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Friday, July 24, 2015

Stepan, Glass, the Rangers' State-of-Salary-Cap, & Their 2016 Offense?



1) The Rangers have about $6.75 million in cap space to sign Derek Stepan.

Etem, Lindberg & Miller will gain the right to salary arbitration after their current contracts expire by playing in 10+ games next season. So we make the assumption it will happen.


   While the Rangers may actually have only 21 or 22 roster spots come October 1st, the idea is to represent a 14th forward (designated at Jayson Megna in the graph,but could easily be Luke Adam, Brian Gibbons, or Matt Lindblad; all of whom have identical contracts). Because if a team is to pack a roster to the absolute salary cap ceiling, as the Rangers are likely to do, you want to hedge against a string of handcuffing injuries.

   Yes, if a player is hurt for a long stretch of time, he may be placed on Long-Term-Injured-Reserve… in which case the team would receive compensatory cap space to replace the injured athlete’s roster spot. But injuries only lasting a few days or weeks would not qualify, and thus the team would be expected to replace the injure player’s manpower WITHOUT any cap relief.

   Thus, for the sake of this reality, we submit any NHL team’s cap situation based on it carrying 23 players. And like we said, Megna’s assumption as the 14th forward would have identical cap implications as that of Adam, Gibbons or Lindblad. Or, if homegrown AHL’ers Marek Hrivik ($575,000 cap hit) or Ryan Bourque ($562,500 cap hit) earn the title of 14th forward in training camp, then the Rangers would have an insignificant $25,000 to $37,500 extra in cap space than demonstrated in the above image.

   Remember, a team’s salary cap cost is a rolling, cumulative total. Which means if a team is $1 million below the salary cap for the first half of the season, it earns the right to go $1 million above the cap for the second half. This is why the now-defunct Capgeek infamously and brilliantly measured a team’s ‘future cap space’ for the upcoming trade deadline in a given season; a team $1 million under the salary cap in November or December could be projected to have much more cap room come February or March.

   Thus if the Rangers pack the roster to the absolute cap ceiling in aggregate of 23 players come October 1st; by luckily and hopefully staying healthy, the team could only carry 21 or 22 players for as much time as possible, which would allow the same group of 23 players to have considerably more cap space at a given time later down the season.

   In any event, barring an August or September trade, the Rangers must re-sign Stepan to something below $6.75 million.

2) Does Tanner Glass return to Broadway next season?



   The fact that Glass was not jettisoned from the roster in June or July suggests that there is a very likely chance of his continued role on the team. However, we continue to insinuate that Glass is the most expendable asset on the roster, should the team need even a few hundred thousand more dollars in cap space going forward.

   We’ve posted a tongue-in-cheek conspiracy theory, half-seriously suggesting the idea that a trade to dump Glass for cap space is already lined up, but his presence on the roster during Stepan negotiations serves a fruitful purpose as to keep Stepan’s asking price (and realistic expectations) lower than they would were Glass be already exiled, and New York had more available cap space. 

   Put it like this: if Glass were traded away in June or July, and his exiled roster spot were theoretically replaced by Adam, Gibbons, Lindblad, Hrivik or Bourque… the Rangers would have approximately $7.6 million in cap space (instead of their current $6.75 million). Stepan’s camp could, in turn, more reasonably demand a cap hit north of $7 million, without the Rangers camp pointing to a chart of their salary cap space and saying ‘we simply don’t have that liquidity available.’

   Aside from this cute idea, there’s not much value to Glass and his $1.45 million cap hit remaining on a roster so hard-pressed for cap space.

   Yes, Glass is the only fighter/goon on the current roster. But in the modern NHL, where incoming players are required to have visors and penalized for removing helmets in a bout of fistacuffs… the hard truth remains that the ability to fight is a dying necessity for an NHL team to have. It may sell tickets or accumulate hits on YouTube, but it seems less and less a vital ingredient to Stanley Cup contenders.

   Consider this:

   If the Rangers traded away Glass, and signed a goon for the league-minimum $575,000/year… it would result in $875,000 in gained NYR cap space.

   If the Rangers buried Glass in the minor leagues, as they have done with Wade Redden, Aaron Asham & Darrol Powe… and replaced Glass’ roster spot with a $575,000/year goon of similar-or-equal contribution… it would still result in $350,000 gained in NYR cap space.

   There’s very little argument for Glass to remain a Ranger next season, even if one concludes having a scrapper on the team is indeed required. 

3) How could NY trade Glass when he has such a relatively high cap hit compared to his relatively low worth?

   No, Glass won’t have much trade value on the swap market. This is true.

   But his front-loaded contract, nearing its back end of existence, provides some inherent value in of itself: Once Glass receives his 2015 signing bonus ($450,000) sometime between July 1 and October 1 (depending on how its structured in his contract)… for the remaining 21 months of his contract will feature something very attractive to low-market teams: he will be getting $1.45 in cap hit for every $1 actually paid.

