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Decision Time is Coming

Gorton and the Rangers need to find a way to get under the cap

Columbus Blue Jackets v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With Pavel Buchnevich signed for a reported $3.25 million AAV for the next two years, the New York Rangers have a 48-hour buy-out window between this Monday and Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. ET.

It’s officially crunch time.

Before the deadline arrives, general manager Jeff Gorton needs to make some big decisions. If Gorton doesn’t feel confident that he can get the team under the cap by burying the contracts of Matt Beleskey and Brendan Smith in the AHL and dealing a few players, he has to make a decision about buying out a contract before dinner on Wednesday.

The Rangers still have two key unsigned restricted free agents in Brendan Lemieux and Tony DeAngelo, but their contracts can wait until after the buyout deadline as neither player is arbitration eligible, and thus hold very little leverage. However, Gorton has to keep their contracts in mind while he works to find a solution with the cap. Together, Lemieux and DeAngelo should take up around $3.5 million in cap if they are signed to one and two-year deals, respectively.

One has to imagine that Gorton already has a plan in place, but there’s a very good chance that his plan involves making at least one deal with an opposing team while negotiating from a position of weakness. Obviously, that’s not a position that any general manager wants to find himself in, but Gorton and President John Davidson knew what they were getting into when they chose to accelerate the rebuild by adding Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba to the fold.

Winnipeg Jets v Chicago Blackhawks
It’s all good, they’re gonna be buddies now.
Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

Remember, we have already seen one aspect of Gorton’s plan. He dealt Jimmy Vesey to the Buffalo Sabres for a somewhat underwhelming return of a third round pick just before signing Panarin on July 1. Now, he has to clear out more cap space through a combination of burying some contracts, buying others out, and/or trades that could result in similar underwhelming returns just to shed salary. However, it’s important to keep in mind that cap space itself is an asset.

The Rangers’ buy-out candidates are known to be Brendan Smith, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Marc Staal, although it’s worth mentioning that most of the scuttlebutt from those on the beat has been about Smith and Shattenkirk. With that being said, Gorton should avoid a buy-out if he can. Remember, the Rangers already have $1,411,111 in dead cap on the books in 2020-21 from the Dan Girardi buyout and the salary retention of Ryan Spooner. If Gorton buys out Shattenkirk, that number climbs to just under $7.5 million of dead cap space in 2020-21; if he buys out Smith instead, that number looks like $4,556,944.

Yep, not good.


There are four players that Gorton is likely actively shopping because of their contracts:

  • Chris Kreider: $4.625 million through July 1, 2020.
  • Vladislav Namestnikov: $4 million through July 1, 2020.
  • Ryan Strome: $3.1 million through July 1, 2020 (RFA).
  • Kevin Shattenkirk: $6.65 million through July 1, 2021 with a NMC and a modified NTC (player has a 10-team no-trade list).

Jesper Fast is also on an expiring contract, but his $1.85 million cap hit is not nearly as punitive as the forwards who are listed above. There’s also a chance that DeAngelo gets moved instead of re-signed if the front office is confident about Adam Fox being ready for the NHL and if there are no suitors for Shattenkirk.

In case it wasn’t obvious by now, there are a lot of moving parts here. One way or another, this roster is going to change in a significant way before the summer is over. It’s just a matter of finding out where and how it will change and what kind of price tag those decisions will carry.