Valeri Nichushkin was placed on unconditional waivers by the Dallas Stars on Saturday morning with the purpose of buying out his contract. With the move, the Stars are opening up a sizable amount of cap space to use on July 1 and beyond.
And regardless of what their role is on the team or how often they play in each game, the common expectation of all NHL forwards is that they will find the back of the net at least a handful of times during a given season. Nichushkin couldn’t do that for the Stars, and that’s a significant reason as to why he was waived by the team.
Dallas put the 24-year-old forward on unconditional waivers on Saturday morning with the intent of buying out his contract and releasing him into free agency.
The Stars and Nichushkin have pieced together quite an interesting storyline over the past few years. After contract disputes led the 2013 first-round pick to leave the Stars and sign a contract in the KHL just before the 2016-17 regular season began, Nichushkin returned to the Stars on July 1, 2018.
At the time, the Stars were in desperate need of depth scoring after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second year in a row. The big winger had averaged 12 goals and 32 points in his two full seasons of play with Dallas and seemed to be a player that could fill the void and do so at an average rate. And so, the club signed him to a two-year deal with an AAV of $2.95 million.
But in the season that followed, the hopes of Nichushkin providing an offensive punch fell remarkably short. In 57 games, the forward provided no goals, 10 assists, and a -4 rating. And while he didn’t commit a single penalty and served as a nice addition to the Dallas penalty kill unit, he proved unable to fulfill the role that the Stars needed him to fill.
It got to a point towards the middle of the season where it seemed to become a mental issue more than anything.
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“He’s had plenty of opportunities to have at least five goals this year, it just hasn’t gone in,” said Stars coach Jim Montgomery on Feb. 1. “It’s hard. We try not to talk about results with him. We talk about the process and Vernon Fiddler has done a great job working on getting him to those areas and working on tips, screens, and [wraparounds].”
But as the Stars’ focus turned towards a playoff push and the need for scoring became more and more critical, Nichushkin was given a backseat. He served as the healthy scratch in six of the team’s final 15 regular season games and played in just one of the 13 playoff games.
As the 2019 offseason began for the Dallas Stars, the idea of a Nichushkin buyout began to pick up steam. With the Stars somewhat up against the cap wall when factoring in new deals for their pending free agents and a need to add a top-six forward, the thought of buying out Nichushkin and opening up more cap space seemed like a beneficial move. And with two days to go before the opening of Free Agency, that space will now be unlocked.
With the buyout, Nichushkin will only count for $700,000 against the cap. That gives the Stars an extra $2.25 million in cap space to use. And while the buyout means that Nichushkin will count against the cap for an extra year, it will only be an extra $450,000 in the 2020-21 season. It’s a small price to pay, but will give the Stars an advantage in the here and now.
Buying out Nichushkin now gives the Stars an extra chunk of space to use in their offseason journey. According to CapFriendly, the Dallas Stars have a projected $12,470,001 in cap space.
That amount should give them enough space to sign Jason Dickinson to a bridge deal (somewhere in the two-year, $1.75 million AAV range), land an impact player in Free Agency (like Joe Pavelski or Mats Zuccarello), and still have some room to make another decent signing or two on either offense or defense like forward Ryan Hartman, who the Stars acquired on Monday but did not qualify on Tuesday, or defenseman Anton Stralman.
With the space, the Dallas Stars are giving themselves some much-needed breathing room going into July 1.
And so, the Stars have parted ways with their former 10th overall pick in 2013. While Nichushkin could find another NHL gig this summer and potentially rebound, Dallas did what they had to do in order to better prepare the team to make a big splash on July 1.
It’s almost that time.