How Much Will It Cost New York Rangers to Re-Sign Remaining Free Agents?
The New York Rangers have not been the most active team of free agency, but business will be picking up shortly. Larry Brooks of the New York Post was the first to report that Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello filed for salary arbitration on July 5.
It is nothing that was unexpected, but now there will be more of an incentive to get a deal hammered out before an arbitration process that usually gets ugly.
The Rangers are cramped for space, and it would be catastrophic if a player were awarded a high value on a one-year deal that would eventually lead to an early walk to unrestricted free agency.
Brooks did mention that the Rangers and each remaining restricted free agent are still working towards signing a long-term deal, but how much will it cost the Broadway Blueshirts?
Odds are a deal will come before arbitration, because as Brooks noted, Nikolay Zherdev was the last Ranger to make it to an arbitration case, and that was in 2009.
Since the dawn of the salary cap era, fans have turned into armchair general managers and salary cap prognosticators with the help of Matthew Wuest's CapGeek.
Each player has a value, and based on the information available, here's a rough look at how much it will cost to retain each of the Blueshirts' RFAs.
Last Contract: Three years, $3.075 million, $840K cap hit (Entry-Level Contract)
Career Stats: 173 Games Played, 7 Goals | 22 Assists | 29 Points
2013-14 Season: 74 Games Played, 4 Goals | 11 Assists | 15 Points
John Moore is coming off an entry-level contract that slid two years with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and he will likely receive a bridge contract.
Moore's resume isn't that impressive with only 29 points in 173 career games, and he has been a third-pairing defender during his time with the Rangers.
He has amazing speed, a booming shot and offensive instincts, but he needs to show some consistency before getting a real contract.
With that in mind, how much should it take to keep Moore a member of the Rangers next season?
Projected Deal: Two years, $2.2 million, $1.1 million cap hit
Moore's last deal counted $840k against the cap, so an increase of $260k would be more than fair for the next two seasons. It would give him time to prove his worth and the Rangers time to see if they should continue with this investment.
Last Contract: Three years, $3.975 million, $800K cap hit (Entry Level Contract)
Career Stats: 89 Games Played, 19 Goals | 21 Assists | 40 Points
2013-14 Season: 66 Games Played, 17 Goals | 20 Assists | 37 Points
Chris Kreider is one of the easiest restricted free agents for the Rangers to deal with because of his age and low sample size of production.
Kreider is the Rangers' most talented young goal scorer, and he was on pace to score 20 goals as a rookie before an injury shortened his season.
He is an impressive physical specimen with great size at 6'3" and 226 pounds, and he is hands down one of the fastest skaters in the NHL.
Kreider could become a 25 to 30-goal scorer for the Rangers, but he needs to prove that before he can cash in on a huge payoff.
To protect their asset and remain financially savvy, it would make sense for the Rangers to keep Kreider for a few more years on his next deal, while still preserving his restricted free agency status in the process.
Projected Deal: Three years, $7 million, $2.33 million cap hit
A three-year deal worth $2.33 million per season would be a fair deal for Kreider, and it would be a contract that gives him the availability to prove his worth. He doesn't have the resume yet to command a higher salary, but this deal would pay him for what he's already done and set him up for a larger paycheck in the future.
Larry Brooks has Kreider coming in at between $2.25 and $2.5 million, and this contract would fit in between that window. This would also give the Rangers the chance to sign him to a longer deal at age 26, and at that point they would have a better handle on the salary cap.
Last Contract: Four years, $12.8 million, $3.2 million cap hit
Career Stats: 403 Games Played, 81 Goals | 144 Assists | 225 Points
2013-14 Season: 81 Games Played, 18 Goals | 27 Assists | 45 Points
Derick Brassard is coming off a four-year deal signed when he was a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and he's due for a raise, as last year was the second-best season of his career.
Brassard finished with a career high in goals scored (18), tied for the second-most assists he's recorded in a single season (27) and finished with his second-highest points total (45) in the regular season.
He is slated to be a second-line center this season, and he's clearly due for a raise from his current salary of $3.2 million.
Brassard will turn 27 this September, and any long-term deal would involve the buying of UFA years. Most players don't have a renaissance in the later stages of their career, but Brassard's growth under head coach Alain Vigneault is at the very least encouraging.
He is one of the team's most talented offensive players, and it is quite possible that he evolves even further next year playing in an offensive system with his top linemate Mats Zuccarello. With all of that considered, how much could it take to retain Brassard?
