Much less the confrontation and retrospective forum on ‘Callahan vs MSL’, as one may have thought earlier this year… the bigger debate has been not the captain-for-captain trade last spring… but rather the free-agency signing of Dan Boyle by the NY Rangers, in lieu of re-upping Anton Stralman last summer.
Both defensemen signed for $4.5 million/year salary cap hits, except the 38-year-old Boyle signed a 2-year deal (probably leaving money on the table from other offers to specifically compete for a Stanley Cup with the defending Prince-of-Whales trophy winning Rangers). Stralman, 10 years younger, signed for the same annual average, but for 5 years.
The sporadic & general consensus is that letting Stralman go for Boyle was ‘the wrong choice.’
And there’s understandable merit to that conclusion:
- The Rangers (with Boyle) are losing the Eastern Conference Finals 2-1
- The Lightning (with Stralman) are winning the ECF 2-1
- Anton Stralman has had a “better” season and post-season than Dan Boyle
So… Boyle over Stralman was the ‘incorrect’ decision for NYR GM Glen Sather last summer? Cased closed!
… not exactly…
After the long-term contract signings of Henrik Lundqvist, Derrick Brassard, Dan Girardi, & Marc Staal… coupled with the long-term pre-existing contracts of Rick Nash & Kevin Klein… the fact of the matter was the cap space down the road was beginning to get tight, and configuring future puzzle pieces assured to fit nicely was now a much trickier undertaking.
Let’s go to this chart I’ve made:
- The contracts in grey boxes are actual, non-ficticious cap hits currently on the book for the NY Rangers
- The contracts in maroon boxes are guesstimated cap hits of the player once his current, greybox contract expires
- The contracts in blue are guesstimated cap hits for replacement of that player… meaning the cap hits in blue could be any player, and is assumed to be a replacement for whomever’s roster spot is being represented
Look at the contracts expiring in 13 months (July 2016): We see a lot of contracts expiring (specifically Boyle’s $4.5 mil/yr)… and we are giving credit that Stepan, Kreider & Hayes get bigger, long-term contracts. To whit: if Stralman’s $4.5 million was occupying the 2nd RD roster slot, the 3yr/$10 million deal to Hayes (a duplicate of the contract that both Andrej Palat & Tyler Johnson received after their respective entry-level contracts) would not be available. Nor would the Zuccarello-esque contract we predict Kreider is entitled to next summer.
So… signing Boyle or Stralman… had a lot more to do than just either player’s comparative performances the following season & postseason. It had a lot to do with securing cap space for New York’s budding youth core, and making sure the Rangers weren’t handcuffed in a few dozen months.
Are the Rangers “all in”, as with their dealing of draft picks & highly-touted prospect Anthony DuClair? It’s a heck of a mortgage, but the team’s ability to probably secure most of its current maturing youth suggests the window of opportunity may not be destined to slam shut. (Granted, Henrik Lundqvist’s massive contract, and the fact he’s entering his mid-to-late 30’s in the coming seasons… do suggest a mortally immediate timeline for the team’s contendership as a whole)
Yet conversely, it seems so easy to forget the handsomely young ages of most of the franchise’s artillery: Kreider, Stepan, Fast, Hayes & Lindberg are all under 26 years of age. Brassard, Zuccarello, Hagelin, McDonagh & Staal have plenty of hockey to play before their 30th birthday. And where forfeiting 1st round draft picks usually hurts a team, New York’s big-market advantage in signing collegiate free agents (as they did with Hayes, Talbot, & Haggerty) can offset a lot of that excavation.
What’s the point I’m trying to make?
Signing Stepan to a long-term deal seems almost inevitable this summer. The same for Kreider & Hayes next summer (remember: since both signed their entry-level contracts at age 21, they cannot bet coddled in low-cap-hit bridge deals at this point in their career. Players late to sign their first NHL contract get the right to salary-arbitration immediately!)
Come July 2016, it will be time to pay up to the core. With Boyle’s fleeting 2-year deal vs Stralman’s 5-year deal, the Rangers are well-equipped financially to smoothly accommodate this important transition for the franchise. While the defensive depth of 2017 will probably be shallower than the current crop of 7 defensemen, the sustainability to keep the current herd of forwards employed atop Penn Station remains a wonderful thing for Rangers fans.
So… do you still think it was a glaring ‘mistake’ to sign Boyle over Stralman?
- I did not include Cam Talbot's contract for the 2015-16 season in the graph because of the overwhelming logic it makes to trade him this off-season.
- A more detailed and elaborate chart of NY Ranger's ACTUAL present-day salaries can be found here: