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Sunday, June 21, 2015

NYR Off-Season Hypothetical: A, B, or C ?


Which 2015-16 NY Rangers "team" would you prefer? Team A, Team B, or Team C?

    Below there exists three parallel universes. All three begin as the New York Rangers of the present-day: less than a week away from the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, still basking in the aftertaste of May's Game 7 loss versus the Lightning... And yet, all three will simulate different possible off-season moves the Rangers could pursue this summer, each varying in choice, priority and motivation. 

   What do you think?

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Total Salary Cap
$71,475,000

1) Trade Cam Talbot, Kevin Klein & the #59 overall pick to the Edmonton Oilers for the #16 overall pick. 
   This trade is largely about reducing the Rangers salary cap total, and is quite logical considering Edmonton's current needs. The Oilers are seeking goaltending depth, and a right-handed defenseman like Klein, coming off a career year, is contracted for three more seasons at a modest $2.9 million per cap hit. The Rangers draft a youngster with the #16 overall pick, making a long-term investment amongst a franchise with a reputation (and recent trend) of doing the opposite.

2) Sign Derek Stepan to a 1-year, $6 million/year contract. 
   Stepan will once again become a restricted free agent with a salary arbitration option next July, though there's a good chance his price at a long-term contract will be pricier than that of signing one this summer. We predict at arbitration he'd make roughly $6 million for a 1-year performance. The Rangers and Stepan could sign this deal amicably, or it could be a matter of arbitration.

3) Sign Brad Richards to a 1-year, $1.5 million/year contract. While the base-pay cap hit would only be $1.5 million, the Rangers would load the contract with anywhere from $2 to $4 million in additional performance bonuses. 
   As we've mentioned before on this blog, teams pressed for cap space are likely to seek refuge in performance bonuses. This is a prime example. While wanting to import a 3rd-line-center to let Kevin Hayes develop as a winger, bringing in a reliable pivot (such as Richards) usually proves to be pricy. This signing would allow the Rangers to improve center depth while maintaining a lean bang-for-buck in doing so. 

4) Sign Carl Hagelin to a 1-year, $2.85 million/year contract. 
   Much like the Stepan deal, Hagelin is re-signed to a 1-year deal, kicking the can down the road as far as the pending decision / window to extend his services long-term. Hagelin will return as a restricted free agent with arbitration rights next July. This deal would be $450,000 richer than Hagelin's 1-year minimum qualifying offer. Again, we've predicted Hagelin's value at approximately 1-year $2.85M on this blog before.

5) Sign J.T. Miller to a 2-year, $1.25 million/year contract. 
6) Sign Jesper Fast to a 2-year, $950,000/year contract.
7) Sign Oscar Lindberg to a 1-year, $725,000/year contract.

   These three are all restricted free agents, without the recourse of salary arbitration, whom have practically no leverage against lowball offers from the Rangers. Miller, with a minimum qualifying offer of 1-year/$770,000... receives a two-year "bridge" deal. Fast, with a minimum qualifying offer of $851,000... also receives a two-year bridge deal. Lindberg, whom only has 1 NHL game played in his career, is coming off an impressive AHL season & postseason, has all the makings to crack the big roster in October.

8) Sign Matt Hunwick to a 1-year, $875,000/year contract.
   As Larry Brooks has reported, the Rangers have expressed interest in recouping Hunniwck's services as the team's fringe defenseman. If Klein is to be exiled, evaluating a Hunwick contract such as this also depends on one Brady Skjei. If Skjei is deemed "highly unlikely" of being NHL-ready next season, perhaps the roster spots of Hunwick + Skjei could be more properly allocated into a more bonafide and steady 3rd pair defensemen (cheaply available, unrestricted free agents such as Barret Jackman or Anton Volchenkov, perhaps?) In essence, Team A believes the role of 6th & 7th D on the team can be handled adequately by Hunwick & Skjei.

