September 28, 2020

Rangers trade of Marc Staal to clear cap space was not for what many fans think

Marc Staal #18 of the New York Rangers (Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

The New York Rangers are in a spot both the organization and the fanbase aren’t used to, and it needs some explanation. The Marc Staal trade last week opened up $5.7 million in cap space for the 2020-21 season and while a lot of fans are excited they may not understand why they did it. Many think it’s to go out and add a free agent, but the purpose isn’t as sexy as fans think.

How do performance bonuses affect the Rangers Cap

marc staal trade
Marc Staal shutting down Crosby (NHLI/Getty Images)

Last year, the Rangers traded Vlad Namestnikov clearing $4 million at the start of the season and that money was never used. Was that a waste? Or was that by design?

You see, the Rangers had Kaapo Kakko, Igor Shesterkin, Adam Fox, Filip Chytil and Ryan Lindgren eligible for a total of $6,915,350 in performance bonuses. While it’s unlikely those players would all hit their max bonuses, it’s smart to at least be prepared.

In a year where the team was not expected to compete, it made sense to have the cap space available. This upcoming season, the Rangers are likely to compete for a play off spot and maybe even more. That complicates things a little bit, but Jeff Gorton moving Marc Staal and his contract was likely a deal with this in mind.

Rangers Cap implications in future seasons

alexis lafreniere rangers
Rangers likely to select Lafreniere (Getty Images)

As illustrated above, a team can only exceed the salary cap by 7.5% of the total cap for the purpose of performance bonuses. With the addition of Alexis Lafreniere, we can assume he gets the max in terms of performance bonuses, which is $2,850,000, bringing the total for the 2020-21 season to roughly 9.2 million dollars. This amount may go up depending on guys like K’Andre Miller, Matthew Robertson or Tarmo Reunanen making the team. However, their max bonuses aren’t high enough to cause “concern”.

With the salary cap at $81.5 million, the 7.5% roll over limit is $6,112,500. That means the Rangers, to be safe, need at least $3,087,500 in cap space to avoid exceeding the limit in 2020-21. After that we of course have the potential risk of the bonuses carrying over to the next season if we exceed that ~3m but that’s a topic for another day.

The $5.7 million from the Marc Staal contract goes a long way towards being cap compliant. With that contract off the books, the Rangers have roughly 20 million in cap space with 8 forwards, 4 defensemen and 2 goalies under contract.

NYR RFAs and UFAs

This is where we jump into hypotheticals but rough estimations on re-signing our free agents look like this:

Anthony DeAngelo: 5.5m AAV
Ryan Strome: 4.5m AAV
Brendan Lemieux: 2m AAV
Alexandar Georgiev: 2m AAV
Jesper Fast: 3m AAV

That brings our total to 17 million, plus the 3m in cap space for performance bonuses, and you can see why the clearing of Marc Staal’s cap hit doesn’t necessarily lead to the Rangers offer sheeting Mat Barzal or going after a big free agent like Taylor Hall.

What is also important to remember is that that elite young talent is due a raise when their entry level contract expires. Marc Staal coming off the books in 2021 together with Brendan Smith, Henrik Lundqivst and the largest portion of Shattenkirk’s buy out penalty was going to free up the money for that. Plus the Rangers need space to sign new deals for Shesterkin in 2021, Fox and Kakko in 2022 and Lafreniere in 2023.

A good cap move for Jeff Gorton

Trading Marc Staal and clearing up cap space was the right move, but it may not lead to the big free agent splash or offer sheet some fans are hoping for. It’s time for this fanbase to experience something new. Young exciting talents who have a legitimate chance to trigger performance bonuses might cause our front office to think twice before making a decision but a player triggering their performance bonuses is never a bad thing. It means you got something out of him that helps the team immensely.

Here’s to Kakko, Lafreniere, Fox and Shesterkin going all out in 2020-21 and racking up that bonus money!

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