Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cap Conundrum #1 - The New York Rangers

The New York Rangers are the league's most difficult team to figure out. Composed of up-and-coming rookies, two legitimate superstars, and quite a few players who used to be good but now are not, the team is at a crossroads, looking like a near-certainty to finish out of the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Glen Sather has developed a rather remarkable ability to make problems disappear - he managed to convince Montreal that Scott Gomez was worth it (he wasn't), fobbed off Ales Kotalik on a desperate Calgary team (2 points in 15 games), and has dug himself halfway out of his cap troubles. Let's get a look at the next two seasons, cap-wise, for the Rangers:

If you recall from last season, green indicates RFA estimates, and red indicates unrestricted free agency.

The two four hundred pound elephants in the room are Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival - Redden is playing 6th defenseman minutes while making 1st defenseman money, and Rozsival is not much better. The biggest question surrounding the Rangers this off-season is: will ownership allow Glen Sather to bury Wade Redden in the minor leagues? We already assume that his contract is entirely untradeable - a middling season in Ottawa and two terrible ones in New York mean that someone has to be seriously stuck in the past to consider Redden anything more than an average defenseman. Burying Redden puts the Rangers at 45 million dollars going into the off-season, which if the cap stays around where it is, gives them the cash to replace Redden's salary as well as add help up front.

We do not think this rule is cited often enough in mainstream publications regarding the salary cap, but it is of great importance to clubs that are thinking of burying a salary somewhere. After July 1, teams are permitted to go over the salary cap, but only by 10%. If the salary cap is at its present amount, teams will be allowed to have up to $62.48 million in player salary on the cap after July 1. This hamstrings the Rangers somewhat, as they still have Patrick Rissmiller on the books at $1 million per, as well as Redden's $6.5 million - unless they are creative with signing RFA players, and subsequently holding them out of training camp (as New Jersey did in September 2006), or sign some UFA free-agent stragglers after they clear Redden off the cap, the Rangers will not be able to spend completely up to the salary cap during the off-season, although they will then have cap room to make deadline additions.

Regardless, if the Rangers can bury Redden, they will still be able to sign $11 million worth of players. This is not exactly Glen Sather's forte - other than Marian Gaborik, who appears to be a massive bargain, Sather has had little but abject failure on his resume in terms of unrestricted free agents since 2006. This year's free agents appear to be a minefield.

Our Plan For The New York Rangers

Rather than speculate about what will happen to earn imaginary plaudits and attaboys from the blogosphere when the Rangers sign Pavel Kubina to a 3 year deal (or something similar), we will instead detail what we would attempt to do if we were in the Rangers' shoes. We will also imagine ourselves to have the same motivations as the Rangers - i.e. massive 'rebuilding' is out of the question. We're trying to put together a playoff squad for next year.

Let's look at those lines:


Del Zotto-Rozsival


First, we call our employer and say whatever he's paying us isn't enough.

Bury Wade Redden - enough said. We definitely have to do this. We cannot possibly have a successful offseason without that contract gone.

Re-sign Vinny Prospal at 2 years/5 million (2.5 per) - Prospal's career has been so strange, what with his pattern of alternating good years with mediocre ones. He has had a career revival in New York, but he is also an over-35 player who is receiving $1 million a season from his former employer - we hope this will keep his price down. We know the price for centers around the NHL is high.

Try like mad to convince Edmonton that a prospect + Michal Rozsival is a good deal for Sheldon Souray - Souray and Rozsival's contracts are of similar length and similar cap hit, but Souray is making $9 million combined for the next two seasons, while Rozsival is making $7 million. Souray has also struggled with injuries while Rozsival's allergy to body contact keeps him in the lineup every night. We cannot say how great the need for teams to save money is - Rozsival's $3 million disparity between cap hit and salary spread over two seasons could save a team that amount of cash. If we can clear Rozsival out, things are looking peachy - we can go hog-wild on the free agent market, as well as go after some of the leftovers coming out of Chicago and other places. Let's assume that we've gotten Souray for Rozsival and a 2nd.

Trade Dan Girardi - Girardi has plateaued in New York, he is no longer used on the power play (with good reason), and we think Matt Gilroy can adequately replace his minutes next season. We hope to get some forward help here - we're not sure who wants Girardi, but probably a team that got shut out of free agency.

Let's get a look at that team now:


Del Zotto-?


We've got 12 million with which to paint on this canvas. For the third line, we'd look to acquire Dustin Byfuglien, who despite being overpaid is a big, physical winger of the sort the Rangers need. From free agency, we might look into Alexei Ponikarovsky, whom we expect to be paid between 3 and 3.5 million, or Colby Armstrong, who we expect to be paid around 2 to 2.5 million. Were we feeling truly daffy, we might even make an offer towards Ilya Kovalchuk, to give ourselves two very strong lines. An offer to Kovalchuk would put us in serious cap trouble, however, and is rather unlikely.

On defense, we would look toward younger defensemen who are not as likely to decline. Paul Martin would make an ideal pairing with Marc Staal, and he can likely be had for $5 million per. Dan Hamhuis, Anton Volchenkov, Shaone Morrisonn, and Willie Mitchell are cheaper, defense-first D men that we would be interested in. Our ideal Rangers team looks something like this:


Del Zotto-6th D at 1.3 million


The total cost of these 20 players is $54 million.


We don't expect the Rangers to be able to accomplish even half of this, but if they accomplish even half of it, they should be right in the playoff mix next season. The Rangers do have gobs of young players who may be able to contribute in following years - it would be a colossal waste if Sather once again signed aged and past-their-prime skaters who would squander cap room on an otherwise talented squad.

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