Can the Rangers take advantage of Pacific Division salary cap issues?

The flat salary cap is going to affect all NHL teams including the New York Rangers

If the salary cap remains flat at $81.5 million for the2020-21 season, some teams are going to be in big trouble.  The New York Rangers have traditionally spent up against the cap, but they have some flexibility and could also make some roster moves to free up cap space.

In our last report, we looked at the situation in the Central Division.  Click here to see that analysis.  In the Central the Blackhawks and Blues are in big cap trouble, but the rest of the teams are in decent shape.   It’s time to turn our attention to the Pacific Division where it is a very different story.

The Rangers

We went over the Rangers’ cap situation in depth in our last report, but to recap,  the Rangers project to have $13.466 million in cap space headed into next season.  They have to re-sign Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome,  Alexandar Georgiev, Brendan Lemieux  and Phil DiGiuseppe and replace or re-sign Jesper Fast and Greg McKegg as well.

Options for freeing up cap space include buyouts of Henrik Lundqvist, Brendan Smith and Marc Staal.  A Lundqvist retirement would help free the most cap space, but we don’t know if that is even an option.

At any rate, the team could end up with anywhere from $13.5 million to $18.5 million in cap space going into next season.  A major factor for the Blueshirts is the number of young players on Entry Level Contracts (ELC’s) that are team friendly.  If the team drafts Alexis Lafreniere as expected, that means they will have another player on the roster making less than $1 million.

That’s important considering that the off-season mission for Jeff Gorton is to build up the Rangers’ depth on defense and find players who will make the team a tougher squad to play against.

We’ll now take a look at the Pacific Division to see if there are any situations the Rangers could use to their advantage.    All salary cap data is courtesy of capfriendly.com and cap space for 2020-21 is projected.

Anaheim Ducks – Cap Space $2,920,001

Key UFA’s:
Matt Irwin, Right defense
Michael Del Zotto, Left defense
Ryan Miller, Goalie

Key RFA’s: None

For a team that missed the postseason,  the Anaheim Duck are in big cap trouble.  Add in the fact that Ryan Kesler, Erik Gudbranson and Patrick Eaves all finished the season on Injured Reserve and it is even worse. Their issue is that with less than $3 million in projected cap space, they need to add two NHL defensemen and a back up goalie to their roster.

The good news for Anaheim is that in one year, they will be rid of the contracts of NHL senior citizens Ryan Getzlaf and David Backes, saving almost $13 million in salary.

For the Rangers, there doesn’t seem to be much of an opportunity in Anaheim. Defensemen like Christian Djoos or Jacob Larson aren’t an upgrade over what they have.   To be honest, the Ducks don’t have much to offer.

Arizona Coyotes – Cap Space $1,510,000

Key UFA’s:
Taylor Hall, Left wing
Brad Richardson, Center
Carl Soderberg, Center-wing
Beau Bennett, Right wing

Key RFA’s:
Vinnie Hinostroza, Right wing-center (arbitration eligible)
Christian Fischer, Right wing
Ilya, Lyubushkin, Right defense (arbitration eligible)

The Coyotes should thank the hockey gods that they snuck into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.   With 17 players taking up about $80 million in cap space, the Coyotes have one of the worst cap issues in the NHL.  Oh yes, that does NOT include Taylor Hall.

One Coyote who could interest the Rangers is defenseman Jordan Oesterle.  A lefty stay-at-home blueliner, he is reasonably paid at $1.4 million and is under contract through next season.  A former Ranger favorite who the Yotes would love to unload is Michael Grabner, but he is no bargain at $3.35 million.  He hasn’t lost any of his speed and would greatly upgrade the Blueshirts’ fourth line, but unless Arizona was willing to eat some salary, it’s a non-starter.

Ilya Lyubuskin is interesting.  A hard hitting Russian defenseman, if the Rangers are looking for a depth right handed blueliner, he could be available.  if the Blueshirts decide to trade Tony DeAngelo to a team looking for a power play quarterback, a defenseman like Lyubushkin on the third pairing could make sense.

Calgary Flames – Cap Space $16,910,834

Key UFA’s:
Tobias Rieder, Winger
Zac Rinaldo, Center, wing
TJ Brodie, Right defense
Travis Hamonic, Right defense
Derek Forbort, Left defense
Erik Gustafsson, Left defense
Michael Stone, Right defense
Cam Talbot, Goalie

Key RFA’s:
Oliver Kylington, Left defense
Mark Jankowski, Center (arbitration eligible)
Andrew Mangiapane, Winger (arbitration eligible)

Walking into next season with just under $17 million in cap space may look like a lot, but the Flames have eight UFA’s on their roster that they need to re-sign or replace.  Add in the three RFA’s and the picture isn’t so bright. Cam Talbot isn’t making it any easier for the Flames.  He has won the starting job and needs to be paid next season.

That’s one reason why the rumor mill has been tossing Johnny Gaudreau’s name into the mix.  Freeing up his $7 million salary would help the Flames make their budget, if they could replace his offense.

The Rangers could have some interest in any of the three free agent lefthanded defensemen, Brodie, Gustafsson or Forbort.  As for forwards with sandpaper, Zac RInaldo is a player that other players hate to play against.  While he is more of a target of referees than Brendan Lemieux, if Gorton’s recipe for success is to make the Rangers harder to play against, Rinaldo could be an ingredient. He played for the NHL minimum $700k so he wouldn’t cost a lot.

