Cap Crunch Leads To Trade Speculation
On March 1, Bruce Garrioch of The Ottawa Sun reported that New York Rangers’ General Manager Glen Sather was making phone calls regarding the possibility of trading RW Marian Gaborik. The rumor soon went haywire on the internet with many hockey pundits speculating that, despite scoring 40+ goals in two of his three seasons in the Big Apple, Gaborik could soon become expendable to the Blueshirts.
It is no secret that the Rangers are facing a salary-cap crunch following the season. It is expected that the 2013-14 cap will shrink to $64.3 million. The Rangers will have over $60 million tied up in 15 players (plus the Wade Redden buyout), with key cogs Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin all restricted free agents due hefty raises. If Sather was to sign those three players at competitive rates, he would find himself more than $6 million over the cap ceiling with two roster spots still to be filled.
The Rangers’ defensive core or Mark Staal, Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto are already signed to reasonable contracts through next season. At $6.9 million per year, defending Vezina Trophy winning goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is the backbone of the franchise and not going anywhere.
Yet the Rangers’ off-season addition of Rick Nash puts the team with a top-heavy salary structure within their forward corps. With Nash due $7.8 million through 2017-18, Gaborik earning $7.5 million through 2013-14, and Brad Richards earning $6.667 million though 2019-20, New York will have over one-third of their 2013-14 cap paid to just three forwards.
Though the team has started to gel recently, winning five out of their past six games at the writing of this article, the three high-paid forwards have not led to the Rangers’ becoming an offensive juggernaut by any stretch of the imagination. Though it might have more to do with head coach John Tortorella’s commitment to team defense at all costs, the Rangers’ 53 goals only one game shy of the half-season mark merely ties them for second-to-last in the Eastern Conference.
The Rangers’ quest for depth on the blueline and some more grit at forward is shackled by their inability to add salary. These factors have led to the aforementioned speculation of a Gaborik deal. Gaborik not only has the talent to acquire a trade return of a top-four defenseman and second-line power forward, but the jettisoning of his $7.5 million salary would offer GM Sather a great deal of wiggle-room under the cap both for this season and the upcoming off-season.
Why Gaborik Will Not Be Dealt (This Year)
All of these factors are things Sather will be forced to examine closely following the season. It is important to note, however, that what is on Sather’s mind right now is winning the Stanley Cup this year, and the Rangers are certainly in contention. The team which made it to the Eastern Conference finals last year is largely intact and even stronger with the addition of Rick Nash. Gaborik’s breakaway speed and sniper’s scoring touch gives the Rangers a game-breaking forward on each of their top two lines. That, combined with a terrific blueline top-four and perhaps the best goaltender in the world in Henrik Lundqvist, easily puts the Rangers in the conversation with Boston and Pittsburgh for the top team in the east come playoff time. There is no way that trading Gaborik now could make the team better. If they have one flaw, it is scoring goals, and over the past three seasons no one on the roster, not even Nash, has been more proficient at that than the gifted Gaborik.
If Sather is having cap troubles after this season, he can re-visit the possibility of a Gaborik trade at that point. The Slovakian sniper will get just as much on the trade market then as he stands to get now, with just one year remaining on his contract. Sather also has the option of buying out Richards’ deal. Although that would (unlike dealing Gaborik) get the Rangers nothing in return, Richards’ deal looks more prohibitive with the new collective bargaining agreement and resulting salary cap reduction. Also, the emergence of Derek Stepan as perhaps the Rangers’ best all-around center makes Richards arguably more expendable than Gaborik.
Sather will certainly have to deal with a salary-cap crunch this off-season. He hopes to deal with it wearing a shiny new Stanley Cup ring on his finger. It is for that reason that Marian Gaborik will play out the year in a New York Rangers jersey.
Trade Chips (Rumors Around The NHL)
- One of the main pieces in getting Nash from Columbus, Brandon Dubinsky could soon be headed elsewhere. New Blue Jackets’ GM Jarmo Kekalainen is trying to free his club of Duby’s $4.2 million salary through 2014-15, and with several teams looking for a big, physical second-line center (Phoenix, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Nashville, Chicago, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal have been mentioned), the ex-Rangers’ asking price may never be higher. With Columbus’ team needs being, well, virtually everything, it’s tough to speculate where Dubinsky will go. Still, expect Brandon to be dealt as Kekalainen tries to remake the perennially struggling Blue Jackets in his own image. Other players who might want to start checking the Ohio real estate market: Derick Brassard, Vaclav Prospal and Adrian Aucoin.
- Speaking of sellers, the Florida Panthers’ disastrous season is looking unlikely to turn around. Reports out of Florida have the entire team available with the exception of future building blocks Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Dmitri Kulikov, Jacob Markstrom and Drew Shore. With a shortened season likely resulting in fewer sellers around the NHL, this is a savvy move by GM Dale Tallon. Expect him to get very good returns for productive forwards like Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kopecky and Peter Mueller.
- The Islanders deserve credit for becoming an extremely competitive team this season, but it would behoove them to move Lubomir Visnovsky at the deadline if they are on the outside looking in at a playoff seed. Visnovsky was the NHL’s leading point scorer among defensemen with 68 as recently as 2010-11 and, at 37, can still quarterback a power play. Detroit and Carolina are both playoff contenders desperate for a player of Visnovsky’s very qualifications and both could dangle a first-round pick in the 2013 draft to land him. Still needing to stock their prospect pipeline with defensemen and goaltenders, the Isles would be foolish not to make such a move were it to become available.
- Speaking of defensemen, reports out of Phoenix are that the Coyotes would love to flip ace puck-moving d-man Keith Yandle for a top-line center before the deadline. The emergence on the blueline of future star Oliver Ekman-Larsson, combined with the presence of another blooming offensive rearguard in David Rundblad, makes Yandle expendable for the center-starved ‘Yotes. Those who have not seen Yandle play may not be aware what they are missing: a top-flight weapon on the power play, near-brilliant with his outlet passing and quite smart and responsible in the defensive zone. Unfortunately, when I say “those who have not seen Yandle play”, I mean virtually everyone in the state of Arizona.