What if the Rangers Buyout Both Girardi and Staal?

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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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This postseason has taught us again that in order to advance through the playoffs, even when you get the best matchups you could hope for, there is no shortcut past having all three of the necessary components of a top hockey team. You need great goaltending (not the same as a great goalie, necessarily), you need forward depth (right, J-G Pageau?) and you have to have defensive depth.

No, I’m not about to malign Nick Holden for his defensive miscues that contributed greatly to the Rangers losing an overtime game in each of the first two rounds, or all the other mistakes he’s made through eight playoff games so far. And as much as I think that Alain Vigneault is the wrong coach for taking a less than great team to a Stanley Cup Final win, this is not about roster deployment issues, either.

The Rangers are simply handcuffed by the fact that they have only one top pairing defender in Ryan McDonagh, an up and coming 2/3/4 defenseman in Brady Skjei, a reliable 3/4/5 rear guard in trade deadline acquisition Brendan Smith and then flotsam that should be filling out the 5/6/7/8 spots in Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Nick Holden, Kevin Klein, Adam Clendening and Steven Kampfer. So the coach is forced to shove square pegs in three round holes every night. While AV doesn’t often do that optimally, given the players he does have, he still would be unable to put together defensive pairings that would give the Rangers a legitimate chance at a Cup run at the moment.

This can’t be fixed right now. Even if the Rangers somehow stumble back past Ottawa, they’ll run into buzz saws in the next round and beyond. Nothing short of a series of devastating injuries to better teams (sorry, Sidney Crosby) will have the Rangers gearing up for a parade down the Canyon of Heroes in New York City after the conclusion to this season.

It is time for the Rangers to get proactive. And the best they can do now is swallow the hard pill, in buying out both Staal and Girardi prior to this summer’s Expansion Draft.

No doubt it’s a lot of dead cap space to carry, but perhaps with the defensive prospects they now have thanks to some savvy work by Rangers GM Jeff Gorton on the young free agent market, he’s created the perfect time to rip the band aid right off.

The approximate combined dead cap space by year a buyout of the two out of their depth defensemen would be:

17/18 – $3.7
18/19 – $5.7
19/20 – $6.7
20/21 – $5.1
21/22 – $2.5
22/23 – $2.5
23/24 – $1.4
24/25 – $1.4

Obviously, years two through four are the toughest ones, but there’s another way to look at all of these numbers. Here is what the Rangers will be paying out to the two of them if they keep both through upcoming seasons:

17/18 – $11.2
18/19 – $11.2
19/20 – $11.2
20/21 – $5.7

For the next four years, including the two through four “tough” years, this is what the Rangers would actually save on the cap through a buyout:

17/18 – $7.5M
18/19 – $5.5M
19/20 – $4.5M
20/21 – $0.5M

The only really tough year is 20/21, where the Rangers would not be able to use the saved cap space to cover their replacements. After that, there is a couple of million dollars of dead cap space each season, but that’s completely manageable and not really worth worrying about. If we look all the way ahead to 20/21, what we find is that that’s the year after Lundqvist’s $8.5M contract ends, so even if he plays out his entire deal, the Rangers will have a huge amount of cap relief that exact season. They will likely be in a transition time anyway trying to find a new number one goalie.

This is not enough cap space to properly fill the holes the Rangers’ have in the short term, but it would contribute quite a bit towards that cause. The Rangers will also likely have to sacrifice some forward depth in exchange for a younger defender as well. Of course, that’s a much easier pill to swallow, considering one of Pavel Buchnevich and J.T. Miller have found themselves playing on the fourth line at times when the team was healthy simply because there was no room for both of them in the Rangers top-9.

I won’t go into replacement specifics, there are plenty of avenues for that and we’ve discussed some before. Having two extra expansion draft protection spots on defense freed up by ridding the team of Staal and Girardi’s No Movement Clauses would give the Rangers great flexibility in making trades for defenders. They have assets to trade in the form of young forwards. One only needs to look towards Anaheim to find a team in trouble as far as the ability to protect all their young, valuable defenders, who themselves also have an extra spot to protect a forward. There are probably other teams in a similar boat.

Whether the Rangers re-sign Smith, go after UFA prize defender Kevin Shattenkirk or both, any extra cap dollars will help in that endeavor. From there, the Rangers will have to soon put some trust in the prospects they’ve just acquired, whether it’s KHL standout Alexei Bereglazov, NCAA All-Star Neal Pionk or one of the few AHL defenders they have with any promise such as Ryan Graves. In the meantime, they’ll still have Holden, Klein and Kampfer to fill out the bottom pair and depth defender positions.

By shedding both Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, using their two available acquisition assets of cap space and forward depth, coupled with the defensive prospects they’ve managed to acquire, the Rangers will fast forward their ability to field a more balanced defense while still having plenty of depth at forward and Henrik Lundqvist in net, who’s proven this postseason so far that his window hasn’t closed just yet. Jeff Gorton will have to make some things happen on the UFA and trade front, but then, that’s his job. Yes, ripping off the band-aid will hurt, but sometimes you need some short-term pain for that elusive long-term gain. Prior to the Expansion Draft is the exact time to go ahead and start that process moving forward.

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