Rangers will need to move either Namestnikov or Strome for cap space
As the magical, inspirational, franchise-altering off-season for the New York Rangers continues, John Davidson and Jeff Gorton face a plethora of tough decisions. First and foremost is the surprisingly difficult negotiations with newly acquired defenseman Jacob Trouba. While most NHL Insiders feel it is only a matter of “when” and not “if” Trouba will sign his long-term extension with the Blueshirts, crazier things have happened in the sporting world and some jaded members of the Garden Faithful will sit on pins and needles until the former Winnipeg Jet puts his John Hancock on a new contract.
In order to accommodate Trouba and his requested asking price, Davidson and Gorton may have to jettison highly-paid veterans from the current roster to clear up the cap space. Of course, some of you out there in Rangerstown would love nothing more than to see Henrik Lundqvist, and his $8.5 million AAV, waive his no-trade clause. A growing sect of Ranger fans have become disenchanted with the Rangers all-time leader in wins, shutouts and virtually every important goalie record in the media guide, and want the suave Swede to pack up his pads, masks, and hairspray and accept a trade elsewhere. As has been well-documented on Forever Blueshirts for quite some time, Lundqvist and his contract are not going anywhere.
The next logical choice, the next highly-paid veteran to be shipped out would be the extremely popular Chris Kreider. Since joining the Rangers in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, Kreider has been nothing short of a stalwart. The Boston native’s size, speed and ability to score those greasy, net-mouth goals make his presence in the lineup vital to the team’s success. While Kreider has been the continuous subject of constant trade chatter, the longer he stays a Ranger, the better the chances of #20 signing a long-term extension of his own.
If Trouba, inks the anticipated seven-year deal with the approximate AAV of $8 million, and Lundqvist and Kreider are going to be hanging around, that only leaves two other tradeable veterans: Ryan Strome and Vlad Namestnikov.
Yes, yes, I know, I know. I can sense the telepathic messages coming through my monitor as I type this piece about the potential of buying out certain other veterans who currently occupy the Blueshirts blue-line to open up the cap space necessary to satisfy each of the aforementioned player’s contractual wishes. In my view, buying out a player should only be used when all other options to alleviate the cap crunch have been exhausted. So, let’s not go down the buyout road just yet. Instead, let’s look at the real possibility of trading Strome and/or Namestnikov.
These two former first-round picks are both 26 years of age and will be playing on the final year of their respective contracts. Both are nice contributors to the Ranger lineup. Both offer veteran depth to a roster inundated with youngsters. However, one could argue that neither is in the long-term plans for the Rangers.
Strome was taken off of Edmonton’s scrap heap in exchange for Ryan Spooner early last season and managed to, in some degree, resurrect his career. Namestnikov was considered to be a throw-in from the Tampa Bay Lightning in that massive mega-deadline deal in 2018 between the Blueshirts and the Bolts.
Neither veteran would fetch much of a substantial return if traded. But the fact remains that in order for Trouba to sign his extension, and in order for Kreider’s unique combination of speed and muscle to stay in the Ranger lineup, John and Jeff, the “J&J Boys” may have to face the harsh reality of having to move Strome and Namestnikov which would open up about $7 million of space on the 2019-20 cap.
Talk to any executive of a sports franchise in any league that has a hard cap and they will face similar challenges about which players to keep. The debate as to whether or not a hard salary cap helps or hurts professional sports is a provocative one. In the opinion of this author, instituting a hard cap to solve a league’s financial woes is like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound. The NHL is quickly resembling the NBA and NFL when it comes to the messes caused by the hard salary cap.
However, the rules are the rules and the Rangers hierarchy have to play the cards that were dealt to them. As the old saying goes, “you can’t keep everyone.” As the beginning of the 2019 season gets closer, the Ranger roster will have to be finalized. Tough decisions will have to be made. Fan-favorites may have to be let go. Davidson and Gorton certainly have their work cut out for them.