Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

WWYDW: The James Neal Conundrum

This is going to be an incredibly difficult off-season for many general managers around the league.

The COVID-19 pandemic cut short the regular season and resulted in fans being unable to attend playoff games, which ultimately resulted in a massive revenue shortfall for the league. One of the ramifications of the NHL’s economic issues is that the salary cap will remain stagnant this off-season.

While general managers anticipate an incremental year-by-year rise of the cap ceiling, that won’t be the case this year. The 2020-21 ceiling will again be set at $81.5 million and it looks like that’ll also be the figure come 2021-22.

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The immediate, obvious challenge that general managers will face is having less cap room than anticipated to do work on their rosters. Also, beyond that, given the fact more teams will be staring down the barrel of a tight salary cap situation, it’ll be much, much more difficult than usual to find deals to free up cap room.

So if Ken Holland had plans of dumping, say, the final year of Kris Russell’s deal somewhere to give him some more wiggle room, he’ll have even fewer teams with open cap space to reach out to. Even your usual take-on-bad-deals-to-reach-the-cap-floor types, like the Ottawa Senators, might be less inclined to make such deals because of the cash lost due to COVID.

With that in mind, general managers will likely be more inclined to buy players out this winter than they would be otherwise.

That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday ACTUALLY ON A WEDNESDAY edition question. If you were Ken Holland, would you use a buyout on James Neal to open up cap room this winter? Can the team afford to continue paying him $5,750,000 with such a difficult cap crunch?

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When the Oilers made the Milan Lucic for James Neal swap last summer, one of the obvious benefits was that they were receiving a player with a much more reasonable buyout. Lucic’s contract was built to be buyout proof, as many contracts have been in recent years, as it’s loaded with signing bonuses.

If the Flames were to buy Lucic out this off-season, he would cost them $4,812,500 against the cap in 2020-21, and then $3,500,000, and then $4,812,500 again before dipping to $437,500 for three years.

Neal, on the other hand, doesn’t have a buyout proof deal. If he gets bought out this off-season, he’ll cost the Oilers $1,916,667 against the cap for the next six seasons. That’s a savings of $3,833,333 for three years and then an added cost of $1,916,667 for three years afterwards.

Though he had a nice rebound season for the Oilers, scoring 19 goals over the course of 55 games, Neal carries a hefty price tag. He’s certainly a weapon on Edmonton’s power-play, but his five-on-five results left a lot to be desired.

Can Holland afford to pay that much money to somebody who’s ultimately a power-play specialist? As of right now, Holland only has roughly $10 million to figure out new deals for Andreas Athanasiou, Ethan Bear, and Matt Benning, find an upgrade in net on Mike Smith, and make additions up front.

What say you, Nation? Does it make sense for Holland to use a buyout on Neal? Or are there better ways to open up salary cap room this off-season? 

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