9) Sign an Unrestricted Free Agent goaltender, such as Thomas Greiss, to a 1-year, $650,000 contract.
   With Talbot's departure, a backup goalie is needed to replace his spot as team's second-stringer. Broadway's AHL goaltenders under contract: Cedrick Desjardins & Mac Skapski, are both highly unlikely to be viable candidates for promotion to NHL backup. Skapski will miss the beginning of next season recovering from hip surgery, while Desjardins missed the majority of last season with a torn ACL. Most will fully expect the Rangers to sign a cheap backup goaltender on the market if-and-when Talbot is traded away.

10) Sign an Unrestricted Free Agent forward, such as Dan Carcillo, to a 1-year, $600,000 contract.
   To round out the team, sign a "taxi squad" spare forward as your 23rd roster spot. We use Carcillo in this example, but it could easily be countless other journeyman forwards bumping around the bottom of the league. 


   Team A represents a mostly quiet off-season, where the team is content with its inherent strengths, and does not feel the need to pursue massively-orchestrated trades nor albatross-sized free agents on the open market. No, Team A's mentality is "strength through growth, growth through maturity." With a respectable run to the very end of the Conference Finals, in this off-season we feel maintaining most of last year's team is the best course of action. If this blogger could coin a phrase, it'd be "an exciting postseason makes for a boring off-season."

   Hardly removed from what is likely to happen in reality; Team A's offseason will pack the NY Rangers to the brim of the salary cap (predicted at $71.5 million), max out the bonus cushion on of Hayes & Richards, and offer Rangers fans all the reason in the world for another successful NYR season & (hopefully) deep playoff run. 

   Here's what the NY Rangers' long-term contract atmosphere would be after Team A's off-season moves:


   This would give Broadway plenty of maneuverability for next off-season. We would predict roughly $25 million in cap space next summer with a dozen contracts expiring. It would give the Rangers' front office a lot of choices to make in the Summer of 2016, but also a lot of room and time to do so. Plus, they got one more shot at a Stanley Cup before making some tough choices in a "break-up-the-band" kind of way. 

   However during the season, it could be tough times if there was a rash of injuries, as this roster stands a mere $25,000 under the ceiling. Negotiations on contract extensions with Kreider & Hayes' could begin this summer, but negotiations with Stepan, Hagelin, or Lindberg couldn't begin until January 1st, 2016.

   Team A's summer would be swapping Martin St. Louis, Kevin Klein, James Sheppard & Cam Talbot for Brad Richards, Brady Skjei, Dan Carcillo & Thomas Greiss. 

   
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Total Salary Cap
$70,400,000

1) Trade Cam Talbot to the Buffalo Sabres for the #31 overall pick. 
   Liquidate Talbot into draft pick(s) and/or prospect(s). We've previously written about 10 possible draft pick trades involving Talbot, so we'll go with this example for the sake of simplicity. 

2) Trade Derek Stepan to the Colorado Avalanche for Ryan O'Reilly. However, Colorado retains 50% of O'Reilly's contract. 
   We've seen comparisons here and there regarding Stepan's similarity to O'Reilly. When weighing the numbers, we've come to the conclusion that Stepan would likely make a small amount more than O'Reilly, all else equal. Stepan is two seasons from unrestricted free agency, while O'Reilly is only one. Thus, a straight-up swap of the two players with Colorado footing the bill for half of O'Reilly's seems like a fair idea for both sides. 

   This idea especially makes sense if the following is true:

A) The Avalanche are more interested in Stepan than O'Reilly in terms of a long-term asset
B) The Rangers are more interested in O'Reilly than Stepan in terms of winning a Cup in 2016

   Remember, both of these players have had contract holdouts with their respective teams. Swapping them could be a mutually beneficial idea to ponder. But mostly, this is a salary cap move. Stepan would go for at least $6 million, but has now been replaced with a very similar player making costing half as much. That frees up $3 million in cap room for basically no loss of quality, avoiding the ejection of trading away Klein or Hagelin.

