Since last week’s fireworks, it’s been relatively quiet. That’s to be expected once July 1 passes. It didn’t stop the Blues from showing star forward Vladimir Tarasenko the money. They signed him to a eight-year deal worth a reported $60 million. Tarasenko had a breakout ’14-15 season leading the Blues in scoring by setting career highs in goals (37), assists (36), points (73), plus/minus (27), power play goals (8) and game-winners (6).
A restricted free agent, St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong took care of his top priority by locking up the 23-year old Russian to a long-term contract that averages out to $7.5 million per year. An identical cap hit to the contract Ryan O’Reilly signed with the Sabres. The only difference being his was $52.5 million over seven years.
What must the Rangers be thinking with Derek Stepan, who is going to arbitration? Of course, that’s a different case entirely. As I alluded to yesterday, he’s two years away from unrestricted status. If only former GM Glen Sather didn’t always do bridge deals with the team’s top forwards. The same applies to Chris Kreider, who will make $2.6 million in ’15-16 before becoming a Group II free agent. One look at what the Blue Jackets gave Brandon Saad is enough to be concerned. Saad signed for six years, $36 million.
New Rangers GM Jeff Gorton has his work cut out. He must make important decisions on Stepan and Kreider which could impact the future. Both are key cogs who play on one of their two top lines. Each will see a significant bump in salary. While Gorton can wait on Kreider, he must work hard on getting Stepan done. Hammering out a long-term contract that can buy up free agent years and save the Blueshirts money is the smart way to go. Getting key restricted free agents Emerson Etem, Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller to take cheap deals should allow them to be under the cap.
The organization faces more changes. Especially with Keith Yandle in the final year earning $5.75 million with the Coyotes splitting the cost paying $2.625 million of his $5.25 million cap hit. Yandle could be out of the Rangers’ price range the following summer. Veteran defenseman Dan Boyle also comes off after making $4.5 million. It also could be the end for respected fourth line center Dominic Moore who earns $1.5 million in his final year. The torch could be passed to young prospects Brady Skjei, Dylan McIlrath, Oscar Lindberg and Ryan Bourque.
Gorton will lean on Team President Sather to make key decisions that could impact the club long-term. Next summer, Kreider and Kevin Hayes are RFA’s. The sooner they can get them re-signed, the better. With Kreider, it makes sense to lock him up. He is the one young player who should get a long-term deal that’ll help the Rangers save over the long haul. If Hayes can match his rookie production (17-28-45) or improve, he also could be worth investing in.
The Rangers have $24.4 million committed to Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal through 2019 when McDonagh can become unrestricted. Throw in Rick Nash ($7.8 million) over the next three years and it increases to $32.2 million for five players. That’s before Stepan gets his big raise. Derick Brassard is signed another four years at $5 million per season. Mats Zuccarello starts the first of a four-year deal worth a average cap hit of $4.5 million.
Somewhere along the line, Gorton will have to make a trade. Kevin Klein remains the most likely candidate with a cap friendly deal that pays him an average cap hit of $2.9 million over the next three years. The hope is that Skjei can replace him. I’m not sure what the plan is for McIlrath who they qualified. The former 2010 first round pick has only played in three games with Alain Vigneault unwilling to trust him. Chris Summers who was also acquired in the Yandle trade is the other depth defenseman who appeared in three games this past season.
It all points to a challenging time ahead. With close competitors like Columbus, Washington and Pittsburgh getting better, the Rangers are basically status quo with the exception of key checking forward and speed demon Carl Hagelin, who was subtracted to make room for Stepan. They need Etem to perform or the third line could be a soft spot. I still don’t get throwing away $1.1 million on Viktor Stalberg but at least it’s only for a year unlike Tanner Glass, who has two years left at $1.45 million per. Vigneault’s guy.
The growing question is when will the Rangers do what these other teams do with key forwards. The days of bridging players is coming to an end. Sather’s penny pinching only hurts because it makes it harder. It’s time for a change in philosophy.