It was already setting up to be a challenging summer for Jeff Gorton and Co., with roster improvements badly needed and a plateauing salary cap complicating matters. Now, if a recent report from Larry Brooks of the New York Post pertaining to the anticipated expansion draft and players with no-move clauses is accurate, the challenge becomes even greater.
According to Brooks, teams will be required to protect players with no-move clauses even if those clauses expire at the end of the 2016-17 league year. In the case of a player like Dan Girardi, whose NMC turns into a modified no-trade for the 2017-18 campaign, the Rangers will have to protect him while exposing another player; likely one more valuable than Girardi. Brooks goes on to speculate that the Rangers will “have to find a way to move Girardi,” in advance of the expansion draft.
Practically every Rangers fan acknowledges Girardi did not have a good 2015-16 season. Even Girardi admitted it wasn’t his best performance (understatement). And with the club’s struggles defensively, it was expected the team might try to move on from Girardi this summer in an effort to free up needed cap space to upgrade the position. It makes sense but it’s far easier said than done. Regardless, it’s perhaps even more important for the team to find a way out from this contract.
With the possibility of exposing Girardi in the expansion draft now eliminated as a means for shedding his contract, let’s examine the remaining options the team has.
There is no Bob Gainey in today’s NHL willing to take on Girardi’s onerous contract in full (See: Gomez, Scott) while still giving the Rangers valuable assets (See: McDonagh, Ryan). That pipe dream has to end now.
If the Rangers do indeed convince Girardi to waive his NMC and accept a deal, they will be working with a limited pool of teams. Girardi controls his fate. Like Rick Nash did when forcing his way out of Columbus, Girardi can limit the clubs he would be willing to go to and effectively tie the Rangers hands. That’s the first problem.
Second, the Rangers don’t have much in the way of prospects or draft capital to entice another club to absorb Girardi’s cap hit. A team might be willing to do so if the Blueshirts sweetened the pot with either a solid prospect or valued draft choice. But with no premium draft choices this year and a dwindling crop of prospects, it’s doubtful the team would go this route.
If a trade is found, the Blueshirts would either have to take back a burdensome contract or retain some of Girardi’s salary in order to make the move. I still believe there are teams who see Girardi as a worthwhile NHL regular and would value his leadership and experience. That being said, it doesn’t mean those organizations will want to commit $5.5 million of cap space for the next four years for a third-pair defender.
Even if a club appreciates Girardi’s intangibles, they likely would want the Rangers to cover at least $2 million per season of his contract. That would make Girardi a $3.5 million-a-year player, which is far from a bargain but much more palatable than $5.5 million. Assuming the Rangers can find that team, they would likely only receive a late round draft pick or a non-prospect in return while carrying $2 million in dead cap space for the next four seasons. That’s not an appealing option.
On the bright side, Girardi’s actual salary drops from $5 million for the 2016-17 campaign to $4 million in 2017-18 and to $3 million in each of the final two seasons. A team that struggles to reach the cap floor might see value in the higher cap charge while assuming a salary obligation significantly lower. Maybe.
According to GeneralFanager.com, here is what a buyout of Girardi’s contract would save the Blueshirts in cap space over the next four seasons.
2016-17 – $3.75MM
2017-18 – $2.75MM
2018-19 – $1.75MM
2019-20 – $1.75MM
Total Savings: $10MM
Meanwhile, here is how much dead space the team will carry presuming a buyout.
2016-17 – $1.75MM
2017-18 – $2.75MM
2018-19 – $3.75MM
2019-20 – $3.75MM
2021-24 – $1.25MM x 4
Total Dead Space: $17MM
Obviously, that’s not an insignificant total. Even in Year 1, that amount is more than the combined 2016-17 cap hits of Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast. By the time we get to years three and four, the Rangers will have the equivalent cap hit of Islanders forward Anders Lee unavailable to spend on their roster. The total is roughly double what the Rangers would probably have to retain in a hypothetical trade.
The advantage to a contract buyout is the club would guarantee themselves of getting out of at least part of the cap charge. If they pass on buying out Girardi and instead attempt to deal him, the team risks getting caught holding the bag if they can’t find a suitable trade partner.
As in hope the reason for Girardi’s down season was due in large part to injuries, including a cracked knee cap suffered in December, and not because of regression. It’s possible the years of big minutes, shot blocks and body checks have taken their toll and he’ll never again be a quality top-four defenseman. If the Rangers decide to roll the dice and keep Girardi for another season, they need to hope that isn’t the case.
The ideal solution would be to find a trade that clears most, if not all, of Girardi’s cap hit from the Rangers ledger, even if the deal doesn’t return an asset of legitimate value. Failing that, the team needs to give serious consideration to a buyout or hope their doctors know something about Girardi’s health the general public doesn’t.