Edmonton Oilers – Cap Space $10,148,835

Key UFA’s:
Riley Sheahan, Left wing-center
Tyler Ennis, Center-wing
Patrick Russell, Right wing
Mike Green, Right defense

Key RFA’s:
Andreas Athanasiou, Center-wing (arbitration eligible)
Matt Benning, Right defense (arbitration eligible)
Ethan Bear, Right defense

The Edmonton Oilers boast the highest paid player in the NHL in Connor McDavid  at $12.5 million and Leon Draisaitl, the potential MVP, at a bargain $8.5 million.  The Oilers are cap challenged, mostly because they have to re-sign RFA Andreas Athanasiou.   Eligible for arbitration, he slumped badly from 2018-19 when he scored 30 goals, notching only 11 and getting traded from Detroit at the deadline.

Still, the $10 million in cap space will go quickly and there is one option that the Rangers might be interested in.  Defenseman Kris Russell is a lefthanded shot with one year left on a deal that pays him $4 million a year.  The 33 year old is a lefthanded shot who’s a rock solid, versatile d-man who has been a fixture on the Edmonton blue line for four years.  He’d be a good compliment to Jacob Trouba for the short term and could hold the roster slot until K’Andre Miller is ready.  He has a limited no trade clause so it’s unknown whether it is even possible.

Los Angeles Kings – Cap space $20,737,273

Key UFA’s:
Trevor Lewis , Center-Wing
Ben Hutton, Left Defense
Joakim Ryan, Left Defense

Key RFA’s:
Nikolai Prokhorkin, Center-Left wing
Austin Wagner, Right wing
Sean Walker, Right defense (arbitration eligible)

The Los Angeles Kings were one of the worst teams in the NHL and have embarked on a rebuild.  As a rebuilding team,  you would think that there would be candidates ripe for the poaching, but the Kings don’t have a lot of assets a team like the Rangers would like.

The Kings definitely need to make room for some of their young talent like Alex Turcotte, Tyler Madden, Arthur Kaliyev and Tobias Bjornfot, but the players that would be pushed out are marginal.

San Jose Sharks – Cap space $14,881,667

Key UFA’s:
Joe Thornton, Center
Melker Karlsson, Right wing
Stefan Noesen, Right wing
Tim Heed, Right defense
Brandon Davidson, Left defense
Aaron Dell, Goalie

Key RFA’s:
Kevin Lebanc, Right wing (arbitration eligible)
Joel Kellman, Center (arbitration eligible)
Antti Suomela, Center (arbitration eligible)
Jacob Middleton, Left defense (arbitration eligible)

All three California teams missed the playoffs, but the Sharks were probably the biggest disappointment.  They are hard against the cap with six UFA’s to sign or replace and four RFA’s, all arbitration eligible.

The Sharks have long term, big dollar commitments to Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Timo Meier, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and the often injured Erik Karlsson.

Moving forward, there have been reports that the Sharks are open to trading Brent Burns or buying out Martin Jones, but neither of those options are of any interest to the Blueshirts.

Vancouver Canucks – Cap space $17,075,128

Key UFA’s:
Tyler Toffoli, Right wing
Josh Leivo, Right wing
Chris Tanev, Right defense
Oscar Fantenberg, Left defense
Jacob Markstrom, Goalie
Louis Domingue, Goalie

Key RFA’s:
Jake Virtanen, Right wing (arbitration eligible)
Tyler Motte, Right wing (arbitration eligible)
Adam Gaudette, Center
Zack MacEwen, Center-wing (arbitration eligible)
Troy Stecher, Right defense (arbitration eligible)

The Canucks have a big problem.  First off, their cap space is going to be less than $17 million due to bonuses due to Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson.  They really need to re-sign Jacob Markstrom who established himself as one of the top goalies in the NHL.   Tyler Toffoli was an expensive trade deadline acquisition from the Kings.  They are going to have pay to keep Virtanen, Motte and Stecher so their cap space won’t go very far.

This could present an opportunity if they have any interest in Jordie Benn. The 33 year old has one more year on a $2 million annual contract and could be an upgrade over Brendan Smith or Marc Staal.  Benn didn’t have a great season this year and lost his job to Oscar Fantenberg, but he has been a solid defensive d-man in the past and could be helpful for the Rangers short term.

Vegas Golden Knights – Cap space $6,375,000

Key UFA’s:
Robin Lehner, Goalie
Tomas Nosek, Center-wing
Jon Merrill, Left defense
Deryk Engelland, Right defense

Key RFA’s:
Chandler Stephenson, Left wing (arbitration eligible)
Nick Cousins, Center-wing (arbitration eligible)

The Golden Knights thought they were in fat city when the cap was going to increase by several millions dollars.  Now that the cap is flat, they are in a tight squeeze.   Their focus will be on getting Robin Lehner to sign a contract after he won the starting job in the Playoffs over Marc Andre Fleury.   Inking Lehner will take most of their cap space and their next priority would be to get Chandler Stephenson signed.

The Rangers would have no interest in any of their free agents except for Jon Merrill.  At a reasonable price, he could provide some blueline depth.  As for trade targets, the Rangers would surely be interested in 29 year old Braden McNabb,  He’s signed through 2022 for a reasonable $2.5 million and would be the perfect partner for Jacob Trouba.

The problem is that McNabb is proving his value as a shutdown first pair defenseman partnered with Nate Schmidt.   Something would have to give if the Golden Knights really want to keep Lehner and perhaps they could be persuaded to part with McNabb in a salary cap move.   Of course, if the Golden Knights can win the Stanley Cup, all bets are off.

Summing up the Pacific

The only team in the Pacific Division that doesn’t have a salary cap issue is Los Angeles.  Every other team is going to be dealing with the flat cap and may have to make some tough decisions.   As the Rangers embark on the postseason in search of toughness and defensive depth, there are some distinct possibilities out west.