A day after acquiring him from the Edmonton Oilers along with forward Klim Kostin, the Detroit Red Wings waived forward Kailer Yamamoto for the purposes of a buyout.
Kailer Yamamoto will be bought out by the Red Wings. Detroit strongly considered keeping him but couldn’t make moves to make it work. Given tight cap, Yamamoto is a good you player hitting the market.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) June 30, 2023
There is sense to the move, as the former first-round pick put up just 25 points in 58 games for the Oilers last season. He is a career 0.48 points-per-game player who has lived up to neither his draft position nor his annual salary of $3.1 million. Additionally, at under 26 years old, his buyout comes at only a third of a cost of the one remaining year on his contract spread out over two years, meaning a salary cap hit this season of $433,334 and next season of$533,334 (numbers via CapFriendly).
The Red Wings got Yamamoto and Kostin “for free” from Edmonton, so that trade can now be read as Detroit getting Kostin’s restricted free agent rights in return for dealing with Yamamoto’s cap hit.
However, I can’t help but feel like this is bad cap management by the Red Wings.
Part of that is based on the assumption that they will not be at the upper limit of the cap this season. Prior to the Yamamoto buyout, the Red Wings had roughly $28.5 million in salary cap space to work with heading into free agency. They have Joe Veleno, Kostin, Matt Luff, and Gustav Lindstrom as restricted free agents, though Lindstrom is reportedly looking to return to Europe. None of the team’s pending unrestricted free agents are expected to sign.
Just to spitball, I’ll budget $6 million to re-sign the forward RFAs and assume that Lindstrom bolts (with Detroit retaining his NHL rights). Detroit would be at 15 forwards (including Luff and Austin Czarnik, who spent much of last year with the Griffins, and Marco Kasper) but only four defensemen and one goalie. One of those spots on defense could go to Simon Edvinsson but it doesn’t have to.
However it breaks down, it’s $22.5 million to sign a goalie and two or three defensemen. The Wings probably want an upgrade at forward, too, but there’s room in there for two $4 million defensemen, a league-minimum defenseman, a $4 million goalie, and a $9 million forward. Even if Yamamoto doesn’t make the Detroit roster and is buried in Grand Rapids, which the organization had no problem doing to Alex Nedeljkovic and Jakub Vrana (and, to a lesser extent, Adam Erne) last season.
It’s probably academic anyway. The $533,334 cap hit next season is relatively minor, especially given that the salary cap is expected to increase for the first time in several years. I just look at it and it doesn’t seem necessary. Why saddle your 2024-25 cap with any extra baggage if you can absorb it just fine in 2023-24?
One idea that’s been flying around social media is that this is a favor to Yamamoto, to give him the opportunity to sign elsewhere. That would make some sense on a personal level but I still see that as bad cap management. If Detroit GM Steve Yzerman wants to spend some of his cap space doing a solid for Yamamoto, that shows he’s a good guy but is a bad business decision.