New York Rangers must try to avoid becoming the Toronto Maple Leafs

new york rangers star players
Zibanejad and Matthews battle (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the best offensive teams in the NHL today. They boast some extremely high end talent up front, but have not been able to make it matter in the playoffs.

Toronto has a problem, it isn’t a bad one, it’s more a matter of circumstance and a little self-inflicted pain. After being bad for several years the Leafs were able to draft some gems in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander. Then they went out and bought UFA John Tavares. That may not have been needed in hindsight, but this is where they are.

Toronto Maple Leafs top heavy salary cap

Matthews makes $11.6 million, followed by Tavares at $11m, then Marner with $10.89m, and finally Nylander at $6.9m against the cap. That’s a lot of moolah.

When you calculate what all four of those players make, it totals $40.4 million. That equates to 49.6% of Toronto’s total cap space to just four players. Albeit superstars, it doesn’t leave much to spread around to the 19 remaining roster spots you need to win a Stanley Cup.

That’s why the Leafs are trying to figure out how to get cap compliant and ensure they have a winning mix for the post-season. It isn’t an easy job for GM Kyle Dubas who is likely on the hot seat.

The New York Rangers are now following a similar path

The New York Rangers are eventually going to find themselves in a similar situation as the Leafs. They went out last summer and landed the top UFA on the market in Artemi Panarin to the tune of $11.6 million.

Mika Zibanejad will be a UFA in two seasons at the age of 29 and he is very likely to get $10-11 million himself for the next 7 years. Panarin’s deal will expire in year five of Mika’s. That will be approximately $22 million on two forwards.

new york rangers top players
Panarin and Kakko(Getty Images)

Enter Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko. The #1 pick of the 2020 draft and the #2 pick of the 2019 draft have future stars written all over them. In three seasons Lafreniere’s ELC will expire and Kakko’s will expire in just two. If Alexis is the next generational talent, he could very well command $10 million on his next deal. Kakko would like be similar to Nylander’s $7 million.

And just like that, we are the Toronto Maple Leafs with almost half the cap dedicated to four forwards. Remember this is a good problem to have.

Rangers need to plan for this eventual outcome

The first thing many of you will say is, “just keep bridge dealing Lafreniere and Kakko until Panarin comes off the books!” Yes, that is one approach but you normally don’t low ball your future franchise players. Did Edmonton do that with Connor McDavid? Or Toronto with Matthews? The answer is no. You take care of them immediately.

If Lafreniere is flirting with 80 points by year three, you give him a 10 year deal at around $10 million and call it a day. If Kakko is scoring 30-40 goals when his ELC is set to expire you give him $7-8 million for 8 years and just enjoy the fireworks. You don’t play games with them.

That’s why it is imperative the Rangers be shrewd at every position. Other players like Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller could be the next top defenseman at around $8-9 million. That’s why it was imperative to draft the likes of Matthew Robertson, Braden Schneider, and Zac Jones. They need to keep the pipeline with a decent amount of prospects for longterm success.

It’s another reason why the Rangers were adamant about keeping two top tier goalies in Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev. Long gone are the days where the Blueshirts are going to invest 10-15% of the their cap space on one goalie.

The Rangers are just getting started and need to make sure they can balance a lineup for playoff success. They would love to at one point have four forwards of the same caliber as the Leafs and even pay them over $40,000,000 for it.

They just need to make sure every move they make accounts for it.