By: Will Montanez | Follow me on Twitter @Willfro3
Discretionary economic activity has effectively been halted as governments and individuals attempt to contend with a post-pandemic planet. The impact on the NHL is no less severe than any other sports league, as they encounter reduced revenues from all angles including promotions, concessions, and subscriptions. Part of the issue is that the NHL’s hard salary cap is, in part, a function of how much money the league makes in revenues. Declining revenues may mean a flat or even decreasing cap. For relief in both absolute dollar terms as well as cap related issues arising from good faith dealings made under the auspicious of future cap lifts, compliance contract buyouts may be provided to the Bruins, as well as the other teams across the league.
Compliance buyouts have most recently been utilized in 2013, following a labor dispute between the NHL and NHLPA. One of the provisions of the newest CBA was a year-over-year flat salary cap and in order to placate management teams, who argued that the former cap and projections therefrom impacted their decision making, each franchise was awarded the opportunity to buy out two players with no cap penalty during the off-season of either 2013 or 2014. While the Bruins declined to use either of their buyouts, albatross contracts across the league were wiped off of several teams cap spreadsheets. If compliance buyouts are awarded to help the league franchises cope with a flat cap, the Bruins may consider a move more seriously this time around, due to the roster decisions that will have to be made.
The Bruins are a team in transition, readying for a shift from the stalwarts collected and honed in the mid-oughts that dragged the franchise to repeated success all the way to the third decade of the 21st century. The Chicago Blackhawks have written the book on the tenuous maintenance of a championship-caliber team in the salary cap world and their modus operandi was the ruthless gutting of the supporting cast in order to preserve a pricey core. While the B’s have some of the most team-friendly deals in the league (warning: paywall), if they want to keep the majority of the band together, someone has got to go.
Barring any sort of trade, the likelihood of which could be reduced by the presence of the compliance buyout option, an amnesty buyout would make for a quick fix to the Bruins’ cap crunch. The deciding factor on who would be ousted would most likely be based on age, on-ice impact and contract. While many B’s fans would love to see Tuukka Rask bought out, re-signed and bought out again, below are three of the most likely buyout candidates on the B’s roster.
John Moore has, by all accounts, been a commensurate professional and decent fifth to sixth defenseman on the B’s roster. Originally signed to provide speed, first-pass capability in transition and defensive depth to a group that had been ravaged by injuries in the preceding two playoff appearances, Moore has found himself the odd-man-out on most nights with the Bruins’ roster healthy. In spite of his apparent skating ability, he has shown a lack of defensive awareness and attention to detail, at times.
Bogo → Ceddy! pic.twitter.com/zFPrZQX17o— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) March 8, 2020
In the goal above, we can see the Tampa Bay attacker find the puck after an errant shot in the Bruins’ D-zone. After Patrice Bergeron pressures him to the outside, he finds open space behind the red-line and Bergeron releases him to Torey Krug. Krug attempts to strip the puck and as he fails, Moore vacates the front of the crease, his abandons his check and leaves his net-minder alone. The puck is dished to an open Lightning forward who makes no mistake about elevating the puck past Rask. It was by no means a defensive clinic by any Bruin on the ice, but it is the glaring mistake by Moore that led to this tally against and sealed the fate of the Bruins in the game, an eventual five-to-three loss to a division opponent. Further, the term and value of the contract make Moore the most likely pick.
After this season, Moore has three years of his contract remaining with $7.3 million due to him over that time. The total cost of the buyout would be $4.8 million (two-thirds of the remaining value) and would be spread out over twice the amount of time remaining. What the Bruins would be looking for is that $2.8 million of cap space, which is (give-or-take) one Anders Bjork and one Matt Grzelcyk when figuring their raises. The term of the deal also limits their Bruins’ ability to market the contract in some ways as well as reducing the flexibility of future negotiations with Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy down the line.
Oh, how we barely knew ye. After impressing during his 19 game call-up last season as well as his playoff contributions which nearly doubled his time with varsity, Clifton has seen a slight step backward in his development. While not quite long in the tooth, the 24-year-old defenseman is simply running out of time to prove that he can handle an NHL workload as a sixth defenseman or spare component on the right side of the rink with regularity.
His offensive recklessness is not always accompanied by an enthusiastic back-check to regain positioning in the way Krug will demonstrate and the lack of will always be a hindrance against the bigger forwards in the league, especially if he is to be paired with Grzelcyk. In spite of the potential cost saving signing, there simply may not be room for him on the back-end and the fiscal impact of the maneuver would be a paltry $900k.
The depth chart favors the Bruins’ defense, there is no question there. Management has recently taken steps to strengthen that position further when they elected to sign Jack Ahcan and Nick Wolf to bolster a group that includes several unsigned prospects and a plethora of RFA’s that will be re-signed. This indicates that the team is planning on graduating at least one of Jeremy Lauzon, Urho Vaakenainen or Jakub Zboril to full-time duty or trading away a current roster piece and/or one of the above-mentioned skaters. If the Bruins are comfortable moving on from a regular, why wouldn’t it be Clifton whose ceiling may be lower than younger prospects in the wings? Remember that Cassidy opted for an injured Moore in the last game of the 2019 playoffs; that does count for something.
After Tuukka Rask, there may be no other player on this team that receives more unjustified hate than the Bruins’ faithful Czech center-man. A slick and quiet playmaker, Krejci doesn’t have Brad Marchand’s nastiness, David Pastrnak’s extroverted charisma or Charlie Coyle’s native heritage that resonates immediately with many fans. He is expected to dazzle on a nightly basis, in part because of his past performances and in part because he has the highest hit against the cap on the entire team. While he may end up a Bruin for life, the upward pressure from prospects is not only leading to job insecurity in the D-corps.
Don Sweeney and Co. have made it a point to acquire players that have the ability to play either center or wing. One player that has a chance to crack the B’s roster at his natural position is Jack Studnicka, the Bruins best and most prized prospect. His emergence is imminent. The skill he has displayed in the AHL as a 20-year-old is amazing, especially considering how he has taken a stranglehold of the top center position and plays in all situations for an Atlantic Division-leading Baby B’s squad. He ranks 13th overall in points league-wide and sits third on the leader-board for rookies. The combination of skill and cost may be what shakes Krejci off of his roster spot.
If the Bruins begin to pass the torch in a big way, they will consider trading the last year of David Krejci’s services. If no deal can be made then a buyout would be another option. While an unlikely way for management to end what has largely been an amicable relationship, cap space is cap space and if the B’s organization determines that Krejci’s on the outs, the cold-hearted move provides the ability to jettison the veteran forward. Krejci’s buyout cost, in terms of dollars, would be $4.7 million over two years, creating a potential cash flow issue that the Moore contract would not in spite of similar overall dollar cost.
Of each buyout option for the Bruins, John Moore’s contract seems to be the highest at-risk if amnesty was offered to management teams. It is also possible that one, or all of the players could be moved in the off-season in order to provide the GM flexibility to assemble a winning group. Regardless of the route the organization chooses to take, the Bruins would be wise to utilize whatever cap saving opportunities may arise as a gift from the NHL in order to preserve their winning core today and provide flexibility to reward their next wave of stars.