The New York Rangers have many questions regarding salary cap space that general manager Jeff Gorton will need to answer.
Money is of the essence in the NHL. This year’s playoffs are a perfect example of this. The salary-cap has resulted in so much parity across the league, making the 2019 postseason so unpredictable.
General managers only have so much money to work with, and they can only afford so many star players. This hasn’t been an issue over the last two seasons for the New York Rangers because of their decision to strip down and start over. Now that the Blueshirts are nearing the status of “rebuilt,” cap space will become an issue again.
While Jeff Gorton has done an excellent job at the helm thus far, he has made a few mistakes when it comes to contract negotiations. Gorton decided to re-sign Brendan Smith to a four-year, $17.4-million contract after his successful stint in the 2017 playoffs. He also brought in Kevin Shattenkirk, who was once a coveted free-agent, believe it or not, with a four-year $26.6 million deal.
Despite the fact that both of these contracts seemed reasonable at the time they were signed, they both turned out to be massive overpayments. Additionally, the front office took a risk and signed Brady Skjei to a six-year, $ 31.5-million extension last summer. Thus far, management hasn’t been rewarded, as Skjei’s performance, this past year failed to give me any confidence that he will ever return to his rookie-year-form.
New York’s final bad contract belongs to Marc Staal, who still has two years remaining on his six-year, $34.2 million agreement.
The Rangers haven’t been hampered by these questionable contracts over the last two seasons because they have been significantly under the salary-cap as a result of their rebuilding status. Now as the team approaches another era of contention, they must figure out their salary-cap situation before it’s too late.
With the team’s current build, the Blueshirts should have approximately $10 million in cap space this summer, assuming they re-sign all of their restricted free agents. If Jeff Gorton is serious about taking a run at some superstars in Erik Karlsson and Artemi Panarin, then he’s going to have to free up some more money. The reality is that the Blueshirts are going to have to find a way out of some of their unfortunate contracts.
There’s always the buyout route. Many have speculated that a Kevin Shattenkirk buyout could be coming, but this wouldn’t make much sense to me. The only reason for this would be the log-jam on the right side of New York’s blue line. If the Rangers are going to buy out anybody, it should be Brendan Smith.
However, management should avoid a buyout at all costs. I struggle to believe that no team would take two years of Brendan Smith if the Rangers were to retain half of his salary. If Smith was with the Blueshirts on a two-year contract with a $2 million AAV, I would be thrilled.
The same goes for Shattenkirk. There’s no way that other general managers would refuse to add Shattenkirk for two years at about $3 million a year.
Trading Smith and Shattenkirk while retaining salary should be the team’s number one option. If they are unsuccessful in this, a buyout should still be avoided. Depth forwards such as Ryan Strome, Vlad Namestnikov, and Jimmy Vesey all could be easily moved to free up more money. For the first time ever, maybe a Henrik Lundqvist trade is a possibility.
There are plenty of ways that Jeff Gorton can clear out cap-space without having to buy out any of his overpaid defensemen. A buyout should be the general manager’s last resort.
Unless the Rangers are able to unload some of their high-paid players, the hard truth is that the organization may struggle to afford a superstar.
Jeff Gorton has done a fantastic job thus far, but now it’s time to see what he’s got. This offseason will define the future of the Blueshirts. The clock starts now.