Projected Deal: Three years, $14 million, $4.66 million cap hit
The Rangers are in a weak position here because they lack center depth. They can't afford to sign Brassard to a one-year deal, because they run the risk of losing him at a much higher ticket next summer.
A three-year deal would take Brassard to age 30, and at that point the Rangers would have a better sense of where he fits in with the organization. A raise from $3.2 million to $4.66 million is a fair raise based on Brassard's history, and it would be between the range suggested by Larry Brooks.
Last Contract: One year, $1.15 million
Career Stats: 144 Games Played, 30 Goals | 63 Assists | 93 Points
2013-14 Season: 77 Games Played, 19 Goals | 40 Assists | 59 Points
Mats Zuccarello is the most interesting restricted free agent for the Rangers.
He is currently 26 years old and one year away from unrestricted free agency. He had an amazing season under Alain Vigneault, and he showed that he could be a consistent player for an entire season, something he was unable to do in past appearances with the club.
In previous stints, Zuccarello had recorded 23 points in 42 games, three points in 10 games and eight points in 15 games. This past year was his first full season as an NHL player, and he led the team in scoring with 59 points in 77 games.
Zuccarello got better as the season went on—partially because of chemistry with Derick Brassard and departed forward Benoit Pouliot—and he always played bigger than his size. The skilled right-winger is aptly nicknamed "Hobbit" because of his diminutive frame of 5'7" and 161 pounds, but that doesn't stop him from playing a physical game along the boards or standing up for a teammate.
The fine line the Rangers need to walk with Zuccarello is not with dollars, but with term. Zuccarello is coming off a career year, but will he be able to replicate his performance without Pouliot on his line this year?
This is something the Rangers could consider when trying to justify offering a Zuccarello a lower contract. Based on Zuccarello's ability to set up linemates, his skating ability and his vision, it could be argued that Pouliot benefited more from Zuccarello than vice versa.
Ultimately the Rangers don't want to Ville Leino the situation by giving Zuccarello a huge raise based off one season. They also don't want to sign him to a one-year deal, have him take another step forward and then get burned when trying to re-sign him before he hits traditional free agency.
With that considered, what should the Rangers do?
Projected Deal: Four years, $17 million, $4.25 million cap hit
Any multiyear contract for Zuccarello would involve the purchase of UFA years.
In short, the Rangers would be paying an increased price for the years in which he could have tested the open market. On the open market, there would be teams willing to pay Zuccarello $5 million or more.
Just look at what the Florida Panthers paid for third-line center Dave Bolland if you don't believe me. Zuccarello is young, and a four-year deal would take him to age 31.
It would also be one year longer than Brassard's contract, so there would be no dilemma of signing both during the same summer.
A $4.25 million cap hit is a fair ticket for a 55 to 60-point plus scorer, even more so when you consider the salary cap is going to increase significantly in the coming years.
After these projected contracts, this is what the Rangers' salary structure would look like according to my CapGeek roster.
CAPGEEK.COM ARMCHAIR GM ROSTER
Rick Nash ($7.800m) / Derek Stepan ($3.075m) / Mats Zuccarello ($4.250m)
Chris Kreider ($2.330m) / Derick Brassard ($4.660m) / Martin St. Louis ($5.625m)
J.T. Miller ($0.894m) / Carl Hagelin ($2.250m)
Tanner Glass ($1.450m) / Dominic Moore ($1.500m) / Jesper Fast ($0.805m)
Dan Girardi ($5.500m) / Ryan McDonagh ($4.700m)
Dan Boyle ($4.500m) / Marc Staal ($3.975m)
Kevin Klein ($2.900m) / John Moore ($1.100m)
Matt Hunwick ($0.600m) /
Henrik Lundqvist ($8.500m)
Cameron Talbot ($0.563m)
Wade Redden ($0.000m)
Brad Richards ($0.000m)
(estimations for 2014-15)
SALARY CAP: $69,000,000; CAP PAYROLL: $66,976,667; BONUSES: $445,000
CAP SPACE (20-man roster): $2,023,333
Based on this projection, the Rangers would have $2,023,333 in cap space to use on a third-line winger to fill the void of Benoit Pouliot. I outlined potential UFA replacements like Dany Heatley and Dustin Penner in a separate column, but in-house replacements may include Danny Kristo, Anthony Duclair or Ryan Haggerty.
The suggested raises are pretty realistic, and any changes would not adversely impact the projected available cap space.
More money could be saved if Tanner Glass was demoted, for example, but this is a pretty spot-on look at what the opening night roster could look like.
All financial information via Cap Geek, and statistics via Hockey-Reference.