We are in the dog days of summer, folks. The news is going to be few and far between. But we did get Kaapo Kakko signing his entry level deal, which means all major rookies have been signed heading into training camp. Let’s dive right in.
1. As expected, the Kakko contract is a max entry level deal at $925k, but he fell just short of max bonuses at $2.65 million per year. If I remember correctly, bonus overages only occur if the team can’t apply them to this year’s cap, meaning they hit the following season. The Rangers may need that extra cap space next season, so clearing enough cap space this year has become vital.
2. Jacob Trouba and Pavel Buchnevich have their arbitration dates, and I’ll be shocked if either one gets to arbitration. More importantly it opens up a second buyout window for the Blueshirts. I still don’t think a buyout of a defenseman is in the cards, but there could be a buyout of a forward with one year left. Ryan Strome and Vlad Namestnikov are the only two fitting this bill, so it’s highly unlikely. Just throwing it out that as an unrealistic possibility.
3. I know it seems easy to say “just trade Strome or Namestnikov or Kevin Shattenkirk at 50%” but it’s harder than it seems. This would be a pure cap dump trade, like the Rangers did with Jimmy Vesey. The problem is, at least with Shattenkirk, the competitive teams are in precarious RFA situations. Tampa and Brayden Point, Winnipeg and their entire roster, Vegas and Nikita Gusev. The Rangers can’t take any salary back, so they need to target a team that thinks it is competitive but isn’t, has terrible front office staff, has cap space, and also has roster holes. Shockingly enough, Minnesota fits this bill. They need RD depth and only have 9 forwards signed, 10 if you include Jordan Greenway. There could be a deal to be made there.
4. Another potential deal to be made: Ottawa. They need to get to the cap floor. The problem here is they are a cash team and both of Strome and Namestnikov don’t represent real cash savings for cap hit dollars. Shattenkirk might work here, since his salary is less than his cap hit, but I’m going to assume his limited NTC includes that mess in Ottawa. Marc Staal has a full NMC, so the only other option here is Brendan Smith. Smith makes $175k over his $4.35 million cap hit this season, but is only due $3.35 million next year, so the Sens would get some cap savings. Also worth noting that next year Smith has a $1 million bonus due on 7/1, so he could be dealt next season for his $2.35 million in real salary. That doesn’t help the Rangers this year, but it would help with bonus overages next year.
5. I posed a question on Twitter the other day, wondering if it makes sense for the Rangers to keep Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin together on the same line. I don’t think they should, at least not yet. There’s tremendous value in Panarin helping to groom Filip Chytil into the 2C role. Panarin would be my choice to do this over Chris Kreider, since Panarin’s offensive skills are miles ahead of Kreider’s, plus Zibanejad already has great chemistry with Kreider. The RWs in this scenario will vary, but I think there’s more value there in the long-term. Of course Panarin and Zibanejad make a lethal 1-2 punch and both would likely crack a point-per-game rate, but that only really helps if the Rangers, a) have the secondary and tertiary scoring (they don’t), and b) were looking to make the playoffs this season, which they might sneak in but aren’t true contenders yet. At least not with this current roster.
6. I say that the Rangers aren’t true contenders yet because, despite all the improvements, they are still a young, raw team. The kids will need time to grow. The blue line, despite adding Trouba and Adam Fox, is still a train wreck on the left side. Lindy Ruff is still here. Chytil is still an unknown at 2C, and Lias Andersson an unknown at 3C. Brett Howden was horrible after his hot start, he was barely even 4C/13F quality. And yes, Andersson was miles better than Howden at the end of the year. It’s not setting a high bar, but if you remove the 7th overall stigma from Andersson –let’s be real, it doesn’t matter anymore, move on– he’s still barely 20 years old and is slated to be a middle-six center. And hey, 3C is just that. Facts are facts.