John Tavares, the New York Ranger. Nah, it’s probably not going to happen, but where there’s a will — and tens of millions of dollars of cap space — there’s a way. Let’s take a look at what it would take, and what it would mean, for the Rangers to go after the heart and soul of the rival New York Islanders.
The Price Tag
Matt Cane predicts Tavares will command an eight-year contract with an AAV of $10.735 million (note: only the Islanders can sign him to eight years). That’s a lot of money. Fortunately for Rangers fans, that bill will be paid by spendthrift owner James Dolan.
“I know we need that one great player who can make a difference,” Dolan told the Post in April. “We’ve identified some who might become available, and if they do, we want to be in position where we’re able to get them. We’re building a lot of data and analytics into our decision-making. And it’s important for the new coach to embrace that.”
Dolan also believes that the Rangers didn’t have great leadership last year. It goes without saying that Tavares would be an ideal fit as the franchise’s next captain, so selling the idea of Tavares to Dolan will not be difficult.
Will There be Room?
Oh yeah, the salary cap. Here’s where the Tavares daydream gets raked by the lusty claws that we call math.
Today the Rangers have $24,950,556 in cap space (based on a $75 million salary cap). Oh, and the salary cap is projected to increase to the neighborhood of $80 million. Sounds promising right? The problem is that the Rangers currently have about five NHL forwards and four NHL defensemen under contract (including Tony DeAngelo).
So, let’s do some quick predictions using Matt Cane’s data to see what it is going to cost to have 12 forwards (leaving a spot for Tavares) and seven defenders on this team next season.
- Kevin Hayes: Four-years, $4.83 million AAV
- Brady Skjei: One-year, $2.8 million AAV
- Jimmy Vesey: Two-years, $1.685 million AAV
- John Gilmour: One-year, $675,600 AAV
- Boo Nieves: One-year, $773,000 AAV
Assuming the Rangers trade Ryan Spooner and Vlad Namestnikov, and that they sign Ilya Kovalchuk to a two-year deal with an AAV of $6.5 million, there is a way to squeak under an $80 million cap ceiling. But it is going to be tight. We’re talking ask your brawny older sibling to screw the top off the jar of pickles tight. We’re talking the way your pants fit after Thanksgiving dinner tight.
Of course, there’s a chance that the Rangers hold on to Spooner or Vlad. There’s also a chance that they trade Mats Zuccarello, don’t sign Kovalchuk, and leave Brendan Smith in the minors. A lot of things can happen. We don’t know what’s going to happen, because Gorton doesn’t know what’s going to happen. No one knows what things will look like after Draft Day and before July 1. If you didn’t realize that this whole thing was hypothetical by now, with asterisks floating around like snowflakes, you should have stopped reading at the phrase ”lusty claws.”
The bottom line is that if Gorton doesn’t have room now, he will make room to get a player of Tavares’ caliber. The Rangers haven’t had a truly dominant forward since Jaromir Jagr left the team.
Down the Middle
So, let‘s say that the Rangers sign Tavares. Does that mean Kevin Hayes is demoted to the third line after his career year? Almost certainly not. Larry Brooks suggested that the Rangers could deal Hayes or Mika Zibanejad for a first-pair defender to pave the way for Tavares and turn the Rangers into a legit contender.
So, let‘s just deal away Zibanejad or Hayes to bring in someone like Dougie Hamilton or Jacob Trouba. Just tell Calgary that Hayes and Johnny Hockey are bffs and tell Winnipeg that Mika is a DJ. That should do it. This stuff is easy.
Rebuild, Re-Tool, Reload
Gorton is going to call Tavares and his agent because every general manager in the league will. This is a stone you have to flip over; a tire you have to kick. Players like Tavares don’t grow on trees. When they do, I’m sure we will all be living in a Matrix-like dystopian future where we are intravenously fed an amber slurry of nutrients in our dream harvest pods.
Chris Drury recently used the word “re-tool” in an interview with Rick Carpinello, but we have also heard David Quinn and Jeff Gorton use the word ”rebuild” in press conferences and interviews. Brooks believes that going after Tavares would be more like a ”reload.” There sure is a lot riding on that little two letter prefix, isn’t there?
Tavares isn’t old, but he also isn’t young; he‘s the same age as Ed Sheeran and Jennifer Lawrence. Most agree that a reasonable window for a Rangers turnaround is about three years. So, knowing that, does it make sense to swing for the fences and go after a franchise-defining player like Tavares (who will be 28 in October) now? Or is it in the Rangers’ best interest to pass on Tavares? This is the Gordian Knot that Gorton is facing.
The Other Obstacles
If Dolan’s giant bags of money are the Harry Potter of this story, than Lou Lamoriello is its Voldemort. The Islanders’ new president of hockey operations and general manager will do whatever he can to woo the team‘s captain. Andrew Gross reported that Tavares was pleased with Lamoreillo’s appointment. But does that mean he’s pleased enough to pledge eight more years to the Islanders?
While we’re asking questions, does Tavares even want to be a Ranger? Playing in Manhattan isn’t for everyone. Gorton won’t know if the mild-mannered Canadian is interested unless he asks.