Olli Maatta, Zack Smith are Blackhawks’ top buyout candidates if coronavirus crunches salary cap

A domino effect prompted by an NHL season cancellation could cost Olli Maatta or Zack Smith their jobs this summer.

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Olli Maatta had a decent first season for the Blackhawks, but his contract structure makes him a buyout candidate this summer.

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Entering March, the Blackhawks already looked like a team primed to use a buyout in the offseason.

The odds of that happening — whenever the offseason ends up taking place — have only increased in the last two months.

The NHL already has lost a significant chunk of revenue because of the season pause, and if the season is canceled or only somewhat resumed, that chunk will get larger.

And since the salary cap is directly correlated to league revenues — it’s technically half the upcoming season’s projected revenue, divided by 31 — that huge financial fallout could quickly spill down to the player’s pockets.

The Hawks already were looking at a salary-cap crunch, even with the cap expected to rise from its current $81.5 million to the $84 million-$88 million range. But if the cap stays around $81.5 million — which players were reportedly informed recently will likely be the case — general manager Stan Bowman’s situation could get even more dire.

That could affect the Hawks’ ability to re-sign pending free agents such as Dylan Strome, Dominik Kubalik and Corey Crawford.

But it also could — alternately, or perhaps simultaneously — lead to one or two buyouts of Hawks players with years left on their contracts.

Under the standard buyout rules — which are complicated and highly variable but generally spread out a player’s expected cap hit over more years at a lower amount per year — the Hawks have two prime candidates: defenseman Olli Maatta and forward Zack Smith.

Maatta was acquired from the Penguins last summer to help fix the Hawks’ defense. He didn’t have an outright bad debut season, but he made little difference. Maatta finished with 17 points and a 47.5 percent scoring-chance ratio (per Natural Stat Trick) in 65 games.

He has two years remaining at an expensive $4.08 million cap hit per year, and it just so happens that his contract is buyout-friendly. It would result in a mere $680,000 cap hit for the next four years, per Capfriendly.

Olli Maatta Buyout Data
Season Current Cap Hit Buyout Cap Hit Savings
2020-21 4,083,333 680,600 3,402,733
2021-22 4,083,333 680,400 3,402,933
2022-23 0 680,567 -680,567
2023-24 0 680,567 -680,567

The Hawks acquired Smith from the Senators last summer while dumping Artem Anisimov’s contract.

But Smith, too, is heavily overpaid (one year remaining at $3.25 million) for a slowing-down fourth-liner. He finished with 11 points and a team-worst 40.4 percent scoring-chance ratio in 50 games, then was ruled out for the season with a back injury.

His contract is slightly less buyout-friendly than Maatta’s, but he’s also a far more expendable player. A buyout would create a cap hit slightly under $1.1 million for the next two seasons.

Zack Smith Buyout Data
Season Current Cap Hit Buyout Cap Hit Savings
2020-21 3,250,000 1,083,333 2,166,667
2021-22 0 1,083,333 -1,083,333

Meanwhile, the NHL could look into offering compliance buyouts, which completely erase contracts from the books with no penalties. The league offered these in the 2013 and 2014 offseasons after the 2012-13 lockout stalled cap growth.

In this scenario, the choice would be clear for the Hawks: Brent Seabrook’s contract is an albatross. He’s due $6.875 million for four more seasons. Despite Seabrook’s admirable fight back from three surgeries during the winter, Bowman would be delusional not to use a compliance buyout on the one-time defensive stalwart.

Brent Seabrook Compliance Buyout Data
Season Current Cap Hit Buyout Cap Hit Savings
2020-21 6,875,000 0 6,875,000
2021-22 6,875,000 0 6,875,000
2022-23 6,875,000 0 6,875,000
2023-24 6,875,000 0 6,875,000

But a conventional buyout remains impractical. Most of Seabrook’s cap hit is packed into a signing bonus that can’t be mitigated in any way.

Brent Seabrook Conventional Buyout Data
Season Current Cap Hit Buyout Cap Hit Savings
2020-21 6,875,000 6,583,333 291,667
2021-22 6,875,000 3,583,333 3,291,667
2022-23 6,875,000 6,583,333 291,667
2023-24 6,875,000 5,083,333 1,791,667
2024-25 0 708,333 -708,333
2025-26 0 708,333 -708,333
2026-27 0 708,333 -708,333
2027-28 0 708,333 -708,333

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