Hi there friends, it’s been a minute. Since we last spoke the Rangers signed Adam Fox to his ELC and today they inked Yegor Rykov to his as well, inter alia. As this rebuild got started, going back to the Derek Stepan trade that landed us Tony DeAngelo and the pick that became Lias Andersson all the way through various selloffs that bring us to the present day, there had been much talk about how the Rangers intended to fix their defensive issue, both in terms of high-grade talent and the logjam of larger contracts we’ve got going. Well, I’m here to tell you yet again that there’s no reason to panic, the sky isn’t falling, and we actually might be able to kick this thing into high much sooner than later. It’s easy in fact, and maybe relatively painless.
The first thing to note, and this is deeply important, is that the Rangers have a ton of entry-level deals on the books. This matters because they effectively subsidize larger deals, or, as we’ll be getting into, buyouts and salary-retained trades. This is also important because it’s going to tell us what our D corps is going to wind up looking like, but I’m not sure you all need me to regurgitate a thousand names at you, so I’ll let you fill in the blanks to your hearts desire. Just know that we’ve got several mainstays coming up, as well as ample depth guys to fill things out while the young guns develop to their hearts’ content. The quantity of ELCs we’ll have on the books doesn’t really care what position they are though, because to be clear, we’re just talking dollars and cents right now.
To start off, we can definitely trade Brendan Smith and/or Kevin Shattenkirk, and especially make it nice with 50% salary retained on either or both contracts, depending on what deals there are to be struck. The primary goal here is to jettison Smith, who really is just a relative placeholder at this point – his role can be basically filled by anyone. Kevin Shattenkirk might be worth keeping, depending on how the forecast is looking as far as when guys like Miller and Lundkvist may be coming up to the big club. With each of those players traded though let’s say, at 50% salary retained, they’re attractive enough assets that someone is going to want them, especially at the low low price of $2.175m for Smith and $3.325m for Shattenkirk. It’s hard to imagine that there isn’t some Good Hockey Man somewhere who thinks that Smith “plays the right way” or that a 40-point, puck-moving, PP-QB, smooth-skating d-man at sub-market value isn’t valuable on the trade market. We might even get solid assets back in return, but that’s almost just gravy – it’ll be a win simply clearing space to allow young guys to develop and grow at the NHL level and get an idea of what we’re cooking with.
Obviously this isn’t exactly ideal, but both of those contracts have only two years left on them. That’s totally fine, because with Andersson, Chytil, Howden, Hajek, Shesterkin, Kravtsov, Kakko/Hughes, Rykov, and Fox all making the bare minimum allowed, we’ve got more than enough wiggle room over the next couple of years. There might be some problems down the road, but by the time those problems hit the Smith/Shatty problems simply won’t be anymore. It’s not a bad look, folks.
The big elephant in the room is Marc Staal. Obviously, a trade would be ideal, so I’m going to propose two scenarios. One, and this would be semi-contingent on how any Smith/Shattenkirk deal plays out, is a salary-retained deal with a pick and Neal Pionk involved as sweeteners, and maybe even take back another short-term deal of lesser AAV that a team just wants off the books in return, but that’s a fairly imperfect solution. In a perfect world we pull off Staal/Pionk/pick(s) and just call it a day. That’d solve a lot of problems, especially if we somehow get it done without eating some of that cap hit. Just about perfect if JD/JG (how cool is that to say? OH BABY!) can pull it off, but hey, if not and we have to hold onto some of the dough, fine.
The less ideal, but still altogether fine solution would be a buyout. Such a thing would incur a penalty against the NYR salary cap construction to the tune of $1.2m each year until the end of the 2022-23 season, which is a long ways away when considering at that point there will actually be some tough decisions to make as far as extending players who are right now on rookie deals. It’s problematic, but a smart GM could make it work.
So where does that leave our beloved Blueshirts? If Smith/Shattenkirk/Staal all find themselves on the way out, with the first two traded on salary-retention deals and Staal bought out, that’s $6.7m to have guys not on the blue line for the next two years, dipping down to $1.2 for the following two after that. It’s a scary price tag, but it may very well be worth it if the Rangers want to try and pull a Carolina or Dallas next season. If not, there’s longer term solutions, and any kind of combination of cap-hit-splitting and buyouts may do the trick when staggered correctly – I’m sure there’s spreadsheets beyond spreadsheets of various scenarios floating around in the Rangers front office, and attempting to predict what those all look like is beyond my pay grade.
All I know is that if the Rangers can make a couple of trades, bite the bullet on a buyout, and just do the damn thing at the draft, then this defensive crisis as far as never being able to get beyond what we have now suddenly vanishes. It might be a little bit tough to stomach, but there’s plenty of ameliorating factors. I think it’s also worth noting as I leave you to digest and brainstorm, that this has been the case more or less since last year. The sky isn’t falling, and it never has been. It’s an even better situation when you factor in a guy like Kakko or Hughes, and if Panarin comes to New York then we’re really pushing the puck up the ice, as it were. Sounds like a tidy cleanup to me, no?