Early yesterday, the guys at CapGeek tweeted that the Rangers have $527,000 in bonuses on this year’s cap, which is essentially an extra player at the league minimum. With that, the Rangers have roughly $10.6 million in salary cap space to work with before they hit the $64.3 million salary cap ceiling. There are a few kinks to work out, but the Rangers clearly have a logjam at forward. When looking at the 14 forwards listed on CapGeek, there are three names that jump out at me as “a spare forward” for this season: Erik Christensen, Wojtek Wolski, and Mats Zuccarello.
Before you get all up in arms about listing Zuccarello there, read on, it will make sense.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Rangers need to dump a forward by either trade, buyout, or demotion. Competition is good, especially for bottom six guys, but 14 forwards (including Dubinsky and Callahan) is just too many. Sean Avery and his $1.9 million cap hit is untradeable, so that really eliminates the idea of moving him. That really just leaves the trio mentioned above, and one of them is going to have to go.
Starting with Zuccarello, the simplest solution is to send him to the minors, where his $1.75 million cap hit is off the books. That becomes a wash with the Erixon or Del Zotto contract, plus gives the Rangers extra room to add that seventh defenseman at around $1 million. When all is said and done in this scenario, the Rangers have 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and a little more than $1 million in cap space.
Moving on to Wolski and his $3.8 million salary ($466,667 and $667, 667 buyout price), he is the biggest enigma on this current Rangers team. Wolski clearly has skill, but it’s just unfortunate that he picks and chooses when he wants to show it. I truly believe he can shine on a line with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. However, that is a lot of maybes to stick with someone making $3.8 million. Especially when his buyout comes at 1/3 the price, not 2/3 the price.
Finally there’s Christensen, it’s easier to see why he would stick around, as his salary is 1/3 of Wolski’s and a little more than half of Zuccarello’s at $925,000. My feelings on Christensen aside, I think that at his skill set and his price are a good fit for the fourth line on this club. He is also extremely maddening to watch, but he wouldn’t be given a top line role with Richards in the fold. I think he stays at this point.
So the Rangers have a choice to make between now and October 1, and it’s not an easy choice. Much of this will depend on the final cap numbers for Dubinsky and Callahan, so don’t expect any decision on this front soon. The only thing we can infer is that the Rangers will be sending one of Zuccarello, Wolski, or Christensen away. I’d have to assume that Zuccarello starts the year in the AHL, and is the first call up for injury replacement.