New York’s plan for a rebuild may have taken a second big hit today with Nikita Kucherov signing an eight-year deal to remain in Tampa. I will get into the specifics of how big of a steal of a deal that is for the Lightning, a topic covered nicely today by Ryan Wilson in his blog and thanks to Ryan for use of the table and tweets, further down in this blog. But for now, the key impact is on the Rangers’ hope/ belief/ expectation to land a big name free agent, especially a winger, in the 2019 sweepstakes.
With Kucherov now off the table and the likelihood that Erik Karlsson will sign a long-term extension if/when he is traded, two potential difference makers are no longer possible options (of course, if EK65 ends up in New York, either via trade or as a UFA, if he is traded solely as a rental, forget everything I wrote below :) ). One main difference is that EK65 is/was to be a UFA while Kucherov was only slated to be a RFA. But Tampa might have needed to move him if his demands were in the expected $12 mil range, creating a buying opportunity. Even factoring in the tax impact - see below - of no state taxes in Florida for 40+ games, all road games save for ones against the Panthers and probably Stars as well, Kucherov is still somewhat underpaid compared to where he might have landed if he went to the marketplace in the future.
While Steve Yzerman hasn’t hit on every deal he signed - the Ryan Callahan contract is one example - I would say his track record is fairly good. With the below, please keep in mind for each deal that the lack of state tax in Florida is a huge benefit and as we have discussed for, an area that cries for remediation in the next CBA. But that said, Stevie Y has still done an excellent job on retaining several stars at undermarket deals.
Victor Hedman at $7.875 mil for the next seven years in under market. Steven Stamkos at $8.50 mil for the next six years as well. Now add in Kucherov. On the flip side, you have the Callahan deal and the jury is still out to a certain extent on the contracts given to Ondrej Palat (four more years at $5.3 mil per), Tyler Johnson (six more years at $5 mil per) and Alex Killorn (five more years at $4.45 mil per). This past off-season, Yzerman made two mildly head scratching deals due to length and $ amount, giving J.T. Miller $5.25 mil for each of the next five seasons and Ryan McDonagh, starting in 2019-20 when he will be 30 years old, $6.75 mil for the following seven seasons.
The good part for Tampa is that Andrei Vasilevskiy is signed for two more seasons at $3.5 mil per year, which is another solid contract. But Yzerman will have to pay Yanni Gourde after this season as he will be an UFA and also sign Brayden Point who will be be an RFA after the season. Same for Mikhail Sergachev, an RFA to be off his ELC after the 2020-21 season. The window for the Lightning to win may be for 2-3 more seasons depending on the rise in the cap. Tampa lost in Game 7 in the ECF the last two seasons, all you want from your GM and owner is to give your franchise a chance to win. Yzerman has done that and then some.
Ryan Wilson in his blog did a great job of showing just how good the Kucherov signing is for Tampa utilizing % of cap space spent on bridge deal and then second contract. Similar can be said about Stamkos, even though he used the discussion timeframe between draft and free agency before returning to the Lightning. Take a look at two names towards the top of the list. Rick Nash’s deal was signed with Columbus, so that doesn’t necessarily count as against the Rangers, even though the picked up a large portion of the deal when he was traded there. But as you have heard me say before, Henrik Lundqvist clearly didn’t give New York a hometown discount when he signed there. The chart evidences that.
With Kucherov no longer an option and Karlsson likely the same, it may be Panarin or bust in 2019. For now, New York is in the mode of accepting assets to facilitate taking on bad contracts. But at some point, that mentality will have to change: the when is the question. For me, anything beyond next season is too long, though even though GM Jeff Gorton has said he is willing to take on contracts for assets, other than Matt Beleskey - and in that deal, Boston has eaten half the remaining contract - to date, this has been just lip service.
The good news is that as of now Panarin is liking for a place near water and could be leaning NY or LA. But if New York is not ready to contend, will he be interested in coming further east rather than going west or even staying in Columbus, as unlikely as that seems? His decision could be partly impacted by the length and breadth of the rebuild.
If for example the rebuild is to stretch to at least 2020-21 before the turnaround is to start, that timeframe may result in a lack of interest for Panarin. But if the young players such as Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson at the NHL level or Vitali Kravtsov, Yegor Rekov and Igor Shestyorkin in the KHL or Brett Howden and Ryan Lindgren in the NHL or K’Andre Miller in college or Nils Lundkvist in the SHL show the hoped for growth, then maybe that helps sway his decision. This rationale doesn’t only apply to Panarin, but to any potential free agent.
As of now, the potential list of free agents in 2019 (
https://www.nhl.com/news/2019-fantasy-hockey-ufa-preview-list/c-298503958) could include Max Pacioretty, who won’t be signed long term by Montreal, Blake Wheeler, Tyler Seguin, Joe Pavelski and Anders Lee plus others on addition to Panarin. To me, for New York to show they are a player and plan to contend, adding one of this ilk is a must and you could argue that to change the mindset of the fan base and league’s perception, signing two of those players is the requirement. If not and if the rebuild is to stretch longer than starting the path forward next year, regardless of the Hockey News’ praise of the organization’s decision (
https://thehockeynews.com/news/article/prospect-watch-rangers-building-the-right-way), then honestly, the Rangers may have to trade Henrik Lundqvist.
With three years left at $8.5 mil per, Lundqvist will, unless something highly unexpected occurs, be playing in front of team that won’t come close to contending this season. If the rebuild isn’t to start until 2020-21, then next year is kind of waste for him as well. The season might be one of mild growth for the organization, but knowing how competitive Hank is, he honestly would be wasted, since his efforts will go for naught. His most important contribution might be in helping Shestyorkin adapt to North American play, presuming the prospect comes over from the KHL. In 2021-22, a quasi time share might exist, unless Hank is on his game at his somewhat advanced age and he provides New York the best chance to win in a year they look to turn the corner.
You all know my view on Lundqvist. He will be a Hall of Famer and his number will be in the rafters at MSG. But if the rebuild is expected to take several seasons and next year’s free agency doesn’t go accordingly to plan, or pursuing one to two big names isn’t the path forward, then the organization will have to think long and hard how they handle Lundqvist and the goaltending position.
Lots can happen between now and next season. Hopefully, the young players take that next step and the rookies show they are a big part of the future. If that happens, attracting elite players won't prove to be difficult. If not, well you can fill in the rest.