In Part Two of this blog series, we look at current Rangers and analyze which ones should make the 2011-2012 squad.
To start, we need to get a sense of how much cap room the Rangers have before any transactions are made. For simplicity's sake, we will determine cap room by subtracting the cap hit of the players on the roster from the regular season cap ceiling. This article will assume a $62 million ceiling, as that is the estimated number for the coming season, although the actual number is yet to be determined.
Currently salaries are (in millions):
$7.500 - Marian Gaborik
$7.050 - Chris Drury
$3.800 - Wojtek Wolski
$1.938 - Sean Avery
$1.750 - Mats Zuccarello
$1.625 - Derek Boogaard
$0.925 - Erik Christensen
$0.875 - Derek Stepan
$0.800 - Brandon Prust
$3.975 - Marc Staal
$3.325 - Daniel Girardi
$1.300 - Ryan McDonagh
$1.087 - Michael Del Zotto
$6.875 - Henrik Lundqvist
$0.875 - Martin Biron
9/12 forwards 4/6 defensemen 2/2 goalies
Cap Hit: $43.700 Million
Cap Room: $18.300 Million
Now, you may be quick to point out that many of these contracts will end up being traded, bought out, or buried in the minors. This is a fair point, and we will get to that later when we explore flexibility. But first, let us add on our "Must-Sign RFAs" to the total to give us a better sense of just how much room we have before any salary shedding options are explored.
Four forwards and one defenseman make up this list of beloved restricted free agents. They are (with last season's cap hit):
Ryan Callahan (2.300)
Brandon Dubinsky (1.850)
Artem Anisimov (0.822)
Brian Boyle (0.525)
Michael Sauer (0.500)
The forwards can be grouped into pairs. Callahan and Dubinsky have experienced similar production since joining the Rangers, with the former showing slightly better performance of late. Neither has hit the 25-goal or 60-point mark, though with Callahan it is more a matter of health than production. That said, they are team leaders, with future captain Callahan wearing the "A" on his jersey and Dubinsky leading the scoring-deprived club in goals, assists, and points. As RFAs, their negotiating leverage is somewhat limited and Glen Sather has a history of lowballing players who have no leverage. The general consensus is that both will be signed to multi-year deals worth between $3.5 and $4.0 million annually. For argument's sake, lets give them both a $3.75 million cap hit.
Brian Boyle and Artem Anisimov are the second pair, and while they have had very different career paths, the end result for this contract should be very similar. The 22 year old Anisimov racked up 18 goals and 26 assists in his second NHL season and his production is trending upwards. He looks very promising as a young centerman and likely will develop into a top 6 forward. Boyle, on the other hand, is somewhat of a project as a failed first round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings but has reinvented himself and was rewarded with a breakout season of 21 goals. However, his future is truly uncertain, as this season, or more accurately, 3/4 of a season, may prove to be an aberration. This is evidenced by his drop off in production over the last 24 games of the year (including playoffs) in which he only scored once. Still his production cannot be ignored and will earn him some money this summer. This estimate is probably a bit high but to avoid sugarcoating the situation, lets say the range of the deals will be between $1.5 and $2.0 million annually. Again, we will use the midpoint of this range to estimate $1.75 million cap hit to each.
Michael Sauer was also somewhat of a surprise, having been highly touted during Marc Staal's debut year, only to fall off the radar. He was only re-signed for one year after his entry level contract expired, but he has come back and proven himself a very capable NHL defenseman, a player that head coach John Tortorella has tremendous confidence in. As a stay at home defenseman, looking for a contract after his rookie season, we can expect a fairly low cap hit for him. Let's estimate his deal will be worth between $1.25 and $1.75 million. Again, to compute the total cap hit we will accrue his deal at $1.5 million.
Now, we can add on the following five contracts to our original calculation
$43.70 - 9F, 4D, 2G
$3.750 - Ryan Callahan
$3.750 - Brandon Dubisnky
$1.750 - Artem Anisimov
$1.750 - Brian Boyle
$1.500 - Michael Sauer
13/12 Forwards. 5/6 Defensemen. 2/2 Goalies
Cap Hit: 56.200 Million
Cap Room: 5.800 Million
At this point, if we were content with the roster, we could just sign a defenseman to fill the final spot and call it an offseason. But the consensus is that the Rangers need to bring in more talent from the outside. Additionally, some 2010-11 Rangers may be deserving of being re-signed. But first, we must see how much flexibility we have to make any of these moves. Lets take a look at the total amount the Rangers can save by buying out players who are not in the long-term plans of the club with salaries of over $1 million.
Player - Buyout Number - Savings
Chris Drury - 3.718 - 3.333
Wojtek Wolski - 0.467 - 3.333
Sean Avery - 0.604 - 1.333
Derek Boogaard - 0.558 - 1.067
The total number of savings from buying out the four players would amount to $9.067.
However, there is also a distinct possibility that Boogaard will be buried, as opposed to bought out, as the buyout would cost the Rangers dead space for 6 years. So let's remove the rest of his salary, bringing our additional space up to $9.625.
