As things current stand, the New York Rangers have just over $5.5-million in cap space with a single internal free agent to be signed (Mika Zibanejad). That doesn’t include an expected acquisition of another center (potentially a third-line one), nor does it include the Rangers having eight fully functioning defenseman on their roster.
Zibanejad needs to be signed (Tom’s analysis on comparable contract situations can be found here), and it’s fair to assume his contract will come in between $4-$5-million; so long as Jeff Gorton doesn’t make the mistake of bridging Zibanejad this summer. Assuming Zibanejad inks a deal worth $4.5-million, the Rangers would have just over $1-million to work with the rest of the way. There’s two caveats to this, though.
The first is the reported Kevin Klein retirement; which would remove the $2.9-million cap hit from the books entirely (even if he goes to play in Europe). If he retires, the Rangers’ cap space would balloon up from $1-million to $3.9-million.
The other wrinkle is the Nick Holden and Marc Staal situation. You’d have to assume one of the two is going to be on the opening night roster, and it’s fair to say it will be Staal (we discussed this in length on the podcast). Aside from his $5.7-million cap hit, he has a full no movement clause to keep him from going to the AHL (the Rangers would only save roughly $1-million even if he agreed to the move), and he’s signed for four more years. The only way to make Staal go away is to eat salary on a trade (again, Staal would have to approve) or buy him out.
Sure, Holden is an Alain Vigneault favorite, but his $1.65-million cap hit would be lovely somewhere else — not to mention Gorton would be selling high on his 34-point campaign. I don’t think Holden will even remotely come close to bringing back a top-six center like Larry Brooks suggested, but there could be an opportunity to grab draft picks in a 2018 draft that’s expected to be quite deep.
Assuming Holden is traded for picks and/or prospects, the now hypothetical $3.9-million in cap space has increased to $5.5-million. With Jesper Fast back in the fold, David Desharnais added into the mix, and no real prospects to speak of ready to step up, the Rangers will need to add another player.
Jussi Jokinen’s name has been thrown around a bit on the free agency market, but it doesn’t appear as though there’s many more names who might pique the Rangers’ interest. Gorton did say he was going to continue monitoring the trade market, but the price for a guy like Matt Duchene is high enough to keep other teams away and any other useful guys openly on the market aren’t known to the world yet. That’s not to say there isn’t a trade or two there that might jump out of the blue, but right now there’s not much smoke there at all. I can confidently tell you that the rumors out there about Tyler Bozak are untrue in every sense.
Having cap space for flexibility isn’t the worst thing in the world, either. Desharnais can be bumped up to the third line if the Rangers want to sign a cheap center as a fourth-line stopgap, and having $4.5-million(ish) to work with the rest of the year can only be a positive. Being able to make moved mid-year, or even at the deadline (let alone having space for future plans) shouldn’t be looked at as a negative.
As it stands, the Rangers still have work to do. Zibanejad isn’t just a big piece of the puzzle, he’s already filed for arbitration to utilize what little leverage he has. Once he’s solved, and the defensive issues worth themselves out, the Rangers might have more cap space than they intended going into the year.
And that’s not a bad thing.