The News Breaks
The New York Rangers finally made it official on January 18, 2015: defenseman Marc Staal will stay on Broadway for the foreseeable future. According to the team, Staal signed a six-year deal worth $34.2 million. This puts the annual cap hit for the contract at $5.7 million. While the deal is in the same range as the one signed by teammate Dan Girardi (six years, $5.5 million/year), it is much less than he would have commanded in free agency.
“In my opinion, Marc Staal is one of the best defenders in the league… You can play him against any top player and know he’s going to defend well, and he also makes the good first pass. I definitely appreciate having him on my team.” — Rangers Head Coach Alain Vigneault
The news of Marc Staal’s extension bodes well for the future of the Rangers’ defense–as they now have four of their defensemen signed for at least the next three years (Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein). Indeed, Marc Staal has become such an integral part of the New York Rangers team identity, it’s hard to imagine him playing anywhere else.
The Economic Reality
While Staal’s extension is a bargain (in NHL terms), what does it mean for the Rangers’ future? The team now has a good amount of their salary cap tied up in six players (Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, Henrik Lundqvist, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, and now Staal). Each of these players (with the exception of McDonagh at $4.7MM) has a cap hit of $5 million per year for at least the next three seasons. The total cap hit for these six players will be $37.2 million in that time.
That is more than half the current salary cap ($69 million this year, possibly increasing to $73 million next season) tied up with six total players. While not an impossible position, it will certainly make GM Glen Sather’s job a lot tougher in the coming months.
Going into the off-season, the Rangers will have $55.1 million in cap space tied up in 13 players. If the cap does increase to $73 million, that gives them $17.9 million to fill nine roster spots, for an average of just below $2 million per spot. It doesn’t seem that bad until you consider which other current Rangers will need to be re-signed.
The contracts of Martin St. Louis, Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, and Mats Zuccarello are all expiring after this year. If there is no change at all to their cap hits, it will take $14.45 million to sign all four players, leaving only $3.45 million to fill the remaining five spots. But considering Derek Stepan is now the team’s first line center, he will likely be asking for a long-term contract worth more than his current $3.075MM cap hit (signed as a two-year bridge deal before the 2013-14 season).
This leaves the uncomfortable possibility that one or more of these four players will be wearing a different jersey next season (if not earlier). We’ll look a bit closer at which of these players (or possibly another player) could be moved at the trading deadline in an upcoming post, but for now it’s obvious that Glen Sather will have his work cut out for him this off-season.