   You know why the Arizona Coyotes acquired Chris Pronger’s fossilized contract, with no intent to put him on LTIR in September? Because for only $575,000 of actual salary, they receive $4,941,429 in salary cap credit, which helps the financially-challenged team reach the NHL cap floor at a massive discount. The same logic applies to why the Florida Panthers acquired the contract of Marc Savard ($575,000 in actual cost for $4,027,143 in cap credit).

   While Glass is surely not such a bargain for that scheme, his $1.45-for-$1 cap-credit-for-actual-salary advantage remains there. As of right now, the teams with the lowest salaries are The NJ Devils, Nashville Predators & Anaheim Ducks. All are technically above the cap floor, but still may be attracted to the scheme of Glass’ contract rather than its actual skill-on-the-pill merits.

   Of course, the Rangers could always ‘pay’ a team to take Glass. While trading Glass and a 6th round draft pick for a team’s 7th round draft pick is hardly fruitful, something along those lines remains practical and possible. 

4) How Much will Derek Stepan receive?

   This has been the question, and we’ve poked around at it since last winter.

   Here’s the scoop:

   Since Stepan is the one who filed for arbitration, the Rangers choose whether the hearing will determine a binding 1-year or 2-year award. Stepan would be a restricted free agent once more in the event of a 1-year award (where the Rangers could not negotiate a long-term deal with him until January 1st, 2016). Or, Stepan would be an unrestricted free agent upon contract expiration should the Rangers opt for a 2-year award.

   It’s tough to tell, but we surmise Stepan’s cost to scale from $6 million to $7 million per year, steadily increasing as the length of a deal (1 year to 8 years) increases as well. 1-year for $6 million all the way to 8-years for $7 million/year would be our guess. Of course, its speculative, and the insertion of potential job security (No-Trade-Clause and/or No-Movement-Clause) would skew any figurative scale.




   Ryan O’Reilly’s 2-year contract signed last summer for $6 million/year is a pretty direct comparable to that of what Stepan’s objective worth could be. It can be used as evidence in a potential arbitration hearing, because O’Reilly signed it when he was at the same point in his contractual career as Stepan is now, unlike the contract he more recently signed with Buffalo, where he was an impending unrestricted free agent.

   Subject to change, or flat out being totally inaccurate, we’d suggest Stepan’s relative worth to signing a deal (or being awarded one in arbitration) is something like:

1 year - $6,000,000 / year
2 year - $6,150,000 / year
3 year - $6,333,333 / year
4 year - $6,500,000 / year
5 year - $6,700,000 / year
6 year - $6,900,000 / year
7 year - $7,000,000 / year
8 year - $7,050,000 / year

   If this scale is anything resembling the truth, then the Rangers could re-sign Stepan to anything 5 years or under, and theoretically be able to sit back and stand pat on the current roster without further need to tweak it. Should the Rangers & Stepan amicably hash out a deal for 6, 7 or 8 years… then trading Glass (or some asset carrying relevant cap space) would become imperative.

   Here is a more elaborate dive into how much Stepan may actually be worth according to Ryan Lambert of Yahoo! Sports

5) Assuming Stepan is re-signed, how does the Rangers’ offense look for next season?

   Again, highly speculative, but we did some work projecting how many goals each contracted Ranger could be expected to produce for the 2015-16 season. Of course individual injuries or issues can wildly skew these projections, but we figure a sum of approximately 222 goals is what to expect.



   If this is the case, that 222 goals represents 17th most in the 2014-15 NHL, 1 less than the Winnipeg Jets but 2 more than the Chicago Blackhawks. 

   As the Rangers Top-6 defense, and starting goaltender, will be the same next season as it was last season… Should the Rangers repeat the figure of 187 goals allowed (which was 3rd least in the NHL behind Montreal & Chicago), that’s a projected goal differential of +35. It would be a dramatic decrease in the Rangers’ league-leading +60 of last season, but still good enough to be 6th highest in the NHL, comparing to 2014-15 stats.

   Again, this is highly speculative, so take it with a grain of margin-for-error salt.

Conclusion

   Once the Rangers, be it via mutual agreement or arbitration result, have locked up Stepan’s services for at least another season… the team looks to remain a playoff-bound group of players, even if repeating an NHL Presidential Trophy seems unlikely. Again, while trading pieces like Glass or Dylan McIlrath may indeed occur between now and opening night, one should assume a quiet stretch of time of the Rangers’ offseason once Stepan drama comes to an end. Expect a boring 4-6 weeks in Rangerstown leading up to the dawn of the regular season.

   The temporary uncertainty revolving around Stepan's inevitable new contract aside, there's no reason to suspect the NY Rangers will be anything but a competitive NHL team next season.

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