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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Exploring The Amnesty Buyout Candidate - Part One

At the halfway point of the reduced 2012-13 NHL season, New York is tied for 8th place with Winnipeg (with a game at hand) in the Eastern Conference standings. Not the point placement Rangers fans had hoped nor expected following a #1 seeding last playoff run, and additionally the Rick Nash acquisition. In fact, Nash has been smashing success thusfar. So why is the team dangling in mediocrity, and what does this tell us about the inevitable cap-free amnesty buyout Glen Sather has remaining in his pocket.

To a tee, the problem of depth (a problem only exacerbated by injury) has shown itself to be perhaps chief. The trade of Dubinsky/Anisimov/Erixon/1st Round Pick for Nash was an upgrade in offensive weaponry; but a downgrade in manpower. Roman Hamrlik's mid-season waiver claim proved to be the replacement for a 4th lefty defenseman behind McD/Staal/MDZ. Dubi/AA was replaced by Nash and no one else. Fan-favorite Brandon Prust was another departure. Pyatt, Asham, Haley & Gilroy is not a deep deck to swap with the 2012 playoff team.

Perhaps the 2014 salary cap will go up and free more contract space, but until then NY has the task of being a contending club in 2014 AND succumbing to the cap shrink, trade or buyout, NY has to trim some fat for 2014. Especially if the 2013 Rangers remain sub-elite, and fail to make moves at the deadline and/or entry draft.

So we'll be going through a few hypothetical situations. Keep in mind NY has one amnesty buyout remaining, to be used 2013 or 2014 if they so choose (which is nearly a lock).

Scenario 1: NY Rangers plan to use their amnesty buyout on Brad Richards in the summer of 2014 ~ not this summer ~ erasing the tail-end of his monster contract. Restricted Free Agents coming off of their entry-level contract are re-signed to minimal 1-year deals, specifically delaying (and overpaying down the road) the inevitable long-term deals to Ryan McDonagh & Derek Stepan.

It's worth noting, an amnesty buyout of Richards in 2014 is what we're assuming, for two reasons:

1) There doesn't appear to be any better centers than Brad Richards on the market this summer. Stephen Weiss, Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy, and Nik Antropov are quality centers, but alone with Stepan don't make for an upgrade. Summer 2014 has a better chance of top-tier

2) An amnesty buyout of Richards in 2013 rather than 2014 (the final summer to exercise it) is a less flagrant admittance of failure. Granted there was a lockout & new CBA, but Sather signing these contracts only to eat them can't help his sense of job security. Nor should it. Wade Redden lasted two seasons, I bet Richards lasts at least three.

So let's look at the team Summer 2013, keeping in mind Richards will be bought out June 2014.

Nash (7.800) --------------- Richards (6.667) ---------- Callahan (4.275)
Hagelin (1.875) ------------ Stepan (2.625) ------------- Gaborik (7.500)
Miller/Kreider (2.544) ------- [UFA C] --------------------- Pyatt (1.550)
Powe (1.067) ---------------- Boyle (1.700) ------ Haley/Asham (1.600)

McDonagh (3.000) ------------- Girardi (3.325)
Staal (3.975) ------------------ Stralman (1.700)
Del Zotto (2.550) ---- Eminger/Bickel (1.500)

Lundqvist/Biron (8.175)

Total: ~$63.4 million

This leaves approximately $900,000 of cap space to sign a desperately-needed 3rd center. That's a tough price range to snap up a utilizing big-minute center. Even if C Brian Boyle is replaced with a 4th liner whom costs $1 million less, $1.9 million is still a tight spot. And remember, in case of injury, it's usually prudent to have 25 or 26 contracts able to fit under the salary cap at once. Ultimately, is Kyle Wellwood, David Steckel, Johan Hecht or Mike Santorelli a huge upgrade from Brian Boyle in the bottom two lines' center? Probably not.

This suggests there will have to be some contract liquidation in summer 2013, EVEN if Richards' amnesty buyout is already on the way the following summer. Invariably the spotlight turns to Marian Gaborik and the final year of his $7.5 million/year contract. There isn't much else meat to cut other than his contract specifically. Despite his no-trade clause, the most logical decision is to trade him, and replace him with 1 or 2 free agents whom total less than $7.5 million.

Mind you, this would be a critical course of events. The salary cap leaguewide is shrinking 10% with 50+ amnesty buyouts in the NHL owners' pockets. Coupled with the sweet circumstance of the CBA lasting through a maximum contract signing or re-signing, Summer 2013 looks to be an offseason to get the popcorn out.

Would UFAs Stephen Weiss (C) and Michael Ryder (W) total more or less than $7.5 million? The trick would be replacing Gaborik with two free agents for similar pay and similar work results. As any Rangers fan knows, offseason signings often result in overpayment & under-return. 

So let's assume Gaborik is traded to a team for picks/prospects, and replaced with Weiss & Ryder.

