The NHL’s first buyout window opened last week and one name to keep an eye on for the Carolina Hurricanes is defenseman Jake Gardiner.
Gardiner was signed by the Hurricanes in 2019, after spending eight seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs. After being a regular member of Carolina's lineup in the 2019-20 season, however, Gardiner lost his spot partway through this season, largely due to the emergence of Jake Bean. He played in just 26 games, registering eight assists.
Now with two years still remaining on his contract at a $4.05 million AAV, Gardiner is eating up valuable cap space and it's unlikely the Hurricanes could move the contract without giving up key assets.
If the Hurricanes bought out Gardiner, here’s what the cap penalty would look like in each of the next four years (according to CapFriendly.com):
Despite the penalty, the Hurricanes would save a decent amount of space over the next two seasons. Gardiner’s contract can be buried instead, but that would only provide $1.13 million in savings, leaving about $2.93 million still counted against the cap. With a buyout, the Hurricanes could save over $1.65 million in cap space next season and about $1.9 million in the 2022-23 season, compared to burying the contract.
The issue would obviously be the two extra years where the $1.44 million penalty would be added, which would leave the team with less flexibility, after Gardiner's contract would've came off the books if it wasn't bought out.
The tricky thing for the Hurricanes is that with uncertainty around whether Dougie Hamilton will return, it’s a little bit up in the air as to how much cap space the Hurricanes actually have to work with this offseason. If Hamilton re-signs, the answer is not a ton.
If he does walk, however, Carolina would have quite a bit of room, even if some of that cap space would likely be dedicated to finding a replacement for Hamilton. If it becomes clear that Hamilton will be heading elsewhere in free agency, there's probably no need to take on four years of a penalty and buy out Gardiner prior to the July 27 deadline. Also, while it seems unlikely that Gardiner will earn back a full-time role in Carolina's defense group, he would at least provide some depth if he stuck around.
So while buying out Gardiner is an option, the Hurricanes probably shouldn’t make that move unless they have to.
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Do you think the Hurricanes should buy out Jake Gardiner?