NHLPA, Buyout Window and Klein to Define Rangers' Off Season

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David Rogers

Editor-in-Chief at Cleared for Contact
Writer, photographer and a lifelong New York Rangers hockey fan.
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It is every hockey fan’s favorite time of year…

<record needle scratching off of the edge of the album>.

OK, OK, hockey playing time is over and hockey management time is upon us. While each member of the Pittsburgh Penguins is now planning their “day with the Cup” (Barf.gif), General Managers and their supporting staff are crunching numbers, reviewing contracts and making contingencies based on where the upper, and for some poor teams’ fans, the lower limits of the 2017/18 Salary Cap will level off.

Leveled off is precisely where the Salary Cap will sit if the NHL Players’ Association decides not to invoke a rule called the “escalator” which artificially inflates the cap ceiling up to five percent higher than the players’ 50% share of Hockey Related Revenue (HRR) dictates. That even split of HRR would keep the cap at right around $73M per team according to league estimates, the number it was at last season. In 2016/17 the NHLPA did decide to use that escalator, or else the cap that year would have been just under $70M per team.

Every year since the current Collective Bargaining Agreement was put in place, the NHLPA has elected to elevate the cap by the maximum five percent. If they push the cap this season the full amount, it would mean a cap of roughly $76.5M. Doing so means that, at least on paper, players have higher salaries than they would if not for the inflated cap. There is an escrow system in place in the NHL incase league revenues don’t match the cap predictions (they almost never do) and that’s been contentious with the players. The artificial boost increases that escrow amount, so every season we hear discussions about the NHLPA opting not to use it. But they always do. As Bob McKenzie pointed out above, it is possible they don’t use the entire five percent and we’ve seen a “split the difference” number of two and a half percent thrown around. That would set the cap this season at about $75M.

OK, upper cap limit lesson over, what does this all mean for our Blueshirts?

Currently, the Rangers have 18 players under contract for next season taking up $63.8M of their allotted space according to CapFriendly.com. The Rangers therefor have $9.2M (flat cap of $73M), $11.2M (half escalated cap of $75M) or $12.7M (full five percent escalated cap of $75.5M) in cap space to fill out the rest of their roster.

Seems simple enough. Depending on what the NHLPA decides, the team will have between $9.2M and $12.7M to spend. It’s a significant spread of $3.5M. That could be the difference between re-signing trade deadline acquisition Brendan Smith who likely will get around $4M per season or adding Kevin Shattenkirk who will likely command in the neighborhood of $7M each year, once all the chips of next year’s roster fall into place.

But wait, there’s more! There are quite a few other moving parts that could open up significant cap space for the Rangers to retool their back end next season, something we’ve talked about quite a bit here in recent months here, here and here.

A very significant recent development is the possible retiring of right defenseman Kevin Klein (funeral arrangements here). If Klein were to hang them up, that would mean one less player on the roster, but also an additional $2.9M in available cap space.

Then there is the specter of a buyout, most likely of another right defender in Dan Girardi. The 33-year old’s buyout would create dead cap space of $2.6M this coming season, $3.6M for the following two and then three seasons at $1.1M. Since we’re only really concerned at this coming season, that would mean an additional $2.9M in available space with, yet again, another roster spot to fill.

Now the range of cap dollars the Rangers might have is getting huge. No escalator, Klein doesn’t retire and the Rangers don’t buyout Girardi? We’re right back to that $9.2M figure. On the other extreme, if the NHLPA uses the full five percent escalator, Klein sails off into the European sunset and Girardi is a UFA looking for a “show me” deal with some other team while cushioned by nearly $10M in buyout money over the next six years and we find the Rangers will have double that total at $18.5M to spend, albeit needing to fill two more roster spots.

The Rangers need to re-sign Mika Zibanejad, Jesper Fast and Oscar Lindberg. Even though one of Fast or Lindberg could very well be selected by Las Vegas in the NHL Expansion Draft, their replacement would likely earn a somewhat similar amount. Let’s speculate that Zibanejad gets $5M per year while Fast and Lindberg get $2M each. At the low end, that’s it. The Rangers are right up against the Cap, their lines next season look something like this:

Nash – Stepan – Kreider
Zuccarello – Zibanejad – Buchnevich
Miller – Hayes – Grabner*
Vesey – Lindberg* – Fast*

McDonagh – Girardi
Skjei – Klein
Staal – Holden
Kampfer

Hank – Raanta*
*One of these players is most likely to be chosen by Las Vegas in the Expansion Draft but will be replaced at similar cost.

If that’s uninspiring, well, that’s largely the team, minus Brendan Smith, that couldn’t get by the Ottawa Senators in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this past season. Maybe a defender loses their spot, is waived and either claimed or sent to Hartford and gets replaced by one of the few promising prospects the Rangers have, like Alexei Bereglazov, Neal Pionk or Ryan Graves.

What if, however, in addition to re-signing Zibanejad, Fast and Lindberg, the Rangers had an additional $9.3M available at the high end? Then the Rangers need to start getting creative. Acquiring both Smith and Shattenkirk combined would likely fall in the $11M to $12M range. That would require freeing up an additional $1.7M to $2.7M in space. If Fast were claimed by Vegas, he could be replaced from within at a savings of around $1.2M. If Nick Holden was traded away in a salary dump, another $700K or so could be freed up by replacing him with one of the three prospects listed above. Suddenly the Rangers are in the ballpark and might have a roster that looks something like this instead:

Nash – Stepan – Kreider
Zuccarello – Zibanejad – Buchnevich
Miller – Hayes – Grabner
Vesey – Lindberg – Nieves

McDonagh – Shattenkirk
Skjei – Smith
Staal – Bereglazov
Kampfer

Hank – Raanta

There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of unknowns, but what we do know is that next season really hinges on the balance of a number of decisions that are both in and out of the Rangers management’s’ hands. The roster next season, particularly on defense, may look very similar or vastly different depending on whether the players elect to escalate the cap, Klein chooses to retire and/or if the Rangers decide to say farewell to long-time veteran defender Dan Girardi.

Editor’s Note: Immediately after this writing, the Rangers did buyout Dan Girardi.

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