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Contracts that have haunted the Rangers

Five contracts from the last dozen years that the Rangers likely regret

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New York Rangers v Ottawa Senators - Game Five

The clock is ticking on the 3:00 p.m. trade deadline on Feb. 25. Before that hour arrives, New York Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton has a lot of decisions to make. The most pressing among them are related to the team’s four pending unrestricted free agents.

On July 1, Gorton will encounter another trial in a free agent market that will be filled with temptation. He’ll also have to decide what happens next with the four restricted free agents who are on the main roster.

It’s not uncommon for general managers to make expensive, catastrophic mistakes with contracts when they get stuck between a rock and a hard place. We’ve seen it happen to the Rangers and to every other team in the league. The reality is that bad contracts are more or less inevitable. Contracts with term are, by nature, risky in professional sports because of injuries, the natural decline of athletes, and the human factor. Sometimes things just happen, and sometimes those things can have disastrous consequences.

Today, we’re going to look at some contracts from the last dozen years or so that have haunted the Rangers.

Note: The Scott Gomez contract was a successful exorcism and is therefore not included in this article.


Brendan Smith

  • Signing Date: June 28, 2017
  • General Manager: Jeff Gorton
  • Contract: $17.4 million over four years (AAV of $4.35 million)
  • Clauses: “2017-19: Player submits a 15 team trade list | 2019-21: Player submits a 10 team trade list.”

Too soon? Nah, it’s already abundantly clear that the Rangers regret the four-year investment they made in Smith. The former Red Wings defenseman may look significantly better than he did last year, but there’s still a real chance he could be a healthy scratch 20 times this season. It’s also safe to say that he has failed to live up to the expectations that come with the $4.35 million cap hit his contract carries.

One could argue that Alain Vigneault and David Quinn (thus far) have failed to deploy Smith in a way that best utilizes his skill set, but there’s no escaping his disastrous first season in New York. Smith showed up to training camp out of shape and ultimately unprepared for the 2017-18 season. The physical, smooth-skating blueliner played in just over half of New York’s games last season and spent 11 games in the AHL with the Hartford Wolf Pack.

Smith hit the waiver wire just eight months after signing his four-year deal. Oh, and it was his birthday. So that happened.

Remember, the Rangers re-signed Smith just three days before they signed Shattenkirk. Together, they have an $11 million cap hit through the 2020-21 season. That’s a heavy, heavy price tag for a team to invest in two defensemen just six months before releasing a public statement making it clear to fans and the media that it’s time to rebuild.

There is still some hope that Smith can salvage his reputation and in New York, but the odds are definitely not in his favor. If there was a BINGO card for players that Quinn has scratched this season, there’s a good chance that Smith’s face would be smack dab in the center.

Dan Girardi

  • Signing Date: February 28, 2014
  • General Manager: Glen Sather
  • Bought Out: Jun 15, 2017
  • Contract: $33 million over six years ($5.5 million AAV)
  • Clauses: NMC. “Starting 2017-18, Player specifies 15 teams that he cannot be traded to on July 1, 2017, updates list each following July 1. If he does not specify 15 teams, can be traded to any team.”

Instead of dealing Dan Girardi at the 2014 deadline or allowing him to walk in free agency, Sather locked up a then 29 year old defenseman to a six-year contract with an AAV of $5.5 million (that didn’t start until he was 30 years old). It was a heavy price to pay, but it was hard for Sather and the Rangers to picture the team without the undrafted free agent. From the 2009-10 season to the 2012-13 season, Girardi led the NHL with 726 blocked shots in 290 games.

“Dan has been a Ranger for his entire career, signing with us as an undrafted free agent and working his way to become a top defenseman in the NHL,” Sather said back in 2014 after re-signing the fearless blueliner. “His dedication to this club, as a leader both on the ice and in the locker room, is invaluable to this team.”

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at New York Rangers Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

As we all know, Girardi’s contract did not age well. His declining play and cap hit made him a scapegoat for a team that failed to reach its goal of winning a Cup year after year. Re-signing Girardi also led to Anton Stralman departing in free agency which was less than optimal. The game seemed to speed up around Girardi, which resulted in countless displays of him making diving — and often fruitless — efforts to take away passing and shooting lanes.

On June 14, 2017, the Rangers announced that they were buying out the last three years of his deal. The Rangers will have a portion of Girardi’s cap hit on the books through the 2022-23 season. After next season, the buyout penalty will drop from $3,611,111 to $1,111,111.

