Without fail, once Henrik Lundqvist buyout rumors surfaced, the extra cap space was connected to the five key free agents the NY Rangers have this offseason. The main story of the offseason, beyond Hank, was what the Rangers would do with these five players. No matter who you ask, everyone has an opinion. Trade, re-sign, short term, long term, sign and trade. So many options.
If the Rangers do buyout Lundqvist, the Rangers will have $17 million in cap space to work with. In theory, that’s enough to re-sign the four RFAs –Alex Georgiev, Tony DeAngelo, Brendan Lemieux, and Ryan Strome– and Jesper Fast. This assumes short term deals for both DeAngelo and Strome, but it’s still workable. This, however, is a highly unlikely scenario.
At the end of the season, GM Jeff Gorton all but confirmed the Rangers will be making moves to improve the team. This was before winning the draft lottery and landing Alexis Lafreniere. A team doesn’t get better by bringing back the exact same team as the prior season. They get better by identifying who is part of the long term future, and maximizing value on the other players.
Development matters, and a team as young as the Rangers will naturally improve as long as prospects continue their development pattern. However for the Rangers, they need more than that. This is a flawed team with holes at center and left defense. Re-signing all five players doesn’t address those holes, and the Rangers don’t have many in-house options to make a real improvement.
Thus leaves us with the more realistic scenario that at least one of these players is used to fill a roster hole. How the Rangers do this is yet to be seen. The basic premise is dealing from a position of strength (wing, RD, G) to improve on one of those weak spots. It’s not a guarantee it happens immediately, but it will at some point.
Unique Cap Situation
The NHL is facing a one of a kind cap situation this season. With an extreme cut to revenue due to COVID-19, multiple teams are implementing an internal salary cap next season. The Buffalo Sabres have already made a trade to imply their internal cap. As have the Pittsburgh Penguins. There are other teams in this mix as well.
The Rangers, with James Dolan as owner, are primed to take advantage of such teams. Specifically with Georgiev, who will be cheaper (dollars) than almost all of the other goalies on the market. Of course there are complications with trading Georgiev, especially if Lundqvist is bought out, but it’s still an option.
The Rangers are blessed with some cheap assets that could be used to pry a better and more expensive player. Vince Dunn is the target I’ve hyped here, but there are other targets to look at. Players on back loaded contracts fit the bill here.
It May Not Be Enough Cap Space
Believe it or not, there’s still a chance that $17 million isn’t enough cap space to keep everyone. Arbitration may side favorably for both Strome and DeAngelo, meaning the $11 million slotted above may not be enough. Where does the rest of the money come from?
All of the cap space discussions operate under the assumption that short term deals will be agreed upon, or arbitration will be favorable for the Rangers. Neither of those are a given.There’s a realistic scenario where the NY Rangers simply can’t afford to keep all five free agents. Even if you think keeping them will improve the team, it’s hard to argue with cap space.