The Rangers can use their cap space as an asset this summer
For years the New York Rangers have been in a situation where they had to trade players away either to generate cap space or because they didn’t have any (Hagelin in 2015 is an example of that); but now they are on the other side of the spectrum. With the rebuild in full swing and cap space not being an issue, a case can be made to use that cap space as an asset. Elliotte Friedman hinted at this in his 31 thoughts recently. But what does it mean and what can fans expect if Jeff Gorton decides to go this route?
On Wednesday night, the Carolina Hurricanes won game three in the second round of the NHL playoffs with two goals from Teuvo Teräväinen. The Finnish winger was drafted 18th overall in 2012 by the Chicago Blackhawks and came off a 35 point season in 2015-16 at the age of 21. The team had won three cups in the previous six years and in the summer of 2016 they had to made room for the eight-year contract of Brent Seabrook, which he signed the previous year. With a $6,875,000 cap hit, general manager Stan Bowman had to find a way to get rid of some bad contracts. One of them was Bryan Bickell who was on the books for $4,00,000 for one more year. They found a trade partner in the Carolina Hurricanes who were happy to take that contract off their hands but the price was steep. Teuvo Teräväinen was going with Bickell to Carolina in exchange for a 2016 second-round and a 2017 third-round pick in the upcoming drafts. This is the perfect example of a cap dump, and the Carolina Hurricanes are now reaping the rewards of that deal. Teräväinen hit 64 points last season and 76 this season with seven points in 10 playoff games so far, including five goals.
This is the blueprint Jeff Gorton needs to use this summer, and there are two potential trade partners who need to get rid of salary to make room for their elite players with RFA-status. What could a potential deal look like? Let’s examine both scenarios:
Tampa Bay has some great players and were an absolute juggernaut in the NHL this regular season. But it comes at a price. Brayden Point is a restricted free agent and the 23-year old Canadian has not made it easy for the Lightning front office. With a 66 point season (32G, 34A) last year and a 92 point season (41G, 51A) this year, he will command a huge salary increase. But the team cannot afford it. At the moment, they have a little over $73 million tied up in 16 players (2 goalies, 4 defensemen and 10 forwards). That leaves them with $6.3m in cap space with an upper limit of $79,500,000. This will go up a bit, but not enough to create cap space for Point and the other positions they need to fill.
The cap dump for Tampa would be Ryan Callahan, who has a modified NTC (he can exclude 14 teams). The former Rangers captain has a $5,800,000 cap hit for one more year. A possible target for Gorton in this case is Anthony Cirelli, who is 21-years-old with one more year on his entry-level contract and coming off a 39-point season with the Lightning. The winger, who was drafted in 2015 in the third round, is also two years removed from being arbitration eligible which is good news for the Rangers for the negotiations of his next contract in the 2020 offseason.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The other prime candidate can be found North of the border. The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a similar situation with a little over $74 million tied up in 17 players; but with Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, and Andreas Johnsson still unsigned. While Mitch Marner is the number one priority for Dubas to re-sign, the other two are young, cost-controlled forwards who scored 20 goals and hit 40+ points this past season. Kapanen, 22 years old, was acquired by Toronto in the trade that saw Phil Kessel move to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Andreas Johnsson was drafted by the Maple Leafs in 2013 in the seventh round. Looking at their cap situation, they only have one choice if they wish to retain William Nylander and that is to dump the contract of Patrick Marleau and give up one of Kapanen or Johnsson. The Teravainen-Bickell trade is again a good comparison, with a little added caveat I will get into a bit later, explaining how technically Toronto doesn’t have to lose Marleau. If Gorton steps in to take on the Marleau contract, which is $6,250,000 for one more year, with Kapanen coming to New York as the reward for relieving the Leafs from this contract, it gives the Rangers a young winger who can be added to the team’s young forward group. He would also be capable of making Kaapo Kakko feel at home in New York as a fellow Finn. Andreas Johnsson is the other option of course.
Now, the little caveat. If the Leafs commit to this cap dump, the Rangers can opt to buy out Patrick Marleau’s contract, making him an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with the Maple Leafs for a cheaper deal. There’s precedent. Last year, the Washington Capitals traded Brooks Orpik to the Colorado Avalanche together with Philip Grubauer. Orpik was bought out by the Denver-based team and then signed a new deal with the reigning Stanley Cup champions. With Marleau’s contract being a 35+ contract – he was at least 35 years old upon signing – there won’t be any cap relief, which means the $6,250,000 cap hit is on the books for the full season. Kapanen seems like a great asset to acquire as payment for this.