As the NHL buyout window officially opened on Friday morning, many have pegged Wild forward Tyler Ennis as a top candidate to be bought out.
Ennis, 28, is entering the final year of his five-year, $23 million contract that he signed with the Buffalo Sabres back in July of 2014. Ennis will account for a cap hit of $4.6 million but just holds a salary of $3.65 million in the 2018-19 season.
The reason the Wild forward is a popular candidate for a buyout is that he only registered 22 points (eight goals and 14 assists) in 73 games last season, and had lost the confidence of head coach Bruce Boudreau in the final weeks of the season. Ennis only appeared in one playoff game for Minnesota as a result of his poor play.
Even though Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said in his 31 Thoughts piece a week ago that the Wild were trying to move Ennis, it is more likely that the Wild would be better off just buying out the final year of his contract as it would take a significant piece going with Ennis to get a team to take his cap hit on.
If bought out, Ennis’ cap hit on the Wild’s books would be $2.166 million in 2018-19 and $1.216 million in 2019-20.
So this raises the question of can the Wild afford to not buy out Ennis and suffer through the final year of his contract? Let’s examine.
First off, the salary cap has to be established. Just prior to the beginning of the Stanley Cup Final, the cap was projected at between $78 and $82 million. The final number will come this week (?), but for now, let us assume it falls right in the middle at $80 million.
If you weed out the unnecessary players – Cal O’Reilly, Justin Kloos, Louis Belpedio and Carson Soucy – who all will be in Iowa next season, or at least to start the year, the Wild have a team cap hit of $63,300,257. That gives Minnesota $16,699,743 in cap space.
Now if you are thinking ‘Holy moly, the Wild have so much cap room! Let’s go after John Tavares!’, please think again.
If you see in the RFA category, the Wild have two relatively significant players – Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker – who need new contracts. Both are coming off career years and will be demanding significant raises from their previous salaries.
Projecting contracts can be tough, as what dollars and term both sides are looking for does not often come to light until a deal is done. So for the sake of this article, we will begin by using Evolving Wild’s contract projections which shows what kind of cap hit each player should get this summer.
It is worth noting that Josh & Luke’s projection is for a salary cap of $82 million, as their projections are based on a certain percentage of the salary cap, so a bit of math had to be done to project the cap hits for an $80 million salary cap.
The projection rates have Zucker at a $5.12 million cap hit and Dumba at $5.26 million. So once term gets established — let’s just say Zucker at six years and Dumba at five years — they get signed and now let’s check on the cap space.
After those deals, the Wild are now at $73,680,257 on the cap. That leaves them at $6,319,743 in space and they still have RFA Nick Seeler to sign and add the 12th and 13th forwards to fill out the roster.
Per the projections, Seeler would come in with a cap hit of $825,000, but his deal could be a bit higher given his strong play towards the end of the season.
If the Wild hold until later on in free agency, they could also find some forwards on cheap deals to fill those spots like they did with Daniel Winnik last year.
Also, the Wild would still have room to make a trade, which everyone knows will be happening here in the next week or so. But unless they are trading with teams just looking to hit the cap floor, they probably will not be taking on much salary in return.
Meaning the salary in said trade is likely to be pretty even.
While the much easier option is to buy out Ennis — and Paul Fenton probably will as he was not the GM who acquired him and therefore makes it easier for him to do so — there still is a way to work around his contract next year and not have to worry about having him on the books for two years as he plays for someone else.
If the Wild can bury Niklas Backstrom and his contract for three seasons, they can surely find a way to deal with Ennis’ deal for just one year. Because if you’re Fenton, you want to give yourself as much flexibility financially as you can down the road.