In the unforgiving sweltering summer heat here in the Big Apple, the insane combination of near century mark temperatures with high humidity has made it very uncomfortable for most New Yorkers. This weekend could see some record breakers during the heat wave.
By reaching agreement with Jacob Trouba yesterday on a seven-year contract worth an average of $8 million, the Rangers are officially under the pressure cooker. They’ve invested a whopping $19.64 million in Artemi Panarin and Trouba over the next seven seasons. That’s roughly a quarter of the team’s salary cap.
If you base it off puckpedia.com which includes Matt Beleskey’s $825,000 salary off the books, the Rangers currently have a shade over $2 million left to spend on the upper limit NHL salary cap of $81.5 million for ’19-20. When you consider that they still must bump up Pavel Buchnevich and re-sign restricted free agents Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Lemieux, they’re up against it.
While they can go over the cap until this Fall, eventually GM Jeff Gorton and Team President John Davidson will have to get back down to the max when they set the 23-man roster. As hot as it is, September will be here before you know it. We’re already past mid-July. My Mom just celebrated her birthday. Happy Birthday 🎂 Mom. Even though like me, she can’t stand this crazy heat. Where’s a ice tub when you need it?
Even though my initial reaction on Twitter was disbelief that Trouba got $8 million AAV, it was in the ballpark. I was hoping he would take a little less to help his new team out. But he didn’t have to. The Rangers could’ve gone to arbitration and saved about a million on a one-year reward. A risky proposition with a young player who could’ve tested the market in 2020. So, they compromised and found a middle ground.
The truth is the organization is banking on both Trouba and Panarin to deliver. While it sure helps to have won the NHL Lottery and landed franchise cornerstone Kaapo Kakko, the newest big name Blueshirts will be looked upon for experience and leadership. They must meet high expectations. The good news is they’re in their 20’s with some peak years ahead. That is better than spending on Brad Richards or Scott Gomez. You get the picture.
By speeding up the rebuild, the Rangers are sending a positive message to the fans. They want to be competitive and possibly compete for the playoffs. Still an uncertainty due to remaining question marks with the roster. For example, Buchnevich projects between $2.5 to $3.5 million. If they meet in the middle, he’ll get $3 million. That would put them over the cap.
DeAngelo and Lemieux won’t cost as much. However, that’s still at least another two million, meaning that’s a combined five million they’ll likely have to pay the remaining three Group II free agents. That would put them approximately $4 million over the cap.
It’s painfully obvious that they have some tough decisions ahead. With Vladislav Namestnikov the likely candidate to be moved due to his $4 million salary, that’s only one player. Even if they buyout Brendan Smith to save over a million, they want to have some room to maneuver just in case. But these are the Rangers. That’s how they do business. They will overpay if they think it’s worth it.
I like both the Bread Man and Trouba. I believe they make the team better. The question is how much right away. Let’s remember that it’ll be Kakko’s rookie season. So, before you project him for a crazy amount of goals (30) and points (70), he is only 18. A undeniable fact we must embrace.
It’s not about this year, but rather about the long-term future. Not with Vitali Kravtsov also expected to make his Broadway debut if not right away, at some point in ’19-20. Ditto for second-year forwards Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson. Both who must take positive steps and play more prominent roles under good coach David Quinn. Brett Howden shouldn’t be forgotten either. When you factor in top scoring center Mika Zibanejad at just 26 on one of the best contracts, there’s a lot to like.
The center position is going to change moving forward. It’ll be up to the coaching staff to decide who’s the best fit to center the second line. It could range anywhere from Chytil, Howden, Kakko or versatile forward Ryan Strome if he’s retained. Boo Nieves has proven he can center the fourth line. He deserves to be on the roster. Even if it’s shifting to wing.
Perhaps the hardest thing is whether Chris Kreider will still be a New York Ranger on October 3 when they host the Winnipeg Jets. The majority would love to keep him. But with a year remaining on a bargain salary of $4.625 million, he could be gone. If that’s what they decide, there goes the proven power forward and net front presence they have. That combination of size, strength and speed would vanish.
Understand that while Kreider has never hit 30 goals or 60 points, he’s a steady veteran presence who is a team leader on and off the ice. A player of his caliber is not easily replaced. It would be a bitter pill to swallow if he’s traded. Even if you’re the biggest optimist about the team, subtracting Kreider would be a big hit.
There’s no disputing the skill that Panarin, Kakko and Kravtsov will bring. The Rangers should be more exciting next season. However, any good team that’s as young as they are still needs physical guys to do the heavy lifting. They can’t be pushed around like in past years.
Lemieux is an agitating bottom six forward who’ll bring some of those unique qualities. It didn’t take long for fans to take to him. His scrap with Miles Wood was entertaining. He still has a lot to prove if he wants to fully gain Quinn’s trust.
You can have talent on the roster. But without hard working types like Jesper Fast, who also could be in his final year as a Blueshirt, you won’t get far.
For those who expect this roster to compete, don’t forget the weak left side on the blueline. Brady Skjei still must prove he can be more consistent in a top pair role. Having the more proven Trouba to play with should help significantly. It should be much better than all the partners he went through last year.
For now, Marc Staal remains the second best option behind Skjei. For all the critics, he worked well with DeAngelo. Unlike Kevin Shattenkirk, who continued to struggle in the second season of a four-year contract that could become expendable, Staal is stronger defensively and plays with an edge. Not the best skater, he makes up for it with snarl. In two years, he’ll be off the books.
The third pair could consist of a combination of Libor Hajek or Ryan Lindgren with either Shattenkirk or Fox. If Fox proves ready, keep Shattenkirk around for insurance. You never know. That would be a hard scenario on a good guy with character, who is close to the coach.
As for the goalie situation, it’s a good one. Henrik Lundqvist doesn’t have to carry the workload anymore. At 37, the franchise netminder should be managed well by the team. He should be right around 50 starts with Alexandar Georgiev backing up. Unless Russian import Igor Shesterkin proves ready right away and Georgiev takes a step back, a goalie tandem of Lundqvist/Georgiev isn’t bad.
It’ll be up to Lundqvist to perform with more consistency. Something that’s been a challenge in recent years. A man of incredible pride, he’ll want to erase the bitter taste of last season along with a disappointing World Championships.
Whatever they decide with the roster between now and October, it’ll be interesting to follow. There will be some tough decisions coming. A favorite player or two could be gone.