Again, this is not to say the Rangers will make these moves, or won't make others. But it shows the basic flexibility the organization has - that is can shed almost $10 million without the help of trade partners, waiving of movement clauses, or retirement.
If the Rangers went this route, the situation would look as follows:
9/12 Forwards. 5/6 Defensemen. 2/2 Goalies.
Cap Hit: $46.575 Million
Cap Room: $15.425
We are in pretty good shape. Time to start budgeting.
Figure we want $10-12 million to sign three UFA forwards (7 mil, 3 mil, 1 mil). That leaves us $3-5 million to fill the defensive roster with two more players. The Rangers should ideally have 8 NHL ready defensemen in the organization, especially because of the tendency of the squad to get injured and the fact that one of them is Michael Del Zotto. We can assume that the Rangers will carry "DZ" on the roster after being exiled to the AHL for most of his sophmore year. There is also Pavel Valentenko, who's skating has been questioned but otherwise seems ready in emergencies, and other prospects who can serve as a "just-in-case" 8th man. That leaves two spots open for the NHL squad. As 5th, 6th or 7th defensemen, they should not be paid more than 2 million each. Tortorella leans on the top of his depth chart greatly, as we have seen throughout the year and though the Rangers can improve on defense, it is more important to bring in offense when the upper level and future of the defense is so solid. One should probably be a veteran on the downside of a career, just to stabilize the young defense corps (we will get into this further in the next blog looking at other team's players).
The relevant question is, should be re-sign Steve Eminger or Matt Gilroy, or both. Both have had their struggles with the team, though the younger of the two seems to be more favored by John Tortorella. Eminger is coming off of a $1.125 million cap hit, and he probably would take a similar deal. This seems reasonable for the club, but signs point to the Rangers parting ways with the 27 year old. Why? Well, he clearly isn't a favorite of John Tortorella, and it is important for this head coach to have "his" players. But another factor may be that the Rangers want impending RFA Matt Gilroy.
Wait a minute, you scream. Gilroy's qualifying offer would take him to a $2.1 million cap hit and the organization certainly doesn't want to pay so much for such a mediocre player. But when the Rangers don't extend the offer, he only becomes an unrestricted free agent. According to Larry Brooks, the Rangers will then extend him an two-year offer worth between $1.0 and $1.5 million per year. Not bad. That leaves another $2.5 million to go out and sign a solid UFA. And the defense is set.
Oh, and good riddance, Brian McCabe.
To fill out the offense, the team probably needs 4 or 5 players on the roster. We can probably assume that two of these will be prospects such as Dale Weise. Evgeny Grachev, or, if by some miracle he has a change of heart, Chris Krieder. So let's scratch about $1.25 million off the forward budget, giving us around $10.5 million to get two or three UFAs. Let's save 7 million for Brad Richards (more on him in the next blog).
Now the question becomes, what to do with the remaining $3.5 million. Obviously, this decision must be made before free agency, but the Rangers can decide to hang on to Avery or Boogard for one of these spots. Or they can go out and sign a player for 3 million and fill the other spot with an entry level contract. The possibilities are endless.
But the question we will address is, should we bring back any of our UFAs. That list is actually pretty short, once you eliminate the much maligned Alex Frolov. And you have a choice of two players. Vaclav Prospal and Ruslan Fedotenko. You could take one, you could take both.
There is no right answer. Prospal will probably cost more, given he signed for a base contact of $1.080 million but added on $1.4 million in bonuses. Fedotenko signed for $1.0 million flat, no hidden fees and baggage flies free. Vinny, as he is called, is also a bigger injury risk and it is questionable if he could play a full John Tortorella Season (equivalent of 6 regular seasons) on a ruined right knee. Fedotenko also meshed well with Gaborik, though it would be odd to see a Gaborik-Richards-Fedotenko top line in 2012. Prospal, on the other hand, averaged 4 points every 5 games when healthy. That is much better than the .38 points per game averaged by "The Tank." He is also a very emotional player, which is great for a young team and, lets face it, the fans, who just love to see his face red and his mouth agape in celebration. If the Rangers don't get a big ticket free agent, both probably return (Glen Sather does not do "saving money" ) . If not, the Rangers are probably forced to make a choice, and a very hard one at that.
Overall, we can conclude that the Rangers are in good shape to get one big name free agent (he-who-shall-not-be-named) and maybe a top 6 forward as well if he takes less money (getting really presumptuous here). A second elite player is almost certainly out of the question unless they swing a deal that sends cap space the other way. However, even one elite player will be hard to sign if the Rangers don't buyout, or find a miracle trade partner, for both Drury and Wolski. Many are okay with "Wooly" and giving him a shot, but his presence comes at the cost of an established scorer/playmaker, so the Rangers cannot afford to keep him around. If the Rangers don't make those two moves, at least, during the buyout period, this whole thing is moot and we will need to rework the picture.
But assuming they do the smart thing, this should clarify, just a bit, the current situation of the Rangers, and help you develop informed opinions about who should stay and who should go (see Jan Levine's continuing blog series).
(All salary information courtesy of capgeek.com, expect Michael Del Zotto's cap hit which is from nhlnumbers.com. Don't ask.)