At least two of the three Rangers eligible for salary arbitration has elected to file before today's 5pm Eastern deadline. Pavel Buchnevich has reportedly made the request, a common practice by players, to increase the velocity of negotiations of contracts.
Defenseman Jacob Trouba also filed before the deadline, whoile forward Vinni Lettieri could also elect to file, though it might not help his quest to earn a regular spot in the NHL with the Rangers.
While few contracts actually go to hearings - the last one involving the Rangers saw the team walk away from a $3.9M commitment to Nikolai Zherdev - it does provide some benefits for both the player, and in this case the club.
With Buchnevich's filing, the team will be granted a second contract biuy-out window, allowing the team to again consider getting out from one of their burdensome contracts. Normally teams must make a decision during the annual June 15-30 period, but when a player - or club - elects arbitration, they are given another chance to rid themselves of a contract.
Under normal circumstances, it wouldn't matter too much. The Rangers have not really been in a situation like this in the off-season, where they might consider a second chance. Guys like Bobby Holik, Brad Richards and more recently Dan Girardi were all brought out at the earliest opportunity, but with the acquisitions of Trouba and Panarin, the team now finds itself being forced to address some of their past contract mistakes.
Already carrying also $4M of dead cap space courtesy of the Dan Girardi buy-out last year, and an additional $300K in retained salary from Ryan Spooner - recently bought out of his final year by the Vancouver Canucks - the Rangers face the prospect of adding an even bigger number this time round.
Girardi's buyout carries on for anohter three seasons at a more manageable $1.11M, while Spooner has just one more year next season at $300K, numnbers that would basically preclude the team signing an additional 4th liner or depth defenseman.
Still, the numbers do have an effect. If Trouba gets as much as $7.8M then the Rangers would only have around $2-3m or so cap space in order to sign the foursome of Brendan Lemieux, Tony DeAngelo, Pavel Buchnevich and Vinni Lettieri. In the case of Lettieri, he could ultimately be reassigned to the AHL and not carry a cap number, but the other three are all likely to feature in the Rangers' plans.
Part of the problem is that the Rangers are carrying a few bad contracts in addition to the dead cap space, including those for Kevin Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith and to a lesser extent Marc Staal. They'll also carry around $900K of cap hit from Matt Beleskey even after he's reassigned.
In the case of Shattenkirk, he's owed $6.65M for each of the next two years, but is likely to function as a third pair d-man with PP responsibilities. It's not inconceivable that he has a rebound year this season with the additions the team has made, but the ability to afford his contract are another thing.
Buying out the self-proclaimed childhood fan of the Rangers, would free up around $5.5M of cap space this year, more than enough to solve the gap they have, but basically would save only $500K next season, balllooning out to $6M in addiitonal dead cap space. An additional two years at $1.4M are more manageable, though not ideal.
Brendan Smith carries a smaller contract at $4.35M each season, but is a borderline NHLer at this point and is unlikely to make the starting roster. Assigning him to the AHL will save $1.375M of cap room - NHL minimum salary plus $375K - which helps a little, but probably not enough. Buying out the remaining two years would save just under $3.4M this year and about $1.2M next, but would also carry $1.4M of dead cap space in each of the following two years.
Finally, Marc Staal also has 2 more years at $5.7M per season, with a potential $2.8M in savings this year, and $2M next, and $1.2M carried for each of the remaining two years a buyout would cover. In addition Staal is expected to be one of the players that plays a number of minutes in the coming season, even if he's nowhere near his peak any more.
As you can see, the second year of each of these buyouts creates a bigger impact, important to remember when you have to consider that the following player contracts all expire at the end of next year - Kreider (UFA), Namestnikov (UFA), Ryan Strome (RFA), Jesper Fast (UFA), Brett Howden (RFA), Libor Hajek (RFA), Alexandar Georgiev (RFA) and Cristoval Nieves (RFA).
Another alternative would be to make a trade or two. Moving Chris Kreider would likely come close to addressing the gap, and would reduce some of the impact next year of resigning him, but tradining one of your highest scoring forwards is also going to hurt. Likewise they could move Buchnevich and avoid his projected impact, perhaps a little more palatable with the influx of Vitali Kravtsov and perhaps Kaapo Kakko too, but almost certainly you'll have a drop off in offense.
Another contract that could have some impact is that of Vladislav Namestnikov, who with just $4M remaining on a single year before becoming a UFA might provide an option to a team with plenty of cap room.
Ideally they'd be able to move one of Shattenkirk, Smith or Staal, though reported efforts to do so, have met with little traction, especially given each have another two years of cost exceeding their performance.
Which leaves us back where we started. The Rangers have made some bold changes over the off-season, but are now faced with the cost of those moves under a salary cap system.
Something's going to have to happen, and it's likely going to hurt the team one way or another. Either they commit to even more dead cap space, just as they're making a push to be playoff relevant again, or they lose some of the depth they;ll need to survive a long season an hopefully a playoff appearance.