The New York Rangers and Jeff Gorton avoided arbitration — not that it was really a threat -- by agreeing to a two-year bridge deal with J.T. Miller for $2.75-million per.
This is both a good and bad news situation.
The good news: The Rangers locked up Miller, avoided arbitration, and were able to talk him into a cheaper deal that helps the team in the short term. Miller will be motivated (not that motivation was an issue) since he’ll have a big contract negotiation ahead of him in two years mostly based off the life of this contract.
The problem with this deal is what it signifies: The Rangers brass continues to be shortsighted when it comes to key RFAs.
I speculated a few times this summer that Miller should be a guy the Rangers lock down long term. The premise is pretty simple: You pay Miller a little more now to buy out his UFA years and get him cheaper down the line. If you don’t do that, then you’re risking Miller exploding onto the scene and becoming massively more expensive down the line.
The Rangers avoided this rout with the Ryan McDonagh negotiations and as a result the Rangers have a very, very good player on an incredible contract.
Glen Sather had an opportunity to do this with Derek Stepan and didn’t. Check out the below tweet from Bob McKenzie from 2013.
Tough sledding for NYR/RFA Derek Stepan. Player seeks McDonagh $ (6 x $4.7M) but no arb rights, NYR holding firm on Subban level bridge deal— Bobby Margarita (@TSNBobMcKenzie) September 3, 2013
Now imagine Stepan locked up for another three years at $4.7-million rather than the $6.5-million he’s currently getting. That’s a swing of almost $2-million a year the Rangers can’t play with because they forced Stepan into taking a cheaper deal back then with promises of a bigger deal in the future.
That’s what the Rangers just did with Miller.
It should be noted that Miller could have negotiated the deal this way on purpose, but the below comment from his agent on the deal does insinuate that their camp would have been willing to lock down a longer deal.
Congrats to JT Miller on the new contract. Fair deal: Affordable cap # for @NYRangers now & opp. for JT to re-up soon as game progresses.— Brian Bartlett (@BBarts) July 13, 2016
Locking Miller up long term would have avoided all the future speculation. Yeah, Rick Nash and his $7.8-million comes off the books that summer (and the salary cap might go up), but just because you’ll have money to spend doesn’t mean you need to spend it willy nilly.
The other problem is this signifies the Rangers don’t really have any intent to change their defense at all. Hopefully Chris Kreider is being locked up long term — although Miller’s deal all but guarantees Kevin Hayes will be getting a bridge deal as well — but the Rangers don’t seem too interested in saving cap space where they should.
You can argue that the Rangers are laying Miller up — as many did who claim he hasn’t been good enough and the Rangers need time to make sure they know what they’re getting — but historically this tactic has burned the Rangers with their better young guys coming of age. It’s disappointing to see the Rangers do this with Miller.
It also shows me not to expect many — or any -- changes going into next year. We’ve sort of passed the unofficial official line when big trades happen over the summer, and Miller’s deal makes it seem like the Rangers are squeezing every drop of their cap space into these negotiations.
For now the deal works, but good teams know when to lock up the right players long term. The Rangers, apparently, still haven’t learned that lesson.