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Aiming to be cap compliant but currently stuck in status quo

July 18, 2019, 12:07 AM ET [127 Comments]
Jan Levine
New York Rangers Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
With a week to go until Jacob Trouba's arbitration hearing, the Rangers are in the same page cap-wise they were following the signing of Artemi Panarin. That $11.6 million cap hit has had the trickle down effect we all expected to occur; namely the Blueshirts are in cap hell. Larry Brooks focused on this in his column again today, which has been a topic of conversation on the blog for seemingly months.

The Rangers realistically could have as many as eight players — Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, Brett Howden, Vitali Kravtsov, Adam Fox, Libor Hajek and Alex Georgiev — working under entry-level contracts, plus two more — Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Lemieux—playing for under a million bucks apiece.

Indeed, if Lemieux and DeAngelo wind up playing for something close to their respective qualifiers of $874,125 on one-year deals that would lead to 2020 arbitration, as neither was eligible for arbitration this offseason, the aforementioned 10 athletes would combine for a cap hit of $8,800,748, or 10.798 percent of the $81.5 million cap.

Understand. Ten of the 20 players who could be in David Quinn’s lineup on any given night are set to earn less than 11 percent of the cap. And still somehow the Rangers at this mid-July date are dealing with cap constraints under which they do not have enough true space to get their remaining unsigned players—Jacob Trouba, Pavel Buchnevich, Lemieux and DeAngelo—under contract.

Except, not somehow.

That is what happens when the projected sixth, seventh and eighth or ninth defensemen on the organizational depth chart are going to eat $15.625 million of space, with Marc Staal at $5.7 million, Kevin Shattenkirk carrying a $6.65 million hit and Brendan Smith at a $3.275 million charge presuming his assignment to the AHL Wolf Pack (see potential buyouts, which I have run before, below). That represents a 19.17 percent of the apple.

The Rangers roared into the off-season, hopping aboard that express train to the top three days after the final game of 2018-19 by landing the second-overall pick in the draft lottery. Soon after, Fox was added to the mix, then came the hiring of president John Davidson, then came Jacob Trouba, then came the selection of Kakko, and then the free agent signing of Artemi Panarin. This represented an 84-day whirlwind of activity and electric energy.

But the Davidson/Jeff Gorton crew has been in a holding pattern since July 1. The Blueshirts have discovered that there is no market for Shattenkirk unless they take back an onerous contract in return. They have found no interest at all in Smith, who finished the year as a fourth-line winger. They have not been able to find a team interested in taking on Vlad Namestnikov’s $4 million obligation through the end of the season. They have not begun to talk about a contract extension with pending 2020 free agent Chris Kreider, who knows if/when they will, and there’s no smoke circling around a potential trade of No. 20. They could trade Buchnevich, who will come in at between $3-3.5 million, but wouldn’t they want to see him play with Panarin?

They’re stuck.

There are good reasons for a team under construction not to buy out players. It is understandable for the Rangers to want to avoid the added dead space in ’21-22 and ’22-23 (a combined $2.579 million), and especially when savings for 2020-21 would represent a paltry $695,834 when the cap is liable to increase by only around 2.5 percent if the PA sticks to its escrow-centric philosophy. If Kreider is in the team’s plans, then buying out the defensemen now won’t do much to relieve the stress.

And remember, going into this season right at the cap, with maybe a couple of hundred thousand to spare, is hardly a worthy objective. For in that case, the Blueshirts stand to be hit for an overage that would be subtracted from next year’s cap if Kakko and/or Kravtsov hit their bonuses. So let’s not pretend there is an easy way out here.

Yes, management could wheel Kreider for future picks who would cost nothing against the cap, but there’s that pesky 11-team no-trade clause and the fact that the winger has only a year to go on his deal and presumably would have to be overwhelmed by an acquiring team in order to forfeit 2020 free agency. In an environment under which just about every top team is squeezed by the cap, teams aren’t quite banging down the door on Kreider, at least not yet.

So, and I’ve felt this way for months, I just don’t see a way out of this pickle for the Rangers unless they do in fact buy out Shattenkirk and Smith. The Shattenkirk Saga has been told and retold. Even aside from the contract, what would Shattenkirk’s role be on the right side that will include Trouba, Fox and DeAngelo? Are you going to give him power play minutes ahead of Fox, when the theme of this season is development? Would anyone expect Shattenkirk, at age 30, to gracefully accept a string of healthy scratches? Would anyone want to place the burden of repeatedly scratching this well-respected veteran on the head coach who also happens to be Double-Deuce’s longtime friend?

