The Washington Capitals are already atop the Eastern Conference, and now they have a chance to get even better.
Michael Nylander, who hasn't played a game for the team this season and hasn't even been practicing with the club for nearly two months, agreed Sunday to be loaned to the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League. The Caps will continue to pay his $5.5 million salary, but Nylander won't count against the salary cap, opening up a spot on the 23-man roster.
This offer has been an option for Nylander for weeks, ever since he agreed to play for the Griffins in late October on a conditioning stint. There also were reported offers for the 37-year-old Swedish center to play in the Kontinental Hockey League, and Caps general manager George McPhee said on multiple occasions he thought something was close to being completed. This saga has been drawn out because Nylander has a no-movement clause in his contract, which gave him final say on any move.
Nylander's cap figure this season is $4.875 million - the average of the four-year, $19.5 million contract he signed in July 2007. By shedding themselves of Nylander's cap hit, the Caps are no longer up against the $56.8 million ceiling, so call-ups from the minors won't be hindered by financial concerns.
This means top prospect Karl Alzner, who could make up to $1.675 million this year with incentives, could join the team.
Nylander rejoined the organization for the 2007-08 season after a career-best 83 points the year before for the New York Rangers. Seen as a potential No. 1 center and mentor for then-rookie Nicklas Backstrom, Nylander had 37 points in 40 games that season, but a torn rotator cuff ended his year prematurely.
He played 72 games last season but was a healthy scratch for all but three of the team's 14 playoffs games. His east-west, patient style didn't mesh with coach Bruce Boudreau's aggressive philosophy. After last season, Nylander told a Swedish media outlet that Boudreau had told him he wasn't good enough to play for the Caps, which the coach denied during training camp.
Nylander has one more season left on his contract. His cap hit for next is still $4.875 million, but his salary drops to $3 million. If the Caps were to buy out the final year of his deal this summer (between June 15 and June 30) Nylander's contract will still count $2.875 million against the cap in 2010-11 and $1 million in 2011-12.
Nylander's no-movement clause expires after this season, so the Caps could assign him to Hershey of the American Hockey League for all of next year, thereby negating his salary cap hit.