This article is part of our Cap Compliance series.
While the current season remains on hiatus, there is no time like the present to start looking ahead to next year. Over the next several weeks, we'll take a look at the cap situation for all 31 NHL clubs, including restricted free agents, unrestricted free agents and even potential buyouts. Then, we'll play a little armchair General Manager by providing our recommendations for how we would approach the upcoming 2020-21 campaign if we were running the club.
In our most recent Twitter poll, the New York Rangers finished well in first place and will be the first team featured this week.
2020-21 Cap Situation
The Rangers currently have eight forwards, five defensemen and two goaltenders under contract for next season at a price tag of $59,613,689, though the club will by on the hook for buyouts for Dan Girardi, Ryan Spooner and Kevin Shattenkirk totaling $7,494,444. Assuming a flat cap of $81.5 million, this leaves the club with $14,391,867 in cap space and eight spots under the 23-man roster to fill.
Restricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: The easy decisions for the club in this group will be Di Giuseppe and Lemieux, who could both earn deals just above their qualifying offers for 2-3 years. Both Strome and DeAngelo are coming off career years in which they topped the 50-point mark. Fortunately, the Rangers should have enough space to afford the pair. Starting with the blue line, DeAngelo will likely be looking at a two-year bridge deal that protects the organization if 2019-20 was a fluke and allows the defenseman to cash in if he continues producing. The two-year, $10 million contract signed by Zach Werenski in Sept. of 2019 is a solid comparable. For Strome, despite the strong campaign, the uptick in pay likely won't be quite as much. In July of 2018, Boone Jenner put pen to paper on a four-year, $15 million contract, which is on par with what Strome should be expecting. The Rangers could try to keep him just under the $4 million mark with a four-year deal that carries a $3.9 million AAV. While carrying three goaltenders won't make a lot of sense, that could be the situation the Rangers find them in heading into Opening Night of the 2020-21 campaign, though it's not something I'd expect New York to do for the entire year. I would expect the club will just give Georgiev a one-year deal to kick the can down the road in terms of what to do long term between the pipes. Ultimately, the Rangers may have to consider a trade of one of their goaltenders.
Kyle Riley: Strome had the best regular season of his seven-year career in 2019-20, setting new personal bests in assists (41) and points (59) in just 70 games with the Rangers while displaying a ton of chemistry with MVP candidate Artemi Panarin. Nonetheless, I'd still be hesitant to hand him a long-term deal, but I think a two-year, $9.5 million deal would be worthwhile. Lemieux is arbitration eligible, and he'll be looking for a slight raise after appearing in 122 top-level games over the past two campaigns split between the Jets and Rangers, but it won't be much. A two-year, $2 million contract should get it done. Di Giuseppe is nothing more than an organizational depth guy at this stage in his career, so his QO should do the trick. DeAngelo broke out to the tune of 15 goals and 53 points in 68 games this campaign, but I think it'd be best, like Strome, for the Rangers to take a wait-and-see approach with the 24-year-old blueliner before handing him a long-term deal. I'd sign him to a one-year, $5 million contract to see if he can replicate his success from this season in 2020-21. Igor Shesterkin appears to be New York's goaltender of the future and Lundqvist only has one year remaining on his deal, so Georgiev will almost certainly be serving in a backup role next year, and he should be paid as such. He's arbitration eligible, which complicates things a bit, but I still think both sides would be happy with a two-year, $3.5 million contract.
Unrestricted Free Agents
AJ Scholz: The easiest decision will be Beleskey, whose salary was buried in the minors, a clear indication the club doesn't have him in their future plans. McKegg and Haley are both fringe NHL guys that could be worth a minimum deal, though keeping both would likely just stunt the development of some of the club's prospects trying to break into the league. Whichever player can come in cheaper is likely the one worth keeping, as they both offer depth security and not much else, though the organization has enough cap space to keep both if it really wants. In looking for a comparable for Fast, the three-year, $8.55 million contract signed by Matt Calvert in July of 2018 is a good marker for the negotiations. The 28-year-old Fast has topped the 30-point mark twice, which figures to see him earn a little extra AAV. Signing him to a three-year, $9 million contract should be agreeable to both sides.
Kyle Riley: Fast is an important player for the Rangers. He can play up and down in the lineup, he's one of the team's primary penalty killers, and he's also one of the club's alternate captains, which speaks to how the organization views him as a leader. In other words, he's definitely worth keeping around, and I think AJ's pretty spot on in terms of what his next contract will look like. A three-year, $9 million deal should do the trick. Haley was only brought up to the NHL when New York needed an enforcer in the lineup (he has 50 PIM in 22 games this campaign), so he won't get anything more than a cheap, two-way deal this offseason. Beleskey's been buried in the minors for most of the 2019-20 campaign, so he's as good as gone. McKegg's a solid bottom-six guy, but New York shouldn't offer him anything more than a one-year, $1 million contract.
Minor-League Free Agents *Who appeared in an NHL game in 2019-20
AJ Scholz: Nieves has played in 76 games for the Rangers so far in his career but only four of those came this past season. As such, the 2012 second-round pick will likely have to settle for his qualifying offer (one-year, $735,000). In the case of Fogarty, the 27-year-old is one of the oldest players with AHL Hartford, which makes him a valuable veteran presence, though he should expect much more than a two-way deal worth $800,000 max.
Kyle Riley: Fogarty served as AHL Hartford's captain this season, so he's definitely worth keeping around on a cheap two-way deal to continue to be a strong veteran presence for the big club's minor-league affiliate. As AJ mentioned, Nieves only appeared in four top-level games this campaign, so he won't be getting anything more than his QO.
AJ Scholz: Even with $14 million in cap space to start the discussion, the money gets eaten up quick with contracts for DeAngelo and Fast. I see two options on the table to for the Rangers in order to create the needed cap room to make the numbers work. The first is the path of least resistance, which would be to buyout the final year of Marc Staal's contract. The blueliner was a periodic healthy scratch during the past season. While he may still be a qualify shutdown defender, he's just not worth $5.7 million, especially if he is going to be watching from the press box from time to time. A buyout would save the club roughly $3.5 million. The alternative option, and one that will have to be made eventually, is to part ways with Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers goaltender of the future is ready to take over, whether that's Alexandar Georgiev or Igor Shesterkin remains to be seen but the days of King Henrik dominating the crease in the Big Apple are numbered. If team brass can figure out how to keep all three for one more season, there might be a way to leverage Lundqvist as part of the Seattle Expansion Draft.
Kyle Riley: The deals I outlined above would put the Rangers about $1.5 million over the cap heading into next season, so they'd definitely have to make a move or two in order to make it work. Although it's hard to imagine him playing anywhere else, I think a buyout of the final year on Lundqvist's deal is a foregone conclusion at this point. It would save New York $3 million against the cap in 2020-21, and would only cost the team $1.5 million in 2021-22, after which the contract would come off the books completely.