Nash (7.800) -------------- Richards (6.667) ----------- Callahan (4.275)
Hagelin (1.875) ---------- {Weiss (4.500)} ------------ {Ryder  (3.850)}
Kreider/Miller (2.544) --- Stepan (2.600) ---------------- Pyatt (1.550)
Powe (1.067) --------------- Boyle (1.700) ------- Haley/Asham (1.600)

McDonagh (3.000) ---------------- Girardi (3.325)
Staal (3.975) --------------------- Stralman (1.700)
Del Zotto (2.550) ------- Eminger/Bickel (1.500)

Lundqvist/Biron (8.175)

Total: $64.25 million for 14 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goalies.

No cap room left for a 24th player, which is steep considering it'll be 82 games and only 3 lefty defensemen. Theoretically Boyle's contract could be liquidated into that of 3 minimum-wage contracts. If Gaborik and/or Boyle were traded, Sather would be wise to find some cheap AHL call-ups, specifically a lefty defenseman and forward, in the basket of return.

Nash (7.800) --------------- Richards (6.667) ------------ Callahan (4.275)
Hagelin (1.875) ----------- {Weiss (4.500)} -------------- {Ryder  (3.850)}
Kreider/Miller (2.544) --- Stepan (2.600) -------------------- Pyatt (1.550)
Powe (1.067) ------------- {4th C (0.575)} --------- Haley/Asham (1.600)
                            {Extra center/forward (0.575)}

McDonagh (3.000) ------------------- Girardi (3.325)
Staal (3.975) ------------------------ Stralman (1.700)
Del Zotto (2.550) ---------- Eminger/Bickel (1.500)
{4th LD (0.575)}

Lundqvist/Biron (8.175)

Total: $64.25 million for 15 forwards, 8 defensemen, and 2 goalies.

We've traded Boyle/Gaborik for picks/prospects, and re-diverted the salary into more people, hopefully able of doing the same, if not better, workload. We have depth, but still a lot of brick walls if more a few injuries occur at once, if nothing else but for salary cap reasons.

We've kept the defense the same, because frankly we don't have room to experiment further. NY's defense is NHL top-tier in terms of bang-for-buck. Not a single player paid over $4 million, and a quality top-3 in McDonagh/Staal/Girardi, it's hard to trim fat from the defense at all. Same with goaltending.

Is this team an improvement? I would argue yes. I would argue Boyle + Gaborik ($9.2 million) could be rehashed into three or four bodies spent on the market / included in the trades. Again, Gaborik's no-trade-clause is no help, but it appears to be a legitimate path of pursuit, even without the amnesty buyout.

How would summer 2014 look if this reconstruction took place? Executing the amnesty buyout on Richards, his $6.667 million in freed cap space would be countered by payraises to McDonagh (+$1.5 million?), Stepan (+$1 million?), Kreider? (+0.5 million?), Callahan (+0.25 million), freeing up roughly $3.4 million for a replacement center. Remember, 2014 there are a lot of unrestricted contracts expiring, including Lundqvist, Girardi, Stralman, Pyatt, Biron, Powe, Asham and (phew) Bickel. A lot of decisions to make, and heaven forbid the cap shrinks from $64.3 million for 2014-15. 

Notable UFAs Scheduled for July 1st, 2013

RW --- Alex Semin (29) ------------------- (CAR)
RW --- Corey Perry (27) ------------------ (ANH)
RW --- Nathan Horton (27) --------------- (BOS)
  W ---- Michael Ryder (32) -------------- (MTL)
  C ---- Stephen Weiss (29) --------------- (FLA)
RW --- Jarome Iginla (35) ---------------- (CGY)
  C ---- Mike Ribeiro (33) ---------------- (WSH)
C/W -- Nik Antropov (33) ---------------- (WPG)
C/W -- Danius Zuburus -------------------- (NJD)
  C ---- Derek Roy (29) ------------------- (DAL)
  W ---- David Clarkson (28) ------------- (NJD)
  C ---- Tim Connolly (31) ---------------- (TOR)
  LW -- Valtteri Flippula (28) ------------- (DET)
  C ---- Saku Koivu (38) ------------------ (ANH)
  C ---- Andy McDonald (35) ------------- (STL)
C/W -- Vinny Prospal (38) ---------------- (CBJ)
  C ---- Matthew Lombardi (30) ---------- (PHX)
 LW --- Clarke MacArthur (27) ---------- (TOR)
 LW --- Dustin Penner (30) --------------- (LAK)
 LW --- Mason Raymond (27) ----------- (VAN)
 LW --- Danny Cleary (34) --------------- (DET)
  W ---- Alex Ponikarovsky (32) --------- (NJD)
RW --- Marc-Pierre Bouchard (28) ------ (MIN)
  W ---- Ryan Clowe (30) ----------------- (SJS)
   C ---- Matt Cullen (36) ------------------ (MIN)
   C ---- Michal Handzus ------------------ (SJS)
LW ---- Steve Sullivan (38) -------------- (PHX)
RW --- Jaromir Jagr (41) ----------------- (DAL)
  W ---- Simon Gagne (33) --------------- (PHI)

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