3) Sign Carl Hagelin to a 2-year, $3.00 million/year contract. 
   Hagelin is only two years away from Unrestricted Free Agency, so a two-year bridge contract for about $3 million/year seems accurate. His 3rd line services are retained.

5) Sign J.T. Miller to a 2-year, $1.25 million/year contract. 
6) Sign Jesper Fast to a 2-year, $975,000/year contract.
7) Sign Oscar Lindberg to a 2-year, $875,000/year contract.
8) Sign Matt Hunwick to a 1-year, $875,000/year contract.
9) Sign an Unrestricted Free Agent goaltender, such as Jonas Gustavsson, to a 2-year, $900,000/year contract.
10) Sign an Unrestricted Free Agent forward, such as James Sheppard, to a 1-year, $800,000 contract.
11. Sign an Unrestricted Free Agent forward, such as Dan Carcillo, to a 1-year, $625,000 contract.


   Team B uses the art of retained salary to get below the 2015-16 salary cap without sacrificing hardly any quality. Losing Stepan and the certainty of a franchise 1st center for the future is not the greatest long-term change... but O'Reilly for $3 million spells a wonderful thing for the shortsighted goal of winning the 2016 Stanley Cup. Yes... O'Reilly, may very well be a 1-year rental. Yet defensively (especially if Skjei is NHL-calibre) it looks as though Team B has fortified defensive depth. This was a summer objective that this blog cited as a sought area of improvement in our Rangers off-season preview article.



   Additionally, this roster has a theoretical $1.1 million in cap space. This means the team has more flexibility in the face of injuries (as far as cap space for minor-league call-ups), and could have a few million in cap space come February to be a deadline shopper. The moves would also suggest that Team B not only has faith in Hayes to remain at 3rd center, but possibly grooming him for bigger minutes down the middle, when 2016-17 comes and perhaps neither Stepan nor O'Reilly are on the team.

   Team B's summer would essentially be NYR swapping Martin St. Louis, Derek Stepan, & Cam Talbot for Ryan O'Reilly, Oscar Lindberg & Jonas Gustavsson.

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Total Salary Cap
$71,461,667

1) Trade Cam Talbot, Carl Hagelin, Tanner Glass, the #59 overall pick, and a future 1st Round Pick (in '16 or '17) & the rights to Brandon Halverson to the Edmonton Oilers for Jordan Eberle. 

   Here we forgo the rumors of Ryan Nugent-Hpokins and Nail Yakupov, as Team C goes after the big fish in that of Eberle, a wonderful young scorer who’s been tethered to the Oilers the entire five years of his career. We assert the Oilers acquire Talbot, which has been the chatter on the grape vine for countless weeks, in predication that he will be the team’s next great cornerstone goalie. 

   Of course Talbot only has one year remaining on his contract, thus one year removed from being an Unrestricted Free Agent. This tarnishes his trade value for New York. To land a fish like Eberle, Broadway sweetens the pot, even with Talbot as a given.

   So the Rangers include Carl Hagelin & Tanner Glass (both are two years removed from UFA).

   Hagelin replaces Eberle as a winger roster spot, although definitely a massive downgrade for Edmonton. Glass is largely a throw-in pick. A little advantage to Glass’s remaining contract is he’s actually paid LESS than his cap hit. Small-market teams (like Edmonton) enjoy players with less salary than salary cap, as it helps a franchise make it to the salary cap floor without having to actually pay the amount.

   However Talbot, Hagelin & Glass bundled together still aren’t close enough to getting Eberle, who has four years remaining in his contract at a $6 million/year cap hit. That means Eberle could have anywhere from 90 to 150 goals scored in that remainder! Also Eberle, who recently turned 25 years of age, is in his absolute prime in terms of production. Hagelin (27) & Glass (31) are both beginning their [probable] downslopes.

