The New York Rangers entered the 2013-14 campaign with the arduous task of negotiating contracts with three key free agents before the trade deadline. It was a long and drawn-out process that saw the Blueshirts lock up their franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist, retain one of their homegrown blueliners in Dan Girardi and deal their captain Ryan Callahan to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Alternate captain Marc Staal was very informed about what was going on throughout the process, and it is something he wants to avoid next season.
According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, Staal wants his fate decided before the start of next season. He doesn’t want to deal with the rumors, something he saw first hand this season, and something his brother Jordan dealt with during his time as a Pittsburgh Penguin.
You can say all you want that it’s not on your mind and it’s not a distraction, but it’s something that has to weigh on you, No. 18 said. For me, the contract situation is definitely something I would like to take care of over the summer. That’s the goal, but that also has to be the way management looks at it, too, in order to get it done.
Staal would like to get things done over the summer, but he also understands that management has a job to do. Staal's request seems reasonable, but should management sign him to a long-term deal?
The answer to this question is yes, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the team make a dual announcement involving Staal at some point during the summer. When Chris Drury was bought out, the Rangers' captaincy was left vacant.
Staal was a finalist in 2011, and he is one of the favorites to replace Callahan as the Rangers' next captain. He is a homegrown player, he leads by example and he has paid his dues as a leader on the team for several seasons.
Who should be the Rangers' next captain?
I can almost see the headlines now: "Rangers lock up Captain Staal for next five seasons." Naming Staal captain and extending him a new contract would make perfect sense from a public relations standpoint because it would end any doubt about whether or not Staal would be back, and it would allow the team to finally head in a new direction of leadership.
Ideally, it would make sense for the Rangers to extend Staal's contract for five more years because it gives the team some protection in the event that Staal is re-injured.
The Thunder Bay, Ontario, native has stayed relatively healthy this year, but concussions and an eye injury are a dark mark on his record. For more information, here is an TSN listing on Staal's injuries.
In a situation where Staal were to get seriously injured, he could be placed on injured reserve, and the Rangers ultimately wouldn't be burned. However, the Rangers should still do their best to retain Staal at a fair and reasonable rate, because in an ideal world he will play every possible game with the team for the rest of his career.
So, what could a potential contract look like? The starting point of negotiations would be exactly what Staal’s counterpart Girardi got in compensation. Girardi just signed a six-year extension worth $33 million, and he will make $5.5 million per season.
If Staal were to sign a five-year deal, he would likely make between $5.5 million and $6 million dollars. Those numbers seem arbitrary, but here are some comparable contracts via CapGeek.
Staal just turned 27 years old, so the above contracts are in the same ballpark. If the Rangers re-sign him, they are going to have to pay a little extra for taking him off the free agent market. A defender of Staal’s caliber would get $6 million-plus easily next summer, considering he will be the top defender on the market.
The aforementioned Mike Green is also a free agent, but Staal provides more of an overall package valuable to teams looking for a defender.
What should Staal's next cap hit look like?
Staal should easily make more than Girardi and Enstrom, but there’s a chance he could sign a sweetheart deal between what Seabrook and Green makes.
The Rangers could get creative and pay him money upfront in signing bonuses but construct his contract so that the cap hit is at the very most $6 million.
At the end of the day, there isn't an NHL team that wouldn't kill to have a talented rearguard like Staal on its second pairing because that is a great luxury. If Staal had remained injury-free to date, there is a case to be made that he would be one of the NHL's top 10 defenders.
This isn't just a homer opinion, it is a testament to Staal's caliber. An example of praise for Staal includes a profile by The Hockey News' Forecaster.
The report read, “Excels in one-on-one battles. Has a very active stick and long reach, which make him very effective in the shutdown role. Skates well and is extremely cerebral. Can produce offensively."
The report ended with a description of his career potential and stated, "Excellent shutdown defenseman with some upside.” As you can see, Staal is a very valuable player.
The Rangers have received a great bargain by having Staal on a contract that pays him less than $4 million a year, but it is time to pay the pied piper. Staal knows what he wants, and the Rangers know what they have in Staal.
It will be interesting to see how negotiations go, because if a deal can’t be made, Staal could get a massive return on the trade market. Ranger fans probably wouldn’t want to see that happen, but who honestly thought Callahan would end up getting traded?
Not to add fuel to the fire of Staal potentially getting traded if a deal isn't reached, but Brooks also had this to say in his piece on Staal.
Sather must make Staal Priority 1 of the offseason. Everyone understands the pull of Carolina, where Staal’s brothers Eric and Jordan play. The Rangers must find out as quickly as possible if Marc, in his seventh year in New York, wants to become a lifer or instead has his sights on joining his siblings upon reaching free agency in 2015.
Without Staal, the Rangers' defense will take a huge hit, so there needs to be a plan to keep him, or at the very least acquire a player of similar efficiency.
Either way, general manager Glen Sather and co. have some work to do because Marc Staals don’t grow on trees. It will be interesting to see how this saga plays out because Staal could play a role in the team's future, no matter what happens.