made once all four are locked into deals. Talk of trading Chris Kreider or Vladislav Namestnikov is floating around, but it wouldn't be all that surprising if New York chose to buy out Smith, whose time in the Big Apple hasn’t worked out for either party.

There’s savings to be had here, too. In buying out Smith, 30, in the second window, the Rangers would free up north of $3.3 million and another $1.2 million for the 2020-21 campaign. Sure, there are respective $1.15 million penalties in 2021-22 and 2022-23, but the rebuilding Blueshirts should be able to work around those hurdles. 

Karl Alzner, Montreal Canadiens
Does Montreal need to clear cap space? Not necessarily. With 15 forwards under contract and eight rearguards set to battle for spots on the blueline, the Canadiens have upwards of $4 million with which to work for the remainder of the off-season. That gives them room to add here or there should they so choose. They would have an additional $3.56 million to at their disposal, though, if they bought out Alzner, who spent much of last season in the AHL and has three campaigns at $4.625-million per season left on his deal.

However, the Canadiens might decide that such a buyout is better left for the 2020 season. Buying out Alzner in the second window saves Montreal the aforementioned $3.56 million this season, as well as $430,556 in 2020-21 and $2.43 million in 2021-22, but it also carries a $1-million cap hit from 2022-23 through to the end of 2024-25. But if the Canadiens are comfortable waiting one more season, an Alzner buyout next summer would free up $667,000 for Montreal in 2020-21 and $2.67 million in 2021-22 with only two seasons at a cap hit of about $833,000 after that.

Having settled with Charles Hudon, the clock is ticking for the Canadiens to exercise a buyout, though.

James Neal, Calgary Flames
The math doesn’t work out for the Flames. Calgary has to ink breakout RFA Matthew Tkachuk to a new pact, sign goaltender David Rittich and then spend to bring back Sam Bennett and they have to do that with about $9.47 million in cap space. There are other ways to get out of this jam – trading away a middle-sixer such as Michal Frolik or shipping out a defenseman such as Michael Stone – but the quickest way would be axing Neal’s contract, which was a disaster last season.

Signed to a five-year, $28.75-million pact, Neal, 31, slipped down the depth chart, fell into a fourth-line role and couldn’t dig himself out. He had a career-worst seven-goal, 19-point season, averaged less than 15 minutes per game and failed to come through in the post-season, too. Buying Neal out now wouldn’t be ideal, but it would also free up $3.83 million in cap space for the Flames in each of the next four seasons. That said, there would also be four consecutive seasons of a $1.92-million cap hit that would run from 2023-24 to 2026-27, so maybe Calgary wants to give Neal one more shot.

Jack Johnson, Pittsburgh Penguins
Such a buyout would fall into a category similar to that of a proposed Neal buyout in that it would be an admittance that last summer’s signing has flopped. Johnson, 32, was brought in to help solidify a shaky blueline and instead was a possession black hole who was fourth on the depth chart and stands to slide further next season.

Buying Johnson out of the final four campaigns of his five-year, $16.25-million pact would come with considerable savings for the cap-strapped Penguins, who currently have a projected $843,000 with which to operate heading into the season. This season, a Johnson buyout would save Pittsburgh nearly $3 million, followed by two campaigns of nearly $2 million and a final season of $1.23 million in 2022-23. After that, it’s four consecutive seasons with a $1.02-million cap hit, but that might be better than the alternative, which is further cap-cutting measures that do little to help the Penguins while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are in the late stages of their prime years.

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