   So…

   If the Rangers weren’t “all-in” last season, they certainly will be this season. Because to make this trade work, the Rangers would have to top off at least two high-quality draft picks in the deal. Here we assert its at least a 1st Round pick in 2016 or 2017 (whichever one the Arizona Coyotes don’t acquire based on whether or not the Rangers make the playoffs next season, pertinent to the Duclair/Yandle trade). And, on top of that, the #59 overall pick in next week's draft.

It’s an extreme price to pay, but if we look at Rangers trades and the “going rate” of acquiring a young, established winger like Eberle? Who has four years left on a reasonably-paid contract?

Some recent examples include...

RYAN CLOWE (UFA in 0.5 seasons)
in exchange for
2nd Round 2013 Draft Pick
3rd Round 2013 Draft Pick
5th Round 2014 Draft Pick

and

MARTIN ST. LOUIS (UFA in 1.5 seasons)
2nd Round 2015 Draft Pick
for
RYAN CALLAHAN (UFA in 0.5 seasons)
1st Round 2015 Draft Pick
2nd Round 2014 Draft Pick
7th Round 2015 Draft Pick

   Eberle would undoubtedly be a bigger catch than either of these two. Thus, even coupled with the assets of Talbot, Hagelin & Glass… would be the likely package to insinuate for this type of deal. 

   Throw in Rangers’ goaltending prospect Brandon Halverson to mitigate that condition. Halverson, 19, is still a long way off from potential pro-time in net. Yet he would serve as an “insurance” policy of sorts of the Oilers should Talbot sign elsewhere in the Summer of 2016, or flat-out be unsuccessful entertaining a full-time starting gig in general.

   The Rangers would still have goalie prospect Igor Shesterkin, 19, currently in Russia, in the pipeline, in addition to Mac Skapski, 21, coming off his freshman season in the AHL.

   The Oilers acquiring Cam Talbot (certainly guaranteed to play in 2015-16, with potential for long-term contract) as well as Halverson, would serve as a huge upgrade in the franchise’s goaltending depth. That, Hagelin & Glass… plus a 1st & 2nd Rounder… might be enough to sway Edmonton into trading Eberle.

2) Trade Rick Nash to the St. Louis Blues for T.J. Oshie & Jordan Binnington. The Blues retain $1 million/year of Oshie's salary.
   In this scenario, Nash is considered to be the superior asset, as Oshie is a presumed ‘downgrade” from New York's standpoint. Ultimately Nash (with three years remaining on a $7.8 million/year cap hit) is an upgrade for Oshie (who has two years remaining on a $4.175 million/year cap hit). The Blues’ “cost of upgrade?” Goaltending prospect Jordan Bennington & paying the tab for roughly one-fourth of Oshie's remaining money.

   But Nash is two years older than Oshie, and is nearly 190% the price! 

   True, but Nash being contracted an extra year, even tip-toeing around his 35th birthday, inevitably guarantees more goals than Oshie. Even if Nash has a terrible stint in St. Louis, he’s extremely likely to notch 90 goals over the 246 potential regular-season games before his contract expires. 

   As for Oshie?

   Oshie’s only broken the 20-goal barrier once in his career! (21 goals in 2013-14). 


    
   Even if Nash’s cost, as well as risk-of-decline, is greater than this of Oshies; swapping Nash for a partially-retained Oshie saves the Rangers nearly $5 million in cap space. Plus the addition of Binnington, a prospect coming off a terrific season in the American Hockey League, is on the final year of his entry-level contract at a minuscule $636,337 cap hit. 

   The Blues’ will certainly re-sign Jake Allen, and have Brian Elliot locked up at a very reasonable $2.5 million/year cap hit for the next two seasons. Binnington’s chances at breaking into the majors are slim in St. Louis… however Broadway will be seeking a cheap backup goalie after Talbot’s inevitable ejection.

   Would St. Louis be willing to beef their payroll so suddenly? They’re not exactly an NHL team known to spend much comparative to the league... that, plus the very likely multi-year contract for forward phenom Vladimir Tarasenko... would suggest St. Louis willing to spend a lot of money this winter.

