Marc Staal has spent his entire 12-year NHL career with the New York Rangers. One way or another that tenure with will have to end soon. Staal has three years remaining on a contract that pays him $5.7 million per season. The team is essentially paying Staal to be the lesser part of a top defensive pair.
While the 31-year-old defender had a bit of a resurgence this season, his game is no longer suited for a key role in the modern NHL style of uptempo play. There are still players of his ilk and ability operating in depth roles, getting matched up appropriately and being used to kill penalties. However, paying them among the top salaries at the position (Staal’s salary ranks 23rd among league defenders) is a mismanagement of the salary cap and hinders a team’s ability to be competitive.
How to Shed Staal’s Contract
There are a few ways to shed a bad contract. Staal has a No Movement Clause (NMC) in his that requires his consent for a trade or demotion to the team’s AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack. That complicates matters for the Rangers if they wanted to trade him.
Given his age and the remaining years on his current deal, it is unlikely that a contender would be interested. Even if the Rangers retained 50% of his remaining contract, he would still come with a three-year deal and a $2.85 million price tag. That is still a big investment for a player like Staal.
Another method would be to trade him to a less competitive team that might benefit from Staal’s experience. The Arizona Coyotes would be a prime example of this. The issue here is the NMC. There is little incentive for a veteran player who has control over his destination to go to a team that won’t provide him with an opportunity to compete for a championship. Staal would have to uproot his family to land in the same situation as he is in New York.
The final option for the Rangers would be to exercise their buyout option as they did with Dan Girardi. If they buy out Staal’s contract this summer, the team would have six more years with a reduced cap hit before his contract was off the books. The numbers per year, starting with the upcoming 2018-19 season, would be around $2 million, $3 million and $3.8 million followed by three seasons at $1.4 million. That is a significant amount of cap space to throw away, but if the team is truly rebuilding, the cap space they have available for the next couple of seasons might not matter so much.
The 2020-21 year at $3.8 million could prove the most problematic if the team is ready to compete again by then. However, it would still be less than the $5.7 million he would be owed in the final season of his contract. After that, the $1.4 million over three years is manageable for a contending team.
Alternatively, the Rangers could keep Staal this coming season and buyout his deal at season’s end. That would leave him on the books for four more years at a reduced rate of first $2.9 million and then $3.7 million followed by two additional years at $1.2 million.
Staal’s Value During the Rebuild
A buyout either this year or next is the most likely method of removing Staal from the team. But is that a good idea?An argument against moving Staal, given his contract and ability, is that the Rangers are rebuilding and have plenty of salary cap space available right now. Rebuilding teams need veteran experience to help show incoming young players the ropes. By all accounts, in theory, Staal would provide exactly that type of leadership.
Staal has never been a distraction in the locker room and has worn the assistant captain’s “A” for years. There is a case to be made that, barring an unforeseen about-face in organizational strategy, the team won’t be using their considerable salary cap space this season to lure in high-priced free agent talent or acquiring big-ticket contracts via trade. Riding out the remaining years on Staal’s contract is a viable option.
As mentioned above, the Rangers could keep him this season and readdress the situation next off-season. In that scenario, the buyout numbers would be slightly better over the following four seasons and also expire a year earlier than a buyout of all three of Staal’s remaining years.
Why the Rangers Should Move on From Staal Now
While kicking the can down the road might seem more viable to long-term salary cap management, there are other issues with keeping Staal around. The most pressing is that while he does provide a veteran presence, his game is unsuited for the direction new head coach David Quinn has set for the team. Staal is not fleet of foot nor does he possess the creativity to aid the team offensively in transition. He doesn’t regularly play with the snarl that Quinn has promoted.
His typical play in the offensive zone is to rush the puck up the ice, carry it deep and either lose it or put an ineffective shot on goal. When he finds an opportunity to use his shot from the point, he rarely gets the puck on net. While there are a few memorable moments when he scored big goals in the playoffs, Staal’s regular season, across 761 career games, shows just 38 goals. Over the same span, he’s contributed 126 assists and has not exceeded 20 points in a season since 2010-11.
He is unfit for the style of play that the Rangers should be transitioning towards and a locker room presence can be added for significantly less even with the cost of a buyout. Staal would also take away a roster spot from a younger player who is a better fit for the club or for a veteran defender whose game lends itself to the style the Rangers coach wants to play. Staal’s best fit for the Rangers would be as a depth defender who doesn’t regularly play except as an injury fill in.
That would be a poor way to treat a player like Staal who has given so much to the franchise. A buyout could benefit Staal in the same way it did Dan Girardi. He would be given the opportunity to sign a cheap deal with a contending team that could use him in a reduced role and would give him the chance to compete for a Cup again as his career winds down. Perhaps he could join the growing list of ex-Rangers down in Tampa where the cap-strapped Lightning could benefit from a low-cost depth veteran on their blue line.
Time for the Rangers to Let Staal Go
Staal has been a part of the Rangers through multiple Stanely Cup playoff runs, including a trip to the Final in 2014. While it is always difficult for a team to move on from a player who has spent his entire career with the club, for the sake of their rebuild it is time to rip the band-aid off. The team can handle the cap charge over the next three seasons and even if they become competitive again three years from now, his buyout cost would still be a reduction over his full salary.
Removing Staal would solidify the Rangers’ change of system and culture as they move forward with their rebuild and begin looking towards a competitive future.