There is perhaps one way out, and that would be if GM Gorton can find a trade match for Shattenkirk that would then allow the Blueshirts to buy out the acquired player and come out ahead on the deal. Like maybe for LA’s Dustin Brown, who has three years remaining on his deal at $5.875 million per.

If the Kings were amenable, a New York buyout of Brown would save $4 million this year ($1,666,667 less than Shattenkirk) but would save about $2 million more of space in 2020-21 and provide for a net gain of $3.93 million in space for 2021-22 while adding $1.5 million in dead space for the three seasons starting with 2022-23. That would help to accommodate the first two seasons of a hypothetical Kreider extension.

In any event, it is not easy. That is why the Rangers, who have done much good work thus far, still have some very heavy sledding ahead of them this summer.


My thoughts:

Brown: Los Angeles would likely love to get out of the three years remaining on Brown's deal. But if they are able to do so, why would they want Shattenkirk, making $6.65 mil the next two seasons, back unless he came with a major sweetener. What are you giving along with 'Kirk to facilitate a deal? The Kings have $8 mil in cap space with one RFA, Adrian Kempe, to be signed, so the are not in trouble cap wise. Next year, Tyler Toffoli and Derek Forbort are UFA and the team has no major RFA while no big contracts expire. The Kings could just keep Brown, but if New York offers a major incentive along with Shattenkirk, maybe a deal could get done.

Shattenkirk, Smith and Staal: I ran this before, but again, here’s what it could cost to buyout one of the veteran defensemen and how much cap space it would save each year, according to CapFriendly’s buyout calculator:

Shattenkirk

2019-20 — Cap hit: $1,483,833; Savings: $5,166,667
2020-21 — Cap hit: $6,083,333; Savings: $566,667
2021-22 — Cap hit: $1,433,333; Savings: -$1,433,333
2022-23 — Cap hit: $1,433,333; Savings: -$1,433,333

Staal

2019-20 — Cap hit: $2.9 million; Savings: $2.8 million
2020-21 — Cap hit: $3.7 million; Savings: $2 million
2021-22 — Cap hit: $1.2 million; Savings: -$1.2 million
2022-23 — Cap hit $1.2 million; Savings: -$1.2 million

Smith

2019-20 — Cap hit: $970,833; Savings: $3,379,167
2020-21 — Cap hit: $3,145,833; Savings: $1,204,167
2021-22 — Cap hit: $1,145,833; Savings: -$1,145,833
2022-23 — Cap hit: $1,145,833; Savings: -$1,145,833

The major downside with buying out Shattenkirk or Smith is that the 2020/21 cap hit would be large. The cap charge in that season would be $6,083,333 on Shattenkirk, and $3,145,833 on Smith. As RangerSaver noted, those amounts would be a major portion of their four-year respective totals of $10,433,332, and $6,408,332. Staal would provide a 50% savings on his 2019-20 cap hit this year, with a larger cap hit next season and trailing off, like 'Kirk and Smith the last two years of his deal.

Maybe, as has been suggested on Twitter, you deal one of them for several assets totaling a similar amount. Then you bury two of the assets in the minors and buyout the third, spreading out the cap hit while reducing the impact this season. If New York could somehow do that, which wouldn't be easy, that would be a possible way to facilitate cap compliance.

Namestnikov has a $4 million cap hit. When New York signed him to a two-year deal, the Rangers didn't front-load the contract nor did they put most of the salary in a signing bonus. If the team had done either, New York might have been able to find a taker who was willing to take on the cap hit but not pay the $, as Ottawa did slightly with the Artem Anisimov trade. Chicago paid the $2 million due July 15. leaving the Senators a minimal amount due by comparison, facilitating the trade.

As said in the comments to my blog, John Davidson and Jeff Gorton both knew and know the situation. Once Trouba was acquired, both aforementioned individuals had to be well aware of what that contract would run and the cap implications. The same with signing Panarin. Hopefully, the have played out multiple scenarios to help the team get cap compliant and are just waiting to execute the first piece with the remainder to fall in line thereafter.

One week to go. Settle in, may be a crazy seven days.

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