On Thursday, I took a look at how the NHL has lost a tremendous amount of revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic and what effects that reality will have on the league moving forward.
Long story short, the league is going to generate far less revenue this season than anticipated when the salary cap ceiling was set back in June. A non-negotiable part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement stipulates that the owners and players split hockey-related-revenue 50-50. The players are now going to need to pay money back to the owners in order to meet that equilibrium.
The last time the league went through a loss of action as severe as this one was when half of the 2012-13 season was cancelled due to a lockout. When that season finally got going, the salary cap went down from 64.3 million in 2011-12 to 60 million (teams were allowed to spend to $70.2 million, pro-rated).
In order to help teams navigate the lower cap number, everybody was given two get-out-of-jail-free cards, also known as compliance buyouts. These are different than regular buyouts because the player being bought out had zero cost against the cap.
There’s a lot still up in the air, but it seems inevitable that, at best, we won’t be seeing the salary cap rising for a few years. The worst-case-scenario here, of course, is the salary cap getting chopped in order to compensate for the missed revenue from the 2019-20 season. Whatever happens, if it’s a stagnant cap or a decreased one, we could very well see the league issue compliance buyouts to help teams navigate the situation.
What brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday FRIDAY EDITION question. If the league issues a compliance buyout to each team to help compensate for salary cap issues, who should the Oilers use it on?
Looking up and down Edmonton’s roster, the only problematic contract that stands out is James Neal, who’s set to be paid $5,750,000 for three more seasons. Alex Chiasson at $2,150,000 and Kris Russell at $4,000,000 might be a tad overpaid for their roles, but they only have one year left on their respective contracts.
Neal got off to a hot start in Edmonton after being acquired in a change-of-scenery swap for Milan Lucic last summer. He scored 19 goals before the turn of the new year and played a key role in the Oilers’ strong start to the season. But, after the calendar turned to 2020, Neal went 13 games without a goal. He also boasts a team-low minus-20 rating.
If the Oilers bought anybody out, Neal seems to be the obvious answer. But if they believe Neal can still contribute to the team, another option could be to use the buyout on behalf of another team. If another team has multiple problematic contracts, they could send one of those players along with a sweetener to another team that doesn’t have anybody to buy out.
What say you, Nation? If the league hypothetically hands out compliance buyouts again, what should the Oilers do?