Marc Staal

  • Signing Date: Jan. 18, 2015
  • General Manager: Glen Sather
  • Contract: $34.2 million over six years (AAV of $5.7 million)
  • Clauses: NMC

Less than a year after locking up Girardi, Sather signed Marc Staal for six years on a contract that carried a $5.7 million AAV. Even at that time, it looked like a lot of money to invest in two blueliners with limited offensive upside.

Sather’s decision to invest in Staal for six years was something of a surprise. The homegrown defenseman’s deal was inked less than two years after he suffered a terrifying eye injury. But Sather considered Staal, a first round pick of the franchise in 2005, to be a “cornerstone” of the franchise. It’s easy to understand why Sather chose to sign Staal for half a dozen years, but that doesn’t mean it was the right decision — especially at that price.

Staal’s role and future with the team looked like it was in jeopardy last season under Alain Vigneault. The decline in his play was conspicuous, particularly with Dan Girardi out of the equation. As expected, there was speculation about whether or not he would be bought-out during the 2018 offseason. But it didn’t happen.

This season, under David Quinn, Staal is playing in a top-four role as the club’s de facto captain. He’s become one of the veterans that Quinn is relying on to help lead the way for a roster filled with young players. Needless to say, he’s quite an expensive mentor.

Brad Richards

  • Signing Date: July 2, 2011
  • General Manager: Glen Sather
  • Bought Out: June 20, 2014
  • Contract: $60 million over nine years (AAV of $6,666,666)
  • Clauses: n/a

When the Rangers had the opportunity to buyout Brad Richards’ contract without carrying a penalty to their salary cap, they went for it. They went for it like Billy Zane’s character from The Titanic grabbed that terrified child, knowing that the blubbering tyke would be his ticket to a lifeboat.

Each NHL team was granted two compliance buyouts to use in the summers of 2013 or 2014 because of a CBA clause. In essence, the buyouts amounted to mulligans for the wealthiest teams in the NHL. Naturally, the Rangers were one of the 10 teams that used both of their their compliance buyouts.

Sather bought Richards out less than three years after signing him to a nine-year, $60 million deal.

It was an unfortunate turn for Richards, who was brought to New York to be a final piece to help win a Stanley Cup. He scored 20 goals and 51 points in his final regular season with New York and, more importantly, had five goals and 12 points in 25 games during the Rangers run to the Stanley Cup Final as the team’s de facto captain. That was a marked improvement from the single point (a goal) he picked up in 10 games in the 2013 postseason. However, it was still a sharp decline from the 66 points he had in his first season on Broadway and nowhere near the 91-point season he had in 2009-10 with the Dallas Stars.

Ultimately, Richards never lived up to the hefty price tag of his mammoth contract. It made perfect sense for the Rangers to use their second “get-out-of-jail free” card on the veteran center.

Wade Redden

  • Signing Date: July 1, 2008
  • General Manager: Glen Sather
  • Bought Out: Jan. 17, 2013
  • Contract: $39 million over six years (AAV of $6.5 million)
  • Clauses: n/a

Redden was the first player that Sather jumped at the chance to use a compliance buyout on.

After two disappointing seasons with New York, Sather buried Redden in the AHL. The much-heralded offensive defenseman looked slow and out of pace on the Rangers. He put up 26 points in the first year of his six-year deal and then just 14 points in 2009-10. At that point, it was abundantly clear that Sather made a costly mistake when he signed the 29-year-old in July 2008.

At the time, the NHL’s new CBA meant that the Rangers could no longer bury Redden’s contract in the AHL without penalty. Under the new CBA, Redden would carry a $5.6 million cap hit even if he remained the captain of the then Connecticut Whale. The path forward was obvious: Sather bit the bullet, signed the check, and bought out Redden.

From CapFriendly.com:

The final two years of Redden’s contract were bought out; however, because the first year of the buyout took place following the 2012-13 NHL lockout, the team took a pro-rated cap hit for 2012-13 and the final year of the buyout was treated as a normal 2/3 buyout. The length was therefore three years.

Redden was one of four UFAs that Sather signed to five years or more from July 1, 2007 (Scott Gomez) to July 2, 2011 (Richards). Like so many players before him, Redden has become a prime example of why buyers need to be careful in free agency. Sather paid too high a price for a player that was set to leave his prime and he gave him term. It was, without a doubt, a multi-million dollar goof.

It really is cheaper and better to develop your own talent. Which is something that Gorton will want to keep in mind when July arrives.


Salary cap information courtesy of CapFriendly.com.