As well positioned as the New York Rangers are this summer, there’s one mistake that the team needs to avoid making.
The New York Rangers are in a good position this summer. Vitali Kravtsov and Igor Shesterkin are joining the team, they have the second overall pick in the draft, and they have $18 million in cap space without any huge restricted free agent contracts to hand out. They could be in play for a big free agent signing or two.
With an eye towards an attractive free agent class, the team is keeping all their options open. General manager Jeff Gorton told Larry Brooks of the New York Post that the team hasn’t ruled out buyouts for some of their highly-paid defensemen.
“In all honesty, we haven’t ruled it out,” Gorton said. “It’s on the table. And regardless of what we do with this buyout window, we’d certainly look at the second one, too, depending on what comes up over the next few weeks. A lot can happen.”
While you never want to rule anything out, the team needs to play this smart. While they have several candidates who can be bought out, this is the absolute wrong time to do so.
The team could have $18-20 million in cap space depending on how high the salary cap climbs. Pavel Buchnevich and Tony DeAngelo are both due extensions, but both will probably receive bridge deals at lower terms rather than long-term commitments.
Neal Pionk could also be brought back at a cheap cap hit, although they may choose to move on from him with how crowded the blueline is.
The point, however, is that the team should have plenty of cap space to make a big addition without having to buy anybody out or move any salaries. Plus, they could move Jimmy Vesey ($2.275M), Ryan Strome ($3.1M), or Vladislav Namestnikov ($4M) in trades to clear space before any buyouts would need to be made.
The team certainly has candidates for buyouts. Brooks mentions that Kevin Shattenkirk ($6.65M) and Brendan Smith ($4.35M) could be bought out as the team has been unable to find any trades for them. Marc Staal ($5.7M) is also a candidate, and all three have two years left on their current contracts.
While buying them out would lower the team’s salary commitments this season, it would create issues down the road. The buyouts would require them to have a cap hit on the books for four seasons instead of two.
Adding those two years of cap hits will do damage to the Rangers in two seasons when those three players would see all of their contracts expire should they not be bought out.
The team will have to give new contracts to Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, Shesterkin, Libor Hajek, and Brett Howden after two seasons. They have $25 million scheduled to come off the books between Shattenkirk, Smith, Staal, and Henrik Lundqvist in two years.
Keeping some of that money on the books in an effort to clear money now is short-sighted. As unfortunate as it is to admit, the Rangers are probably only a fringe playoff contender over the next two seasons.
The next championship window will open up when K’Andre Miller, Kravtsov, Shesterkin, and one of Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko are fully integrated into the NHL.
The 2021-22 season should be the target for the Rangers. The next two seasons should be about developing the youth the team has, adding more to the youth, and keeping unnecessary cap hits off the books for the contending seasons.
This summer needs to be about the long game. The smart decision would be to ride out the bad contracts and keep the books clear for the next wave of young Rangers looking to contend.