Another Look at a Marc Staal Buyout

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Dave Rogers

Editor-in-Chief at Cleared for Contact
Writer, photographer and a lifelong New York Rangers hockey fan.
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With the conclusion of the Mika Zibanejad arbitration case ending with the Swedish center re-signing to a five year contract, Jeff Gorton’s busy summer has entered its final stage, attempting to land another center to fill the void left by the departure of Derek Stepan. Or maybe it is already done if no deal can be had to move some combination of the Rangers’ depth at wing and on defense to plug the last remaining hole in the roster. That situation is complicated by a lack of salary cap space, though, with the Blueshirts currently sitting at around $3M with one spot remaining to be filled. They might have one last option to help that situation, though.

According to CapFriendly:

Buyouts Outside of the Regular Period
Clubs whom have 1 or more arbitration filings may be permitted to perform a buyout outside of the regular window. This gives teams another opportunity to become cap compliant following an arbitration case.

As explained in Section 13(c)ii of the Standard Player Contract (SPC) [Exhibit 1 of the CBA], clubs are permitted to perform a buyout outside the regular period during the 48 hour period beginning on the third day after the final of a) settlement of the Club’s final arbitration case. b) receipt of the Club’s last arbitration award.

The third day after today would be Friday, July 28th and the buyout window would extend 48 hours past that, through the close of business on Sunday, July 30th. The Rangers should, as I pointed out almost three months ago now, use that opportunity to buyout the remaining four contracted years of 30-year old shell of his former self, Marc Staal.

That buyout would be ugly. Let’s get that out of the way right from the start. Again, according to CapFriendly, this would mean dead cap space for two years at $2.13M, then the following two at $3.13M and $3.93M before four more years at $1.43M. The Rangers are already paying for six more years to not have Dan Girardi on the roster for the next three, so the argument that basically says, “too much, too long” is understandable.

However, my take on buyouts has always been simple. Is the difference between the bought out player and the replacement worth the cost of the buyout and the replacement salary? As an example, let’s assume Dan Girardi is being replaced by Kevin Shattenkirk. Shattenkirk will earn $6.65M on average for the next four seasons, while Girardi’s buyout will cost an average of $2.73M over the same span. Is replacing Girardi with Shattenkirk worth $9.4M per year? I would say so, even as Shattenkirk alone isn’t worth that price. You have to factor in the removal of Girardi from the ice, whom had become a severe liability for the team.

Marc Staal is a similar kind of liability. His play has deteriorated and he is preventing the Rangers from elevating the young defensemen they now have in the system. With the top four spots being taken up by Shattenkirk, along with Ryan McDonagh, Brendan Smith and Brady Skjei, that leaves two spots on defense that at the moment will be filled by Staal and Nick Holden, while Anthony DeAngelo, Alexei Bereglazov, Neal Pionk and maybe even Sean Day fight to push one of the two veteran defenders into the 7th spot. Bereglazov is reported to have a KHL assignment clause, meaning he can choose to head back to the KHL if the Rangers don’t give him a spot at the NHL level. He would remain their property, but couldn’t be recalled throughout the year. The other three are waiver exempt, meaning they can be sent down to Hartford without worry that they would be claimed by another club. Perhaps that flexibility means Bereglazov, assuming a decent camp, makes the club and he and Holden platoon as 6/7 defenders.

A better option would be to buyout Staal and deal with the dead cap space, while replacing him with a much cheaper option who will perform at least as well on the ice, while also developing towards being a better long-term replacement under a cost-controlled contract. Three of the four young defenders mentioned above have two entry-level contract (ELC) years remaining on their contract, with Day having three years remaining. The highest of the ELC contracts is Bereglazov at $925K per year. Over the next two years, that would mean $3M tied up in his contract and Staal’s buyout combined, effectively freeing up the $2.7M difference between that total and Staal’s $5.7M per year.

The Rangers, with the same number of roster players this year, would then have a total of $5.7M in cap space to fill the hole at center. That provides much more flexibility. They would also have a preseason camp that has openings on defense for young players to compete. If two of them prove worthy, the team could gamble a bit on their retooling and make Holden their seventh (assuming he isn’t traded before then) while managing two rookies among their six defenders. Bereglazov, at 23, is the same age as Brady Skjei and has three full KHL seasons under his belt, so he isn’t as green as a typical rookie. Meanwhile, DeAngelo may only be 21, but he’s already played in half a season of NHL games last year.

The Rangers have done a very good job this offseason of changing the roster to try to fix holes. They may be calling it a “rebuild on the fly”, but if they can manage to find a third center to legitimately compete for a top-6 spot, they might find themselves with the same potent offensive abilities as last season but with a completely revamped defense which is much stronger than in the past few seasons. Buying out Staal would create the best opportunity to make that transition complete. The Rangers could be looking at this season, and presumably the next four to five years, as contenders again. First, though, they’ll have to rip the band-aid off to see if they can quickly heal the wounds that handing out bad contracts to declining players caused them to begin with.


All contract and salary cap information courtsey of CapFriendly.com

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