The New York Rangers entered the 2014-15 season with a payroll and set of contracts that cannot be described as anything but "up against it." As it was prior to the Derek Stepan injury that landed him on Long Term Injured Reserve ("LTIR"), the Rangers were pushing over the top of the $69 million cap ceiling, and approaching the 50 professional contract limit.
Obviously injuries have altered the landscape with this team. As things currently stand today, and assuming Mats Zuccarello returns healthy and Ryan Malone, who just passed through waivers, is assigned down to the AHL (thereby reducing his salary cap hit to $0 while he plays there, I'll explain later) the cap payroll will sit at $70,021,813.
This leaves the Rangers with $1,862,964 to play with. Right now. That will change.
At this point you may be saying to yourself, "But I thought the cap ceiling was $69 million, Nick? Lawyers suck at math." This is all true. The ceiling is $69 million. And lawyers do suck at math, among other things. However, the CBA includes provisions for teams who have players on LTIR which creates a bit of cap relief.
The CBA basically provides that a team can place a player expected to miss at least 10 games and 24 days of service on LTIR. However, doing so does not remove that player's cap hit from the cap payroll, nor does it "bank" any cap space "savings" for the time that the player is out of the lineup. These are two common misconceptions that fans have. To be honest, I blame some of the mainstream media sources, who absolutely butcher this concept and make fans believe the team has money they don't.
LTIR only provides a relief valve if and when the team's cap payroll, inclusive of the LTIR player(s), begins to exceed the upper limit of $69 million. The team can exceed the limit by the value of the LTIR player's contract, minus the amount of space the team had at the time the player was placed on LTIR. For this reason, sometimes teams will make a few moves just before placing a player on LTIR to try to get their total to as close to the limit as possible, thereby maximizing the amount they can go over it once the player is moved to LTIR.
In the Rangers case, the upper limit is $69 million, right? Stepan's cap hit, which I should note is calculated by average annual value ("AAV") and not annual salary, is $3,075,000. On the day he was placed on LTIR, the team had a cap payroll that was just under the $69 million upper limit. Stepan's LTIR designation gave them about $2.3 million above the cap to play with.
Subsequent moves to stem the tide of injuries and reconfigure the lineup (sending down Malone, Fast and Miller, calling up Kostka, McIlrath, and Allen) have reduced the figure a bit overall.
However, Derek Stepan's return to the lineup is fast approaching. Once an LTIR player is healthy, the team must return to normal cap ceiling compliance. They can't bring him back until they do. They do not get to "bank" the credit of the time he missed. They do not pass Go. They do not collect $2.3 million.
The Current State of Affairs
By waiving Malone, the team is a million and change over the cap. Waived NHL contracts that are under $925,000 (the minimum salary + $375,000) can be "buried" and do not count against the team salary.
This means that the Rangers have some decisions to make about their roster. John Moore will be returning from his 5 game suspension on November 11th against the Penguins. Dan Boyle, who was not LTIRed, is rumored to be approaching a return, but the timing is unclear. Kevin Klein's status can best be described as uncertain. Any two of these thing will alleviate the burden of carrying the extra two AHL defensemen in Conner Allen and Dylan McIlrath. I would anticipate McIlrath is not long for his current roster spot and will be the first to go. Both being sent down will reduce the total team salary by the $1.2 million needed to be cap compliant for Stepan to come off LTIR. But the question is, do they happen before Stepan is ready to return? And if not, do they delay his return because of the dire straights the defense would be in, or the roster mayhem that would take place, if they did not?
No word has been given on whether Ryan McDonagh will be placed on LTIR. I suspect he will not be, but it would provide temporary relief from what could be an impending problem. That said, doing so would mean we won't see him for 10 games. Anthony Duclair can still be sent down and his contract would thus be pulled off the team salary. Could Marc Staal and his expiring contract be moved for a package of cheaper and younger defensemen? Trade rumors also swirl regarding acquiring Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Andrej Sekera. The Rangers, now desperate for short term relief, have also reportedly looked into Tomas Kaberle as a stopgap.
FA d-man Tomas Kaberle has been invited for a look from Rangers. Unclear if he will skate with them tomorrow— Steve Zipay (@stevezipay) November 4, 2014
It is unclear as of the time of writing this article as to whether he will actually play with the team or what the terms might be if they do pursue his services.
Considering the spat of injuries and the existing cap constraints, Glenn Sather is juggling knives right now. It will be very interesting to see how the club navigates the next month or so.
Salary information compiled from capgeek.com. CBA LTIR terms refer to: Collective Bargaining Agreement Sec. 50.10(d), pp 290-294.
Want more information on a particular topic of interest? See something you still don't understand? Need another stat or CBA term defined? Contact Nick Mercadante at @nmercad on twitter or by email at nick.mercadante [at] gmail [dot] com. Or just leave a comment below!