Regarding the Rangers, who are guaranteed to remain unbeaten for at least another two days:
1. When you get the chance to move a $4 million fourth-liner, which is what Vlad Namestnikov would have become by Saturday’s match against the Oilers at the Garden, you jump at it the way the Rangers did on Monday in sending No. 90 to the Senators.
You don’t wait for weeks or months, hoping to marginally increase the return for the impending rental property from a fourth-rounder and an AHL defenseman to perhaps a third-rounder plus.
Players get injured. Circumstances change. Opportunities vanish as quickly as they arise, which, we’re told was the case in Ottawa’s sudden interest in the 26-year-old pending free agent. Fact is, general manager Jeff Gorton had been seeking to move Namestnikov since last year’s deadline and had no takers throughout the summer, even with the Blueshirts offering to pick up between $1-and-2 million of the contract.
There is, however, an additional and heretofore overlooked reason Gorton was correct in moving expeditiously on the deal. That is its potential impact on next year’s cap.
Before the trade, the Rangers had approximately $1.4 million in space for this season while carrying between $4 million in potentially realistic entry-level contract performance bonuses. Earned bonuses that push teams over the cap are applied to the following season’s ledger.
Therefore, the Blueshirts could have gone into next summer with around $2.5 million in overages applied to the 2020-21 cap that would have hamstrung the organization’s decision-making process. Imagine adding that much more dead space to a team that already is faced with handling just over $7.49 million in sunk cost next season. Would be devastating.
But by excising $3,145,161 from Namestnikov’s tab (the Rangers, picking up $750,000 on the contract, had already been charged $104,839 for his six days on the roster, thanks Capfriendly.com), the club is currently about $4.6 million under the cap and has a rather secure buffer zone against being charged with overages.
Which means that while Gorton has ample space with which to maneuver this year, neither he nor the organization has the license to be profligate and throw money away, say, on an expensive stop-gap in the middle if the second-line center spot becomes an open wound. Because, repeat after me and not for the last time, this is not about this year. And moving Namestnikov this early gives the Rangers a head start on next year.
2. The twin demotions of Flip Chytil and Vitali Kravtsov dramatically changed the Rangers’ dynamic but apparently not the perception of the team’s forwards as a group of skilled, finesse-oriented, east-west athletes.
The fact is, once you get past the first line, the Blueshirts are about as blue-collar, straight-line, north-south as it gets.
But the addition of Artemi Panarin’s dazzle has had an effect that incorporating Marian Gaborik and Rick Nash into the mix never did. Panarin’s addition not only has given the team an elite talent (who practices with the same commitment and creativity he brings to games) but an identity that seems to be sticking even if, at least temporarily, misapplied.
3. Yes, Jacob Trouba can be erratic, but no questions asked, No. 8 has the highest ceiling of any Rangers defenseman since Ryan McDonagh’s best days through the middle of the decade.
And it remains one of the mysteries of the era just gone as to why McDonagh leveled off so quickly. Maybe it was the injuries. Maybe it was the captaincy. Maybe it was playing with partners who just couldn’t measure up to first-pair demands.
4. We talk all the time about the importance of team-friendly contracts in building a contender. The Rangers had one in McDonagh’s six-year deal worth $4.7 million per. They have one now in Mika Zibanejad’s five-year deal worth $5.35 million per that is in its third year.
Forget about needing space in a few years for Kaapo Kakko, Chytil, Kravtsov and all the kids. The Blueshirts are going to need space to keep Zibanejad, 44-54=98 in 102 games since the 2018 deadline purge, maybe up to $9 million per to keep No. 93 from testing the free agent market in 2022.
5. If you don’t believe that the Rangers want Chytil and Kravtsov to force their way back to New York as quickly as possible, you are living in an alternate reality. But both will have to earn their promotions. This is as it should be. There won’t be a rush job.
Putting the pout on, by the way, is generally not the quickest route from Hartford to Manhattan, except maybe on Amtrak.
6. Quick quiz. Better trade: A) Getting Zibanejad and a second-rounder from Ottawa for Derick Brassard and a seventh; or, B) Acquiring Dale Rolfe from the Red Wings for Jim Krulicki?