The biggest story involving the New York Rangers of the past few weeks and perhaps the entire regular season is the Patrick Kane trade. He has been a facet of the Rangers rumor mill for months, and the saga of his arrival at Madison Square Garden demands attention.
The Kane deal was unexpected for fans and management alike after the Rangers traded for forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Tyler Motte. General manager Chris Drury didn’t budget for Tarasenko, Motte, and Kane, but once the possibility surfaced to bring Kane to New York, he didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. Drury gave up a conditional 2023 second-round, conditional 2025 third-round, and 2025 fourth-round pick, but the organization also parted ways with what was left of their salary cap space. This decision limits the Rangers’ roster flexibility.
Only a quarter of Kane’s salary counts against the Rangers’ salary cap, but even that portion is consequential to how the Rangers will have to manage their roster for the remainder of the regular season. His salary prevents them from carrying more than 21 players on their roster. While this may seem like an insignificant aspect of the Kane acquisition, it will, and already has, had an impact on how the Rangers manage their lineup.
Pre-Trade Cap Maneuvers
The last few games have been really strange for the Rangers. Leading up to the Kane trade, the Rangers had to leave as much salary cap space free as possible to make the deal work.
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To fit Kane’s salary under the cap, the Rangers needed to clear as much space as possible, and one of the ways they chose to do this was to send defenseman Braden Schneider down to the American Hockey League (AHL) on paper to temporarily get his salary off the books. Therefore, the Rangers could not risk Schneider getting injured against the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 26, so while he dressed for the game, he never took a shift, even after officials ejected K’Andre Miller for spitting on Drew Doughty. Schneider and Miller’s absences forced the Rangers to play two periods of the game with only four defensemen (from ‘Rangers’ K’Andre Miller ejected for spitting on Kings defenseman, faces possible suspension,’ New York Post, February 26, 2023).
Kane’s salary also prevented the Rangers from calling up any additional skaters to fill in for defensemen Ryan Lindgren, Miller and forward Motte. Lindgren and Motte are both out with upper-body injuries, and Miller was serving a three-game suspension for the spitting incident.
In most circumstances, the Rangers would call up a replacement to fill the vacant roster spots; however, the preparation for and aftermath of the Kane trade prevented such action. They planned on making an emergency recall, which would allow them to go above the salary cap after playing one game without the typical 18 skaters. The NHL denied New York’s request, stating the Rangers could have avoided the need to go over the cap by simply not trading for Kane (from ‘NHL denies Rangers’ emergency recall after Patrick Kane trade,’ New York Post, March 2, 2023).
The Rangers have been facing a perfect storm consisting of a cap crunch, injuries, and a suspension. These factors have combined to force them to play with fewer skaters than usual for multiple games, particularly putting pressure on the defensive core.
The Rangers played most of the game against the Kings with only four defensemen and played against the Philadelphia Flyers, Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins with five defensemen. Head coach Gerard Gallant has therefore had to rely on players like Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba, who already clock a lot of ice time in a typical game, even more than usual; both have played an average of over 25 minutes in the last three games. Gallant has also had to give Ben Harpur and Niko Mikkola, who usually occupy a third-pair role, top-pair minutes.
The last four games have also occurred within a week, making the increase in ice time even more pronounced, as there is less recovery time between games.
Kane is one of the biggest names in the NHL, and his decision to go to an Original Six team playing in an iconic venue makes for a flashy story. However, behind all the drama and excitement is another story about how the trade changes the way the Rangers have to handle the lineup in the coming months. Gallant may not always have to contend with two injuries, a suspension, and a rejected emergency recall request. Still, the inflexibility that comes with a 21-man roster is worth keeping in mind for the remaining quarter of the regular season.