The NHL’s flat cap of $81.5 million for the next two seasons means tricky sledding for the Rangers. Think of the Rangers’ salary cap situation as if it were a roadside pie stand.
There’s only so many slices that can be divided up and spread around. Forget about whipped cream and extra toppings – not every customer is going to end up with a slice of pie on their plate.
With no salary cap increase across the next two seasons and marginal projected increases for the years that follow, general manager Jeff Gorton’s task isn’t going to be straightforward. Tough calls will need to be made.
Let’s flash back to last summer. Top priorities revolved around acquiring a game-changing forward and a defensive leader.
Undoubtedly, that elite level forward arrived in the $11.6 million-per-year signing of Hart Trophy contender Artemi Panarin. Top-pair defenseman Jacob Trouba joined with high expectations on his back and a deal worth $8 million annually, and though Trouba offered spells of dominance, his consistency was lacking and his production dipped. Perhaps, season two will see a return to form after a full adaptation to David Quinn’s system.
The next key decision shifted to whether power forward Chris Kreider would be extended or traded. Kreider was rewarded with a seven-year, $45.5 million extension in February. That means his cap hit rises from $4.625 million to $6.5 million next season.
The shedding of Brady Skjei’s $5.25 million salary through February’s trade to the Carolina Hurricanes provided some cap relief – but further concessions must be made.
This offseason’s focus will be on the futures of Tony DeAngelo and Ryan Strome. Both enjoyed career-best campaigns in 2019-20.
At 24, DeAngelo is entering his prime years and has made significant statistical leaps in each of the past two seasons. The Rangers could opt to lock down the 53-point defenseman to a long-term contract worth around $5 million per year or try to keep that number lower for one year through arbitration.
Trouba’s no-movement clause, Adam Fox’s immediate impact and the eventual arrival of highly-touted right-hander Nils Lundkvist puts some degree of doubt on DeAngelo’s long-term future with the Blueshirts. Lundkvist re-signed with Lulea of the Swedish Hockey League for another season, but he could be ready to join New York for the 2021-22 season.
Strome finished the regular season with a robust 59 points, though there is a school of thought that his increased production is heavily linked to centering Panarin’s line. Like DeAngelo, he is a restricted free agent and could command a healthy raise over his current $3.1 million salary through an extension or arbitration awarding. It’s possible that Filip Chytil could be ready to step into a second line center role, making Strome expendable.
Industrious wing Jesper Fast will be seeking a raise over the $1.85 million he’s earning this season. The Rangers will need to weigh whether it’s worth upping his pay or allowing him to walk away as an unrestricted free agent. A cost-effective replacement for Fast could come in the form of Vitali Kravtsov, Phil Di Giuseppe, or Tim Gettinger taking on an expanded role or through free agent options.
Di Giuseppe and Brendan Lemieux are summer restricted free agents.
In solving the three-headed goalie conundrum, Alexandar Georgiev remains a viable solution for teams around the league looking for an upgrade in net. It’s more likely that the Rangers bring back 38-year-old Henrik Lundqvist as Igor Shesterkin’s backup-mentor than going the buyout route. Georgiev is a summer restricted free agent and would be in line for a raise – but the Rangers stand to recoup value by trading him.
Brendan Smith offers a level of versatility that Quinn appreciates – but the Rangers’ blue line needs to continue trending younger and faster. At this stage of the game, Smith is a third-pair talent. His $4.35 million cap number could be buried in the AHL, freeing up vital wiggle room.
Remember, the combined buyout total of just under $7.5 million from Kevin Shattenkirk, Dan Girardi and Ryan Spooner (reduced through Vancouver’s buyout) will occupy dead cap space next season.
On top of all this, the Blueshirts plan on becoming a more competitive team next season and can’t stand pat by bringing back a near-identical roster in 2020-21. There’s going to be changes for the sake of improvement and others forced by salary cap constraints.