Yesterday, Pavel Buchnevich and Jacob Trouba filed for salary arbitration. It’s not exciting news for the Rangers. They still have four unsigned Group II free agents including Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Lemieux. Neither of which were arbitration eligible.
After signing number one target Artemi Panarin to an average of $11.6 million per year, the Rangers have approximately $10 million left on the estimated salary cap of $81.5 million. That leaves little wiggle room unless they get creative. By that, I mean use a buyout clause and move a couple of players to free up the necessary space to fit in the expensive Trouba to a long-term deal.
Likely buyout candidates are defensemen Brendan Smith or Kevin Shattenkirk. Smith makes more sense due to Shattenkirk being a right pair puck moving D, whose experience could come in handy if rookie Adam Fox isn’t ready. Assuming Trouba and DeAngelo are 1-2 on the depth chart, that would leave Shattenkirk and Fox, who the organization signed as a free agent to further revamp the blueline.
As for who else could possibly get moved, Vladislav Namestnikov is a cap hit of $4 million in the final year of his contract. A solid checking forward, who coach David Quinn liked to use on both power play and penalty kill, he is a movable asset. Especially if the team hopes to keep Chris Kreider. The 28-year old team leader enters the last year of his contract with an AAV of $4.625 million. If they want to compete for the playoffs right away, keeping Kreider makes sense. They don’t want a repeat of Mats Zuccarello or Kevin Hayes.
Assuming Trouba gets a long-term deal of say $7.5 million AAV over seven years, that would leave a little over $2.5 million for Buchnevich, Lemieux and DeAngelo. I’d estimate Buchnevich at between $2.5 to 3.25 million on a bridge deal. DeAngelo and Lemieux would be cheaper.
So, the organization has some hard decisions coming up. Are they considering extending Kreider? If not, they’ll have to trade him. Something that will hurt the team short term. A power forward like Kreider isn’t easily replaced. It’s not only about numbers with him. But what he brings. That net front presence is an important part of the Rangers offense. It can’t all be flash and dash. You don’t win with just that.
As excited as we are for the New Era of Rangers hockey featuring Panarin, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov and Fox, the roster still can use some good old fashioned grit and sandpaper. Kreider brings that along with Lemieux, who’ll need to improve his skating and conditioning to become the top nine forward Quinn envisions. If Kreider goes, Micheal Ferland would be one option I would look at in free agency. That’s if they can fit him in.
You can be 10 percent over the cap during the summer before eventually, getting down. The Maple Leafs are still waiting before offering big RFA Mitch Marner a contract. So too are the Lightning with Brayden Point. Winnipeg has both Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine unsigned. The Hurricanes matched the Canadiens offer sheet to keep Sebastian Aho. No surprise.
The offseason has already cooled off considerably. Unlike the fireworks of the NBA free agency with the big bomb that Kawhi Leonard was joining the Clippers along with Paul George in the wee hours of Saturday morning, things are quiet on the NHL front. Too much so.
Hockey could use a good kick in the ass.