I don’t think it’s even news at this point, but as we all know, the NHL’s Salary Cap figures are directly tied to the strength of the Canadian dollar. Back in January, Gary Bettman suggested if the dollar stayed where it was at $0.80, the cap ceiling for the 2015-16 season would end up being around $71 million. As a result, this has put a lot of teams in a really sticky situation.
I already went through and looked at the teams who are really getting messed up by the declining dollar — the Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks, and Philadelphia Flyers — and now I’m going to look at some teams who aren’t exactly in cap hell, but will be forced to make some difficult decisions this summer due to the shrinking ceiling.
The first team in that category is last year’s Eastern Conference Champion and one of the hottest teams in the league, the New York Rangers. Let’s take a look at what’s happening on Broadway.
Forwards under contract for the 2015-16 season
Defencemen under contract for the 2015-16 season
Goaltenders under contract for the 2015-16 season
Like I said before, the Rangers are one of, if not the hottest team in the NHL right now. Since mid-December, the Rangers have won 23 of their last 30 games, pulling themselves up from a middling team in the Eastern Conference to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Pretty much every cylinder on the Rangers is firing right now, aside from Tanner Glass, who I wouldn’t even consider a part of the engine. With that being said, with the cap ceiling likely only going up by a small amount, the Rangers are going to have a difficult time keeping this group together.
In total, the Rangers have six forwards, five defencemen, and two goalies locked up for next season that will cost them $55.325 million. As a result, if the cap ends up at around $71 million, the Rangers will have roughly $16 million to pay for eight forwards and two defencemen, and new contracts for RFAs Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, J.T. Miller, John Moore, and Jesper Fast, and UFAs Martin St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello, Lee Stempniak, and Matt Hunwick. With essentially their entire D-core intact, the main issue for the Rangers will be deciding which forwards they let walk out the door and how they spend the ~$16 million they have to flesh out the rest of their roster.
Bolded are players who need new contracts next season.
Wow, look at how bad Tanner Glass actually is. If you sent him back in time to play in the 1980s, maybe he would be one of the most dominant individuals ever to play the game. Unfortunately for him, he’s playing in 2015 and he’s not good at all. In fact, the $1.45 million the Rangers are paying him is so detrimental to the team, he’s accounted for -1.3 of the team’s points. When he’s on the ice at 5 on 5, the Rangers only 13.6 per cent of the goals for. I mean, it’s almost like being shorthanded. Of all the forwards on the team, he’s really the only one where you can say, “this guy has provided absolutely nothing to the team this season.” Fortunately for the Rangers, he’s one of the six forwards they have signed into next season. So if they’re worrying about how they’re going to throw money out the window next season, they need not fret, because Tanner Glass has them covered.
That’s enough on Glass, on to the rest of the forwards. All of their stats look really good, which would make sense, because the team is really good. Determining which forwards stick around may come down to which players are producing because of the favorable situations they’re being put into. For instance, Mats Zuccarello makes a lot more of his starts in the offensive zone than Carl Hagelin, and the two of them have relatively similar production, so if you can only keep one, I would go with the guy who plays in the more difficult situations.
The Rangers’ D-core is really good. The core four of Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, and Kevin Klein absorb most of the difficult competition and the defensive zone starts which allows guys like Dan Boyle, Matt Hunwick, and John Moore to be successful playing soft minutes. With that being said, they may be best to move Dan Boyle and spend his $4.50 million on their forwards because they can probably find somebody who is going to be nearly as effective and productive for a lot less with the type of minutes they’re feeding him.
I’m not going to bother going in depth with their goaltenders because we all know Henrik Lundqvist is the King, and Cam Talbot is a good backup, and they just signed him to an extension, so he isn’t going anywhere.
Who stays, who goes?
I’ll start off with the players who the Rangers are obviously going to keep around out of the guys they have under contract. Unless I’m completely out to lunch or some amazing trade pops up, I imagine Rick Nash, Derek Brassard, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Kevin Klein, Henrik Lundqvist, and Cam Talbot probably aren’t going anywhere.
In: Nash, Brassard, Kreider, Hayes, Girardi, McDonagh, Staal, Klein, Lundqvist, Talbot ($47.775 million)
That’s a pretty good place to start. The goaltending situation is completely figured out, and the top two D-pairs are set. Like I said before, the main issue for the Rangers is going to be coming up with money to keep around all of their forwards, since they only have four currently accounted for. They do have Dominic Moore signed for a reasonable $1.50 million into next season, who I imagine they would probably keep around since the savings on an equally as effective player would be negligible. The other guy they have signed, Tanner Glass, as we all know, is a complete back hole. They should move his $1.45 contract because paying an autographed Benoit Pouliot jersey that money to do his job would probably be just as effective. Like I said before, I would also look into moving Dan Boyle and his $4.50 contract. He’s a good veteran and he’s produced nicely for the Rangers, but that money could be used a lot more effectively up front and I’m sure they won’t have a difficult time finding a trade partner for him.
In: Nash, Brassard, Kreider, Hayes, Moore, Girardi, McDonagh, Staal, Klein, Lundqvist, Talbot ($49.275 million)
Out: Tanner Glass, Dan Boyle
So they have ~$22 million to deal with the rest of their roster, which includes nine forwards, two defencemen, and all of their free agents, assuming they can get rid of Dan Boyle and Tanner Glass without having to retain or bring back any salary.
Here’s where the difficult decisions begin. You have some key RFAs like Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, J.T. Miller to deal with, then your two top right wingers, St. Louis and Mats Zuccarello, are UFAs. I would say signing Derek Stepan is the most important of that bunch, he’s produced nicely and he does so facing difficult competition. The sooner the Rangers sign him to a long term deal, the better. While it may hurt them it the short term, getting him for something like $5.5 million per year over seven years will look really good when Anze Kopitar is making $10 million and Steven Stamkos is making $12. I would bring back Miller, Fast, Moore and Hagelin because they’re younger and under control, which means Stempniak and Zuccarello will probably have to go.
Losing Stempniak or Hunwick isn’t awful (if they’re willing to come back for really cheap I would pull the trigger), there are always fourth line and bottom pairing guys kicking around who can fill that hole, but losing Zuccarello is tough. The reality is, though, with him being a UFA, the Rangers don’t have any bargaining power, and like Benoit Pouliot last year, he’ll likely take an offer from another team that New York simply can’t match. St. Louis is a different story, though. He’s nearing the end of his career, and I imagine winning is more important to him than money, so he’ll be way more likely to take a veteran discount than Zuccarello. Of course, signing their young RFA players should be the top priority because they’re the guys who are going to keep the team competitive in the future more so than one year of Martin St. Louis will.
In: Nash, Brassard, Kreider, Hayes, D. Moore, Stepan, Hagelin, Miller, Jesper Fast, Girardi, McDonagh, Staal, Klein, Moore, Lundqvist, Talbot (9 F, 5 D, 2 G)
Out: Tanner Glass, Dan Boyle, Mats Zuccarello
Maybe: Lee Stempniak, Matt Hunwick, Martin St. Louis
It’s difficult to predict which players will resign and for what money, but the Rangers should keep roughly $16 million aside for resigning Stepan, Hagelin, Miller, Fast, Moore, and St. Louis, so that they have about $6 million left over to find five forwards and a defenceman. It’ll be really tough, but it’s doable if they can get some guys to take discounted contracts. The Rangers will have to rely on some prospects coming up and filling holes next year and some of their younger guys stepping up and filling the voids that are left by Boyle, Zuccarello, and possibly St. Louis.