Even as the NHL looks to restart the season, there are lingering assumptions that the NHL will have a flat salary cap for next season. The idea of amnesty buyouts has been floated, with the general consensus among Ranger fans being that if one is allowed, it should be used on Henrik Lundqvist or Marc Staal. However amnesty buyouts have not been discussed yet, nor has an official salary cap ceiling been made public. There is still a very solid chance that there will be no amnesty buyouts despite a flat salary cap.
If that’s the case, then there will be a bunch of teams, the Rangers included, that will have difficult decisions to make. The Rangers would have $14.4 million in cap space left to re-sign Ryan Strome, Tony DeAngelo, Jesper Fast, and Brendan Lemieux. Given where Strome and DeAngelo fall in contract estimations, it doesn’t look possible to keep both.
The first major decision the Rangers would need to make is between Strome and DeAngelo. Given the recent trade of Brady Skjei, it seems they are looking at keeping DeAngelo for the long haul, or at least the medium haul. I don’t think that’s necessarily a tough decision to predict.
The second decision is whether or not Strome is worth whatever contract he is asking for. Based on the contract estimates, Filip Chytil will have a large impact on this decision. It’s not as simple as “is Strome worth it?” It’s “is Strome worth it, given we have a potential 2C on the NHL roster who already has a better underlying impact and did it without Artemi Panarin?” That also gets coupled with how much the Rangers can get for Strome in a trade. This second decision is likely the biggest decision they will need to make.
The third and final decision has the most sentimental value, and that is what to do with the three-headed goalie monster. Buying out Henrik Lundqvist, if it is going to count against the cap, only saves $3 million this season and winds up with more dead cap space the following season. Trading him at 50% retained, if someone even trades for him and Hank approves it, would save them $4.25 million. It doesn’t seem like these are options. This leads us to the long rumored Alex Georgiev trade, perhaps packaged with Ryan Strome?
There are other factors at play beyond the major decisions. What to do with Brendan Smith is a big one, as I have pegged him as Ottawa bound once that bonus is paid out. Marc Staal’s future is also a question, but buying him out begs the question of who will eat 16 minutes a night on the left side (yes, I am aware that he is easily replaced by any minimum salary free agent – but let’s stay in reality of how the Rangers operate). Jesper Fast’s future is also a question mark.
None of this is set in stone yet, and a lot can change between now and the draft. This is perhaps the most critical offseason the Rangers have had in the rebuild. One wrong move, one wrong contract, and the entire thing can be derailed. Sustained dominance is difficult to pull off, but with the right decisions and a little luck, the Rangers might be able to swing it.