The Rangers are in a transition period. The rebuild is in full swing. There are questions about regarding who stays and who goes. One of those questions is on Marc Staal, who has three more years left on his deal with a $5.7 million cap hit. Suffice it to say, it’s not a good contract.
The calls to trade or buyout Staal prior to this year were warranted. His contract was bad, and he was taking up cap space that could have been spent elsewhere. Without that contract, the Rangers probably don’t need to trade Derek Stepan to sign Kevin Shattenkirk, and perhaps this season is different. There’s no guarantee, but it’s something worth calling out. But times have changed in less than a year.
Assuming Staal isn’t a tradeable asset, then a buyout is the next logical discussion. Looking at the buyout options, buying out Staal this season results in a cap hit of $2 million in 2018-2019, $3 million the following year, $3.8 million the year after, then three seasons of $1.3 million. It is certainly an improvement on his $5.7 million cap hit for negative returns. It is an attractive option.
However let’s delay that buyout a year and see what it looks like. The end result is a $5.7 million cap hit for Staal on the Rangers next season. Then the buyout hits, and it becomes a $2.9 million cap hit, followed by a $3.7 million cap hit, then two seasons of $1.2 million. This isn’t as attractive for next season, but winds up with less money on the books for the following four years. Plus, there is one less year of dealing with the cap hit.
Whereas the Rangers needed to move on from Staal to dress a competitive team the past few years, that ship has sailed and they no longer have that obligation to do so. The club, as far as we can tell, has no plans to compete next year. They have oodles of cap space. There is no longer that need to send Staal packing, at least from a business standpoint.
As mentioned above, the Rangers have cap space, and there is no desperate need to really trade him at the moment. One other factor to consider is beyond next season, when the Rangers might hope to compete, is Staal’s base salary decreasing below his cap hit. His base salary in 2019-2020 is $4 million ($1 million signing bonus on July 1), and drops to $3.2 million the year after (also with a $1 million signing bonus). There’s value in a higher cap hit and a lower salary, as we’ve seen Arizona exploit lately. There’s a higher chance of a trade then, without dealing with the buyout fallout.
It would certainly be nice if all the young defensemen supplant the veterans next year, but it’s not likely. On the left side, it’s Staal, Brady Skjei, and possibly John Gilmour at the moment. Who else is there? Perhaps Libor Hajek, if he doesn’t need a year in the AHL? Sean Day? Ryan Lindgren? I doubt it.
There isn’t really a need to rush the likes of Hajek, Day, or Lindgren. Staal, at the very least, is a warm NHL body who can be a bottom-four –preferably bottom pairing– defenseman. It isn’t the ideal scenario, but for the immediate future it might be the most logical solution for dressing an NHL roster. If the overall goal is a higher draft pick next season and development time for kids without rushing them, then keeping Staal is an option that must be considered.