For the second year in a row, it appears that NHL teams living close to the salary cap are in for a difficult season. We don’t have a final salary cap number yet and won’t until the NHLPA decides what it wants to do with is escalator option, but it’s reasonable to expect something between the current level of $71.4 million and a possible high of $74 million.
For a lot of teams, that means trouble. For clubs like the Edmonton Oilers, it might mean opportunity. Today’s potential target: the New York Rangers.
Previously in this series:
With the Rangers now eliminated from the playoffs, it’s worth taking a look at their roster. New York has enough unrestricted free agents that it’s impossible to put a complete team forward from the list of signed players and RFA’s. That’s why the team makes this list; it does have some money but it also has a bunch of players it needs to get under contract.
Total cap hit: $55.7 million
Total cap space: $15.7 to $18.3 million
Cap hell? How is $15 million-plus in cap space cap hell? Let’s count the ways.
- RFAs. The list includes Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller, all excellent, highly-touted young forwards who are due big raises. Kreider is coming off a bridge deal and has a salary of $2.6 million; he’s going to be the most expensive of the lot. Hayes had a bit of a down year (14 goals, 36 points) while Miller (22 goals, 43 points) broke out; both are probable bridge-deal candidates though Miller was on a dirt-cheap one-year deal and bridging him might bring the player to close to free agency for New York’s taste. There’s also Dylan McIlrath to consider, though he’ll be cheaper. Without doing any legwork, I’d guess these four deals eat up something like $10 million of New York’s available budget.
- Low-end replacements. Dan Boyle, Viktor Stalberg, Dominic Moore and Antti Raanta are all bound for unrestricted free agency. It shouldn’t be hard for New York to add a couple of depth forwards, a backup goalie and an end-of-roster defenceman, but it will cost some money. Even at $750,000 a pop for each of them, we’re adding more than $2.0 million to the roster above (I have Magnus Hellberg as a placeholder in net but I’d be surprised if New York was comfortable with him as its No. 2).
- High-end replacements. Keith Yandle and Eric Staal are both bound for free agency. Staal was a rental player and a bit of an extravagance, but there’s probably a need for a top-nine forward on the roster above. Yandle isn’t an extravagance and the top-four sketched out above simply isn’t good enough; there’s a need for another quality defenceman. At a minimum if New York wants to win next year a legitimate top-four right-side guy would help and a top-pair option would be ideal.
Put it all together and New York is in a precarious position, particularly if a division rival got creative with its offer sheets (Carolina and New Jersey both have a need for forwards, a surplus of picks and plenty of cap space). Compensation this year should be similar to last year, and it’s fun to imagine the consequences of a $5.25 million offer-sheet to Kreider in conjunction with a $3.5 million offer-sheet to Hayes. I doubt we’ll see an offer sheet, but at least the threat of one or more should come up behind the scenes.
Targets for Edmonton
A year ago in this series I mentioned Cam Talbot and Carl Hagelin as obvious targets for Edmonton. Talbot ended up with the Oilers, while the team decided to go get Lauri Korpikoski out of Arizona rather than grab Hagelin (who ended up in Anaheim and has since landed in Pittsburgh). This year, the options aren’t so obvious.
Defence is an obvious Oilers need, but Ryan McDonagh isn’t going anywhere while Marc Staal plays the wrong side and had an absolutely miserable season. Kevin Klein’s useful but not an obvious fit on Edmonton’s roster. That leaves Dan Girardi. I had reservations about Girardi in last year’s write-up and this season was a complete train-wreck; there isn’t a team in the league that should be willing to take on that contract. McIlrath is a plausible depth addition if New York isn’t sold on him.
Hayes is the most obvious fit for Edmonton, particularly since he seems to have fallen out of favour somewhat with Alain Vigneault. That said, he shoots left and the Oilers really could use some right shots up front. Miller is another potential fit in the event that Edmonton deals a centre in the offseason, but one imagines the Rangers see him as a long-term fit for New York.
There’s opportunity here, but unless someone in the Oilers front office really likes Hayes or McIlrath that opportunity is probably a better fit for another NHL team.
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