   The Blues find themselves somewhere along the lines of where the NY Rangers did in Lundqvist’s first 5 or 6 years in New York; they seem to have no problem making the postseason, but simply cannot muster the roster to make a deep playoff run. Of all teams in the league this summer, the Blues may very well be amongst the feistiest to make a splash in terms of significant upgrades immediately.

   Doesn’t Rick Nash have a No-Trade Clause?

   He does; but on July 1st, it will become a limited no-trade clause, in which Nash will submit a list of 5-15 teams he will not accept a trade to. While destinations (and frankly some foolhardy Nash trade rumors) like Arizona, Buffalo, Edmonton or Florida would probably be the first cities penciled-in on Nash’s list… The Blues, a competitive team, could quite possibly be a team fair game for the Rangers to deal Nash. 

   If this is the case, the Rangers could just ask Nash if he’d accept the trade in June, if their prerogative is to move hime somewhere somehow anyways. This idea isn’t exactly “probable”, but all things considered it isn’t impossible. In fact a deal along these lines would make a lot of sense for both teams.

   While I personally don't think Nash is going anywhere this summer... of all places to be traded, St. Louis certainly seems like one of (if not the most) plausible destination.
   
3) Sign Derek Stepan to a 5-year, $6.75 million/year contract.
   With Nash's hefty $7.8 million/year salary cap swapped for Oshie's [partially retained] $3.175 million/year cap hit... It frees up room do what Team A & Team B couldn't; lock up Stepan to a long-term deal before his price escalates any further the next 24 months. This would keep Stepan on Broadway through the remainder of his 20's.

4) Sign J.T. Miller to a 2-year, $1,200,000/year contract.
5) Sign Jesper Fast to a 2-year, $975,000/year contract.
6) Sign Oscar Lindberg to a 1-year, $750,000/year contract.
7) Sign Matt Hunwick to a 1-year, $875,000/year contract.
8) Sign an Unrestricted Free Agent forward, such as David Moss, to a 1-year, $875,000 contract.
9) Sign an Unrestricted Free Agent forward, such as James Sheppard, to a 1-year, $800,000 contract.
10) Sign an Unrestricted Free Agent forward, such as Dan Carcillo, to a 1-year, $625,000 contract.


   Team C makes a cannonball's splash in the off-season trade market, making a couple of big-named exchanges in hopes of designing a roster capable of a championship in June 2016. While the theoretical exchange of Nash, Hagelin & Talbot for Oshie [$1M retained], Eberle & Binnington is a net salary savings for New York next season... it ultimately gives them less to work with in the long-term mindset of re-signing Kreider or Hayes. Coupled with the massive pick & prospect loss to acquire Eberle, New York will really be counting on talented-but-cheap contracts to emerge in the next few seasons. If Skjei can be counted on to be a regular roster spot by the 2016-17 season, New York will count on his net savings as replacement for one of Yandle or Boyle after their contracts expire.

   Unlike Team B and precisely like Team A... Team C has packed this roster to the brim, totaling over $71.46 million in 23 contracts. Don't expect this team to have the cap space to be shoppers at the 2016 deadline. And why would they? These contracts and actions indicate serious committal to the landscape of the roster for many years, and a struggle or rejection of Rangers success would be as problematic as it would be catastrophic.



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So which team do you prefer? A, B, or C? 

Let us know! Tweet us at @HockeyStatMiner

Post-Script:
   I did not include a buyout nor trade of defenseman Dan Boyle. While his cap may be very heavy for his production, thus tempting to be moved... Boyle's no-trade-clause and 35-years-or-older immunity to being buried in the minors for cap relief make it very difficult to excavate from Broadway's books. Like it or not, it's all but certain Boyle will invariably remain a Ranger for next season. Otherwise he'd be a debatable asset of which to hypothesize trades.

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