The news broke the other day, via Wojtek Wolski’s twitter, that he is back on the ice and skating following sports hernia surgery. The Rangers have not necessarily missed Wolski, going 9-2-0 in the month of November, but his return can be viewed as a good sign. Wolski certainly has skill, but the question is whether he fits into the current makeup of the roster.
While the initial reaction is to say that he should still sit, let’s keep in mind that he may not return for a few weeks, and a lot can happen. The Rangers can falter, and need a jolt in the lineup. Also, any of the callups can falter and be sent back down to the AHL. There can also be a few injuries. While this may not be an issue at the moment, it has the potential to become an issue.
Why is Wolski returning an ‘issue’? Simply put, his $3.8 million cap hit would no longer be on LTIR, meaning the Rangers need to get back under the cap. Due to some current internet restrictions, I cannot get exact numbers from Capgeek, but last time I checked the Rangers had less than $100k in cap space, but about $3 million in LTIR overages to work with. When Wolski comes back, the overages disappear, and the Rangers will need to clear some cap space, likely about $1 million -$1.5 million or so.
There are a few options here. First Erik Christensen, who has been a healthy scratch since the recall of Carl Hagelin and John Mitchell, does not appear to have a spot on this roster anymore. It is likely that upon Wolski’s return, he and his $925k cap hit would be waived. While that clears most of the cap space needed, it does not completely address the problem.
Shifting the focus to John Mitchell and his $650k cap hit, it is likely that in the event of a Wolski return, he would be the second guy to go to clear space. Waiving Mitchell clears both cap space and a roster spot in the starting 12 forwards. So to summarize, the likely move(s) would be to waive both Christensen and Mitchell.
Disclaimer: I do not have the exact cap numbers in front of me, so it is entirely possible that the Rangers need only waive Christensen to clear all of the cap space required to keep Wolski and Mitchell on the roster. However, I do not think that is possible.
Of course there is a third option here, and that is to just waive Wolski himself. But that comes with significant risk. The Rangers are a shot blocking team, and with that comes injuries. While Wolski would definitely clear waivers initially, he would not clear re-entry waivers should the Rangers need to use him in the event of an injury. Simply put, if Wolski is waived, he remains in the AHL until his contract expires. Re-entry waivers would expose him to the remaining 29 teams at 50% of his salary ($1.9 million)…someone will bite on that.
It’s an interesting situation the Rangers have with Wolski getting healthy again. On one hand there’s the skill that Wolski would bring to the lineup, but on the other there’s the inconsistency and the cap hit. It’s a similar situation to what the Rangers had last year when Michal Rozsival went down with an injury. The end result was Ryan McDonagh staying and Rozsival being traded (ironincally enough for Wolski). It’s entirely possible that the play of Carl Hagelin could have a Rozsival-like effect on Wolski. Oh the irony.