It’s been five weeks since Rick Nash went down with a leg injury after blocking a shot in the 3rd period of the January 22nd game in Carolina. Since then, Nash has been shelved with a "bone bruise," gradually drawing concern from fans.
As Monday’s trade deadline began to approach, there was increasing talks of placing Nash on Long Term Injured Reserve, as to procure additional salary cap space for Rangers acquisitions. Unfortunately, this methodology isn’t as cut-and-dry as some believe it to be.
For the Rangers to load up on contracts, legally going over the salary cap with Nash’s LTIR cap relief, there are a few factors:
1. Nash cannot be healthy enough to return before April 10th. If this is the case, then the Rangers would have to get back under the cap amidst his redeployment. And if the team is millions over that cap, with trades no longer being an option, and stuffing a player in the minors only removing a maximum $950,000 from the books? The team would be in serious, serious trouble.
2. The Rangers would have had to definitely know this by Monday. They would have to be wholly confident in Nash’s timetable to run this strategy before the trade deadline. If there was any doubt as to Nash NOT being shelved until April 10th, the team would have risked running into this cap conundrum. And that is a serious risk, one that simply cannot be taken.
Simply put: If the Rangers wanted to look into this option, they must have been absolutely sure of both the above to pursue the tactic. Any doubt would have foiled the strategy.
You see, when the 2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks placed Patrick Kane on LTIR, and were afforded the cap space to acquire Antoine Vermette at the deadline, the team was positive Kane’s broken clavicle would keep him on LTIR until after the salary cap period ended. Kane & Vermette were both healthy come playoff time, when the cap restrictions were over, and obviously went on to achieve Cup glory.
The Rangers would have needed equal certainty in Nash’s unavailability as Chicago did Kane's to duplicate the same trick.
From the NY Rangers (2/26/15):
Rick Nash had another MRI yesterday and is maybe 7-10 days away from starting lower body workouts.
Does this sound like someone we can be 100% positive is too hurt to return to the lineup between now and mid-April? It sure doesn't sound like it.
But here’s another question: Did the team even need that LTIR cap relief?
Should Nash go on LTIR before Monday’s deadline, the team’s available prorated cap space would have gone from a little over $4 million to approximately $7.6 million. It’s a good bet that filling the $4 million gap with a relevant contract would entail draft pick(s) & prospect(s). So does the team need to give up even more assets to utilize the even more available cap space -- and even so they needed Carolina to utilize the salary retention strategy to fit Staal under the cap?
Staal does indeed carry a $8.5 million cap hit. But since there are only four more months of his contract, it makes sense Carolina would retain up to 50% of that cap hit. So no, potential LTIR cap relief from Nash was not automatically imperative for acquiring Staal, the most expensive of the NHL's rental acquisitions.