Jeff Gorton May Need To Make Moves At The Draft

Thanks to the fantastic, it’s been 48 hours and I still don’t believe it Jacob Trouba trade, the New York Rangers rebuild has essentially entered Phase Two. With a Trouba extension expected to be looming, the Rangers go from a team that has boatloads of cap space to make moves, to a team that now needs to make moves if they want all their primary targets in house this summer.

Without a single internal free agent signed (including Trouba), the Rangers have a hair over $19-million in cap space (this assumes the full-hit of Matt Beleskey, which would be reduced by roughly a million dollars if he’s sent down to the AHL). To make this easier, let’s assume the following AAV extensions:

Trouba — $7.5-million long term extension
Pavel Buchnevich — $3.4-million bridge deal
Brendan Lemieux — $1.3-million bridge deal
Tony DeAngelo — $2.8-million bridge deal
Fredrik Claesson — $900K one-year deal

These five extensions take up $15.9-million of the Rangers’ $19-million in cap space — which leaves just $3.1-million if they want to sign Artemi Panarin this summer. That obviously will not work; since the star winger will be looking to collect an annual salary of roughly $11-million. The Rangers can go over the cap in the summer, but it is better to figure things out before they get in that point, because any team they try and trade with would have leverage in knowing the Rangers need to become cap compliant.

The Rangers have two glaring possibilities to make up the $8-million they would need to get Panarin under contract: Kevin Shattenkirk and Chris Kreider. The addition of Trouba changes a lot of this, and could have an impact on the path they take.

I am a firm believer that Shattenkirk was A) the Rangers best 5v5 defenseman last year behind DeAngelo, B) is not nearly as bad as Rangers fans have been whipped up to believe he is, and C) shouldn’t be bought out under any circumstances.

The continued buyout talk that emanates from the New York Post on a weekly basis seems far more suspect now that the actual terms of the Trouba trade are known, but it would be foolish to assume Shattenkirk doesn’t become expendable now that Trouba is in the fold. Phil has a more in-depth look on this coming out on Thursday, so I will be brief here as to not steps on his toes.

The belief that Shattenkirk at 50% retained has garnered no interest is also apparently insanity, since bad defenseman are flying around the trade market left and right and Shattenkirk is not a bad defenseman. With two years left on his deal at a $6.65-million cap hit for the full boat, there has to be someone out there who would love to get him at a discounted price to improve their defense/power play.

Kreider represents a different argument, as he’s just a year away from hitting unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career. He’s someone who has created a significant amount of “keep or trade” debates, as everyone tried to figure out if it made more sense to dangle him for a top-pair defenseman, or to keep him around for the Rangers’ rise toward contention.

Now that Trouba is in the fold without removing any real roster players or significant prospects, this debate takes on an entirely new life. Kreider could have a significant amount of value to a team who thinks they’re a piece or two away from a Stanley Cup, and at the draft there’s far more of those teams than at the deadline. In a less likely move he could potentially be used to earn the Rangers another higher first round pick if a team is willing to take a risk on trying to keep him around  — like Edmonton if they think they need to make a big splash with a new brass.

If the Rangers intend to keep Kreider — and they very well might — there are other possibilities as well.

According to Elliotte Friedman, Buffalo kicked the tires on Jimmy Vesey, and the expected return is probably a mid-level draft pick or prospect. If no NHL salary returns in that deal, it’s a $2.275-million savings right there.

Vlad Namestnikov and his one year remaining at $4-million is another option for trade, but I’m not confident the Rangers would be able to shift him out without retaining some salary at the draft. He might be a perfect deadline rental to a contender — since he’s a Swiss Army knife and can do almost anything — but that doesn’t help Gorton and company save cap space right now.

Ryan Strome is a player who likely has very, very similar “reputation value” to Neal Pionk. He scored 18 goals in 63 games for the Rangers last year, and his contract situation next summer is going to be dangerous as Tom outlined here. Teams who want cheap depth scoring might (well, after the Trouba trade should we say “will definitely”?) overlook his insane shooting percentage on Broadway and think he’s an option. That would save the Rangers both a $3.1-million cap hit and a future contract they probably won’t love a year or two after it’s inked.

More aggressive moves would be the Marc Staal or Brendan Smith buyouts, but with Trouba and potentially Panarin to go along with incoming freshman Kaapo Kakko, Adam Fox, and Vitali Kravtsov I’m not sure that timeline works now — or even would have.

The math is equally bad if you use Staal and Smith’s contract instead, but you get the general point.

Increasing the dead cap space two or three years from now when the Rangers could be in prime contention isn’t something Gorton should be looking to do, and the hits for Smith/Staal would be relatively significant in that regard. Especially when ELC players need to be re-signed, and bridge players need to be paid. Smith and Staal have just two years left on their deals, and it would be much better to ride it out, or find a way to deal them with 50 percent retention, than assume unnecessary dead money years from now.

Gorton will have options, is the point, but most of them carry complications. If the Rangers want to go ahead and keep Panarin around, well, things might get a little messy. And that’s OK, so long as it’s continued to be handled properly.