New York Rangers: Revisiting the salary cap situation

It’s time to revisit the New York Rangers’ salary cap situation for 2020-21

As the New York Rangers inch their way back to playing hockey, it appears that the NHL and the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) are close to a deal that would extend the current Collective Bargaining Agreement for a couple years.  Insiders say that part of the deal would be a salary cap of $81.5 million for the next two seasons, meaning no increase over the current cap. There is talk of a $1 million increase in year three.

This spells trouble for the New York Rangers and many other NHL teams.   There had been some hope for a life preserver for teams like New York, but that is not going to happen.

No compliance buyouts

It also appears that the option of compliance buyouts is not on the table, further hurting the Blueshirts.  Compliance, or amnesty buyouts would allow teams to buy out the contract of one or two players with no negative impact on the salary cap.  There had been some thought that with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the hit to NHL revenue, the owners would be interested in extending buyouts.  Not so.  While it would make it easier to manage rosters, amnesty buyouts don’t save the owners any real cash and they result in a loss of pay for the players that are bought out.  So, there was no incentive to include them (as much as Jeff Gorton would have liked them).

A compliance buyout would have allowed the Rangers to buy out the final year of Henrik Lundqvist’s contract, freeing up $8.5 million they could use to pay other players.  Apparently that option doesn’t exist any longer.

The Rangers’ cap situation

The Rangers will be going into the season with a cap hit of $67,108,133.  That means that they will have $14,391,867 in cap space .  While that may seem like a substantial amount, there will be challenges.

The challenges are the four Restricted Free Agents (RFA’s) who are arbitration eligible. Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome, Alexandar Georgiev and Brendan Lemieux are in a good position as this season draws to a close.

Tony DeAngelo was paid $925k this season, a payday that he was not happy about and he held out briefly when training camp started.  With no leverage. he had to take the Rangers’ offer.  He was one of the top offensive defenseman in the league and has had two straight solid seasons. Now he has leverage.

Ryan Strome is in the last year of a two-year deal he signed with Edmonton that pays him $3.1 million annually.  He had a career year, benefiting from being Artemi Panarin’s center, but his numbers should garner him a big payout.

Alexandar Georgiev is coming off a bargain basement salary of $792k and deserves an increase.  While he won’t get big money, he is due a raise.

Brendan Lemieux was in a similar situation to DeAngelo, forced to ink a $925k one-year deal.  While Lemieux’s season was not a good as his rookie campaign, he brings a unique sandpaper-ish style of play to the Blueshirts.  He led the team in penalty minutes and while he was unfairly singled out by referees and had the occasional lapse of discipline, he brings something important to the team.  While not deserving a huge increase, he should get a raise.

Phil Di Giuseppe is also an arbitration eligible RFA, but he won’t get much more than his current $700k salary.

If any or all of these players take the Rangers to arbitration, the Blueshirts are in big trouble.

Of the 13 forwards on the current active roster, Jesper Fast and Greg McKegg are unrestricted free agents (UFA’s) and unless they are willing to sign for a bargain salary, both will be gone.  Fast was earning $1.85 million this season and even that reasonable salary could be too rich for the Rangers.

So, the Rangers have $14.4 million in cap space to sign their five RFA’s and replace their two UFA’s.  That sum is what they have for the seven players they need to get to the 22 man roster level.

Vitali Kravtsov will hopefully be ready for prime time and he is on an Entry Level Contract (ELC) valued at $925k a year. Di Giuseppe should come in at around $800k.  One more roster slot will hopefully go to a player on an ELC, so that would mean the team would have about $12 million for DeAngelo, Strome, Georgiev and Lemieux.   And that’s the problem.

DeAngelo is severely underpaid.  70 NHL righthanded shooting defensemen made more than DeAngelo this season. How man had more points than DeAngelo’s 53?   One, John  Carlson of the Washington  Capitals with 71. How many righthanded defenseman scored more than Deangelo’s 15 goals?  One.  Alex Pietrangelo of the Blues with 16.

Players like Carlson and Pietrangelo are making a lot of money.  Carlson is at an $8 million cap hit and Pietrangelo’s hit is $6.5 million.   DeAngelo will look for similar money and if he gets it, that’s a problem.

It’s a similar situation for Ryan Strome.    He was 22nd overall among centers with 59 points this season.  Only two centers with more points made less than he did and both, Elias Pettersson and Matthew Barzal, are on ELC’s.   With the kind of season he had, he would expect to double his pay.

If both DeAngelo and Strome get paid the going rate for players of their ability, it would leave the Rangers with about $2 million.

Scenarios

It will be tight, but it isn’t impossible. A player like Strome may take a hometown discount to stay in New York with Panarin. Buyouts are still possible for Henrik Lundqvist, Brendan Smith or Marc Staal.   Moves like that will free up dollars to give Jeff Gorton some roster flexibility.

The fact is, if all of the cards fall the right way, the Rangers could sneak under the salary cap without having to resort to buyouts.  But here’s what it would mean.  Brendan Smith would be a top pair defenseman.  The third and fourth lines would feature rookies in key positions.  If the Blueshirts are looking to improve as a playoff contender, that’s not the way to do it.

They still have to resolve their goalie situation as there is no way the will go into next season with a three headed goalie monster.   That means they will trade Georgiev or buy out Lundqvist.

The League and the NHLPA still have to conclude negotiations on a CBA extension and it iwll need to be ratified by a majority of the players.  No doubt when that happens, we will go over the cap ramifications ad nausem.  The bottom line is the cap situation is bleak, but not a total disaster and all NHL general managers will be jumping through hoops to figure out their payrolls.

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