Despite the global pandemic that shut down the New York Rangers and a three-game sweep in the qualifying round to the Carolina Hurricanes, the Blueshirts had a positive season with plenty of good things to take into next year.
Unfortunately for Rangerstown, good news almost always seems to be followed by bad. Here is where our story turns ugly, the business side of hockey will change the landscape of the Blueshirts.
The grim reaper could make an appearance as early as Friday.
Friday, Sept. 25 is the first day of the NHL buyout period and will be open until Thursday, Oct.8. The Rangers are looking to free up some space and the buyout process is one way to do that, but it comes with some risk.
The most likely player to be bought out has been talked about since the team was knocked out of the qualifying rounds, Henrik Lundqvist.
Hank is in the final year of a seven-year contract that includes an $8.5 million cap hit. A buyout of his contract would pay the King $5.5 million this season, saving the club $3 million. The buyout doubles the remaining years left on a player’s contract meaning the team would have to pay him $1.5 million next season for a total of $7 million.
The Rangers already have their share of dead salary on the books with the team still paying out buyouts for Dan Girardi and Kevin Shattenkirk totaling a little over $2.5 million for the 2021 and 2022 seasons respectively.
Finances are a tough side of the game to manipulate, with a hard $81.5 million cap for the 2020-2021 season, the buyout is the best option for the Rangers to take should the two sides be unable to work out a trade of some kind which is very unlikely.
Other buyout options such as Marc Staal, in his last year of contract with a cap hit of $5.7 million, or Brendan Smith also in gis last year of his contract with a cap hit of $4.35 million. The savings for the upcoming season dot seem to equal the cap space to help the club.
The buyout of Henrik is the best choice for the team but will cause some friction with the fan base. The business side of the game is never pretty.
Free agency begins on Oct. 9 and will be a tough situation for the club to navigate through.
The team has five Restricted Free Agents, Philip Di Giuseppe, Ryan Strome, Alexandar Georgiev, Brendan Lemieux, and Anthony DeAngelo. All five are arbitration-eligible (a contract negotiation method that uses a third party arbitrator to determine a fair contract term and length for an expiring RFA player) which will make it that much harder for Jeff Gorton to hold on to all of them.
Ryan Strome may be the toughest decision. He has had played well since he was put on the same line as Artemi Panarin. A hard skater, good set up player, Strome has been a great weapon on this team over the past two seasons. 2020-2021 was his best season in point production as he amassed 59 points in 70 games played. His highest point total prior to that was in 2018-2019 when he recorded 35 points splitting time with Edmonton and the Rangers. His 18 goals were his second-highest total (19 2018-2019) in his seven-season career.
The 27-year-old forward has been very successful having Artemi Panarin on his line, yet the contract that he may be seeking and could be awarded by an arbitrator if contract talks lean that way could be too rich for a club that has some depth in it. It’s doubtful the Rangers would be willing to pony up a six or seven-year deal in the $6.5 or $7 million dollar neighborhood.
Georgiev’s future with the club will be predetermined by the decision the team makes regarding Lundqvist. The idea of having Georgiev play with Igor Shesterkin is becoming more of a reality. He will be needed to be protected for the Seattle expansion draft at the end of next season, but Shesterkin is exempt from being drafted, the club may have a long term goalie tandem if they can workout Geogeive’s contract status. A Henrik buyout or trade would show the team is ready to lead with theses two Russian goalies.
John Davidson and Jeff Gorton will do all they can to sign Georgiev prior to an arbitration hearing.
Add to this equation three Unrestricted Free Agents, Jesper Fast, Michael Haley, and Gregg McKegg. Haley and McKegg are sure to walk away from the team. Fast is a tough situation to handle.
Fast and the team has not been able to agree on a new contract and it is looking more like he will see what opportunities await him via free agency. It’s tough to see a player like Fast leave as he brings so much to the rink every night. With 9 games played, Fast scored 12 goals with 29 points.
His strong suit is as a checking forward and penalty killer. Fast will be on the ice at the end of close games or killing penalties when they are needed most. Head coach. David Quinn has had full confidence in him whenever he is needed on the ice.
He was the winner of the team’s Player Player Award this season, his fourth consecutive year that his fellow teammates have voted him for the award. The award “best exemplifies what it means to be a team player.” This award displays the respect the team has for Fast and why it will be hard to move on without him.
Despite the accolades from his teammates and the respect of his coaches, it does appear that he no longer has a spot on this team. His contract would be another issue that could see him elsewhere next season.
The upcoming contracts are not the only thing the club must prepare for. The Seattle expansion draft, and the contracts of Pavel Buchnevich, Brett Howden, Filip Chytil, Julien Gauthier, Ryan Lindgren, and Igor Shesterkin will be restricted free agents at the end of the 2020-2021 season. The financial decisions made in the upcoming month will have ramifications on those contracts too.
Let’s not forget the most important issue after Henrik Lundqvist. The status of center Mika Zibanejad. The team’s most important player’s contract will expire following the 2021-2022 season where he would be an unrestricted free agent. He will be 29 -years old and looking for another big contract which he deserves if the past few seasons are any indication. J.D. and Gorton might want to lock him in earlier rather than waiting it out, though that is something the organization rarely does.
Predictions can be amusing and a good topic of conversation among fans, bloggers, and beat reporters. They have little if no value, but here is what I think the club will do.
The Rangers will buyout Lundqvist not because they have to, but because he has earned the opportunity to play elsewhere without involving the pieces needed for some sought of trade. Yes, it adds more dead cap space next season, but Henrik has earned that for his play over the past 15 years.
- Mckegg and Haley will walk away since they are no longer needed players with the depth the club has in Hartford and overseas on loan.
- Jesper Fast will sign elsewhere, a decision that may have been already decided by this point.
- Ryan Strome’s asking price will be too high and will be traded during the offseason.
- Di Giuseppe, Lemieux, and Georgiev will be re-signed. They all have an important role on this team for the future.
- Anthony DeAngelo will remain a defenseman on this team as the two sides will agree on a contract extension. Then they will lose him in the expansion draft next year.
- Zibanejad will sign a contract extension in the next 18 months and sometime between now and then be names the next captain.
Predictions are a funny thing, it really has no weight to what the club does. The trues value of a team is what the team does on the ice.
Finances, salary caps, and long term contracts dictate the direction a hockey team goes towards. For the Rangers, that process is never-ending and the next month’s planning will hopefully lead towards the elusive Stanley Cup.