September 22, 2020

Ahoy! Jeff Gorton’s Rangers must navigate salary cap sea of uncertainty

Jeff Gorton at the draft (Getty Images)

The NHL salary cap will be flat for next season at $81.5 million. From there, no one one knows if it will go up. All of this rides on the league’s ability to get ticket revenue as soon as possible. The way it stands, the NHL could see a modest increase for 2021-22 to $82.5 million, but teams shouldn’t count on it.

Rangers current cap situation

PerĀ CapFriendly, the Rangers next season will have $14 million in cap space. However, they are potentially on the hook for some serious performance bonuses. While it is listed at $7.2 million they won’t all be achieved. Of course, once you add Alexis Lafreniere, who will get the max as did Kaapo Kakko and then possibly K’Andre Miller making the team, you better be able to cover the cost.

So as of right now, the Rangers have “$14 million” and need to sign seven to eight players to reach a roster of 22/23 players. Four of those players are RFA’s Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome, Brendan Lemieux, and Alexandar Georgiev. If the Rangers wanted to keep all four it would eat up a chunk of the cap space and leave them struggling to fill the remaining spots. Also, you need a cushion for those bonuses.

As one team source told me, they can’t keep them all with where they are cap wise. That’s why they need to find more cap space, especially if they want to improve. And if you think buying out Henrik Lundqvist alone will get that done, you would be wrong.

Jeff Gorton must deftly navigate the salary cap

rangers salary cap
John Davidson and Jeff Gorton need to do some housekeeping (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

It is time for Jeff Gorton to put on an epic showing of management. He needs to persuade Henrik Lundqvist to waive his no trade clause to a team like the Ottawa Senators or Detroit Red Wings. Both teams are rebuilding and are almost $20 million below the cap floor.

If he can get that to happen, it will be costly from an asset perspective. The most likely fee for either one of them to buyout Hank’s contract would be the 22nd pick overall. Gorton also needs to act quickly, because he’s probably not the only team trying to entice the Sens or Wings to do something like this.

Should he be able to pull this off, he would gain the full $8.5 million. As of now, that can only happen if Henrik retires. Then Gorton needs to use his buyout on Brendan Smith. If the Rangers want to give K’Andre Miller or Libor Hajek a real chance, they need to make room.

The Rangers would add slightly $10 million more in cap space with just two moves. This will allow Gorton the ability to retain his restricted free agents, or improve his lineup with hockey deals. Taking on players with bigger cap hits but addressing positions of need like center.

Thinking about 2021-22

Of course, Gorton doesn’t need to spend it all either. If you think the Rangers have too many RFA’s to sign now, in 2021-22 they have more. Here’s the list:

  • Pavel Buchnevich
  • Igor Shesterkin
  • Filip Chytil
  • Brett Howden
  • Ryan Lindgren
  • Julien Gauthier

Good news for Gorton is Marc Staal’s $5.7 million cap hit comes off the books and that will help. The bottom line is that what Gorton does today, is also about what happens two season from now.

Remember, Mika Zibanejad becomes a UFA in 2022-23 and the Blueshirts better have the money to sign him. Did I mention both Kaapo Kakko and Adam Fox will be coming off their ELC’s too? Get the picture? Time for some magic from Jeff Gorton in the next few weeks.

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