31 Takes: Rangers could use buyout on the wrong bad defenseman

Kevin Shattenkirk is just one of a number of Rangers blueliners signed to poor contracts. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
Kevin Shattenkirk is just one of a number of Rangers blueliners signed to poor contracts. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

The general consensus across the NHL is that the New York Rangers had one of the better summers of any team in the league. They added Jacob Trouba for next to nothing and signed Artemi Panarin for a ton of money but nothing else besides.

Add in the fact that they likely have a few high-end rookies (Kaapo Kakko, Adam Fox, Vitali Kravstov) coming into the league, it’s hard not to see the future on Broadway as being pretty bright. However, that probably doesn’t start this year, as the team’s depth up front and especially on the blue line will likely hold them back from being much more than in the vicinity of a playoff spot at season’s end.

There’s a “but” here, though: With Pavel Buchnevich signing over the weekend to avoid arbitration, the Rangers get the benefit of a second buyout window opening from today to Wednesday. They would be wise to take advantage.

Any time you’re a rebuilding team and you’re over the salary cap, that’s a problem, and there’s a pretty clear reason why this team will need to make a move to become cap compliant. That problem on defense I mentioned? It starts with Marc Staal, Brendan Smith, and Kevin Shattenkirk making a combined $16.7 million against the salary cap. All are below replacement-level players, meaning they could be collectively replaced for about $2.5 million on the free agent market tomorrow and the Rangers would improve.

Of course, GM Jeff Gorton only has the option of buying out two of those three guys, and there’s some speculation Smith would be stashed in the AHL with Matt Beleskey due to the remarkably poor play from both. But because this is the NHL and not even the richest teams are all that willing to spend money to make cap problems go away, only one buyout seems likely.

So if Smith is in the AHL and thus keeping a big chunk of his cap hit on the roster, but not all of it, that means Gorton has to choose between either Staal or Shattenkirk to buy out. The latter has been a disaster with the Rangers, mostly because of a 2017 knee injury that all but ended his career as a viable NHLer, and that apparently makes him more likely to be bought out; GMs will want to cover their own asses in this way.

But that desire to avoid the embarrassment of a bad deal handed out also leads, apparently, to bad decisions. In much the same way Brad Treliving made a bad mistake worse last week, it seems Gorton is likely to make a similarly bad move.

A bought-out Shattenkirk would cost the Rangers less than a bought-out Staal this season (by about $1.4 million), but the ongoing cost is actually higher in the following three seasons, and in 2020-21 — when the Rangers should be powering out of their rebuild in earnest — that cost will be almost $3.6 million higher. Yup, Gorton would be paying more than $6 million two seasons from now for a Shattenkirk buyout, versus just $3.7 million for Staal.

And the thing is: Staal is worse, to boot. He obviously plays a different role, so he’s not being looked to for offense he doesn’t provide anymore like Shattenkirk, but when you’re a $5.7-million shutdown guy who can’t shut anyone down and provides no additional value in attack at 5-on-5, this isn’t a difficult problem to solve.

Again, all of Smith, Shattenkirk, and Staal are washed and easily replaced (with, say, Libor Hajek and a low-dollar UFA signing like Ben Hutton or David Schlemko). But if we’re conceding Smith as an AHLer and only buying out one of the remaining two, you gotta put aside your nostalgia and fire Staal into the sun.

His presence on the roster would make the Rangers worse the next two seasons, and Shattenkirk’s buyout would do more damage to the Rangers’ cap flexibility next summer, when Gorton will have to replace a big chunk of his roster (five pending UFA forwards, two RFA forwards, and an RFA goaltender).

Other moves are undoubtedly coming in the months ahead — a Kreider trade, possibly a Namestnikov trade as well — but there’s only one roster decision worth making in the next two days.

All indications are that the Rangers will make the one that’s wrong both now and for the future, all to save $1.5 million in cap room for a season in which the playoffs are a long shot at best.

So much for that perfect summer.

31 Takes

Anaheim Ducks: It’s rare you see this many carts before one horse.

Arizona Coyotes: I think the Coyotes should be pretty good this season, but what is “pretty good” for them? They’re in the same division as Calgary, San Jose, and Vegas, right? And Vancouver improved a lot this summer too, right? Okay then.

Boston Bruins: I do wonder what we should expect from David Krejci next season. He was very good for a big chunk of the year, but that was kind of an aberration. He’ll be 33 in 2019-20. Just something to watch for.

Buffalo Sabres: Man, what a bargain for Evan Rodrigues.

Calgary Flames: I really don’t know, man. I could see this Rittich thing going either way.

Carolina Hurricanes: It’s a “trade” for me.

ChicagoHoo boy.

Colorado Avalanche: The less said about Calgary’s goaltender development the last two decades, the better.

Columbus Blue Jackets: When your local beat writers have to put up, “It’s actually pretty nice to live here” takes, your summer isn’t going well.

Dallas Stars: It’s amazing to me that the Stars are capped out with that bottom half of the roster.

Detroit Red WingsThis feature on the Red Wings’ Finnish defenseman prospects isn’t exactly encouraging.

Edmonton Oilers: When the local media says they’re not in the tank for Oilers management, why WOULDN’T you believe them?

Florida Panthers: The Panthers had a nice summer but they’re “built to win now?” I dunno man, they’re probably the fourth-best team in their own division.

Los Angeles Kings: Goaltending development, yes, that’s a need.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild traded for a kid who’s 6-foot-7 and they think he moves well. Not sure if that’s “well for a 6-foot-7 guy” or just “well.”

Montreal Canadiens: Well yeah.

Nashville PredatorsWhat da????

New Jersey Devils: I like Subban and everything but this is insane.

New York Islanders: 1) Have you seen that D corps? 2) Seriously, look at it. 3) Not great.

New York Rangers: To me it’s cool to force your own hand and start making deals that take away all your leverage.

Ottawa Senators: Honestly, gimme the under.

Philadelphia Flyers: You know the answer to this question.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Yeah I mean they have to do something with this roster, but with the way the summer has gone, I dunno what you want them doing.

San Jose Sharks: More NHL teams should do stuff like this. Support the arts!!!!

St. Louis Blues: Ah, hm, I don’t believe so.

Tampa Bay Lightning: How everyone in handling the lack of contract for Brayden Point versus the lack of contract for Mitch Marner is, shall we say, a study in contrasts.

Toronto Maple Leafs: If the Leafs’ PK features heavy doses of Ceci, Harpur, and Gravel, they’re gonna give up a lot of power play goals.

Vancouver Canucks: This is all more or less correct, yes.

Vegas Golden Knights: I’m sorry, what?

Washington Capitals: This certainly seems suboptimal.

Winnipeg Jets: Is $17 million gonna be enough to sign Laine and Connor? I kinda think maybe not.

Gold Star Award

A highlight of every summer is half the Eastern European guys in the league going home and giving interviews to local media like, “I can’t believe what a disaster my employer was.” Wish they were that candid over here.

Minus of the Weekend

This sucks!

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “scottawa” seems confused.

[quote]Ottawa:

LW – Mikkel Boedker $4.00(retain $1.75)

C – Filip Chlapik $0.728

Edmonton:

LD – Brandon Manning $2.25

RW – Jesse Puljujarvi – RFA[/quote]

Signoff

Yes and one with extra cheese. Thank you.

Ryan Lambert is a Yahoo! Sports hockey columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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