The more days that pass, the more focus intensifies on the blue line. Of course nothing is likely to change on that front until the draft, but with about 18 players vying for 14 spots in the NHL and AHL, something is bound to happen. Kevin Shattenkirk’s future in New York has been discussed ad nauseam, but for some unknown reason there hasn’t been too much chatter on Brendan Smith and/or Marc Staal, both of whom could be headed for a buyout.
First things first, buying out Staal or Smith makes infinitely more sense than buying out Shattenkirk. Neither has trade value, whereas Shattenkirk at 50% can still bring back an asset or two.
Now that the obvious is out of the way, let’s look into the specifics. Staal has two years left on his deal at a $5.7 million cap hit. A buyout this summer would lower his cap hit to $2.9 million this year and $3.7 next year, with a pair of $1.2 million years after. Smith has two years left at $4.35 million, and his cap hit lowers to $970k this season and $3.145 million next season, with a pair of $1.145 million seasons after. This is on top of the $1.1 million cap hit from Dan Girardi’s buyout. After a while, this stuff adds up.
The benefits from buying them out are clear. The Blueshirts get at least $2 million in savings this year and next while taking a minimal cap hit the following two seasons. Staal has been awful for quite some time, and Smith, while still a viable bottom pairing guy, is just not a good fit anymore. Buying them out also clears out two much needed roster spots for the kids.
But let’s dig deeper here. On the surface, clearing out cap and roster space is always important. However the Rangers aren’t really hurting for cap space right now. The only way they’d be desperate is if they plan on going after two big name free agents, whoever they might be. Even adding one free agent –Artemi Panarin at $11 million– doesn’t really impact their cap situation much. Saving $2 million doesn’t move the needle.
But you know what may impact the Rangers? Having $1.2 million in dead space in 2021-22 and 2022-23. Let’s look at who is due new contracts:
- 2019: Pavel Buchnevich, Brendan Lemieux, Tony DeAngelo, Neal Pionk. All likely to get bridge deals.
- 2020: Chris Kreider, Ryan Strome, Jimmy Vesey, Jesper Fast. Kreider is likely due a $2 million raise.
- 2021: Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson Brett Howden, Libor Hajek, and likely at least two of the 2019 players. All of these could be huge increases, even if all of the rookies get bridge deals.
- 2022: Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, Vitali Kravtsov, Kaapo Kakko. All four likely to get huge raises.
In a rare twist, cap space today for the Rangers is worth less than cap space tomorrow. Extending the cap hit and pain of two bad contracts could be looked at as the exact opposite of what they need in this rebuild. Heck, we are always talking about taking on Ryan Callahan and his bad contract in order to get another good prospect from Tampa.
It is virtually impossible to predict the cap situation in two seasons, but we can have some actual foresight for once and plan ahead. Imagine, for a second, buying out both Staal and Smith and having $3.45 million in cap space that is completely unavailable to re-sign what could be eight important players.
Perhaps the best bet for dumping these contracts is to just ride them out. Perhaps the best way to use their cap space is to keep their own bad contracts. It’s boring, but a boring rebuild is a rebuild done right.