The New York Rangers are an organization that loves to make a splash, and the upcoming situation with Steven Stamkos may prove to be too big to pass up. History has shown the Rangers have typically made a push for marquee centers when they have become available. Some examples include trading for Mark Messier in 1991, a failed trade for Eric Lindros in 1992, a failed offer sheet for Joe Sakic in 1997, interest in Sergei Fedorov after Sakic re-signed, the signing Wayne Gretzky the same year and inking Brad Richards to a huge deal in 2011. There were others between 1997 and 2011, but you get the point.
Stamkos is headed for a major payday in free agency, but that may not stop teams such as the cash strapped Rangers for trying to make a deal before negotiating and signing him to a long-term extension before free agency opens. Barring any moves between now and the deadline, the Rangers can add up to $4,852,238 in salary as constructed according to General Fanager, which is more than enough when you include pieces subtracted in a hypothetical trade.
The reason the Rangers, who are 32-18-6 with 70 points, may make a play for Stamkos at the deadline is because they have assets that would be attractive to Tampa, and adding him would allow the team to extend their Stanley Cup window. As constructed the team has a number of good young players and some complimentary ones up front, but it is fair to say that they lack a bona fide elite forward. It is important not only to look at the team’s current chances, but ones in future seasons as well.
Building the team around Stamkos would be a massive change for the franchise, but he would give the team a legitimate elite goal-scorer who is in his prime. Such a move would likely spell the end of Rick Nash on Broadway, as salary cap constraints would prevent the Blueshirts from keeping both. Nothing against Nash, but from a future perspective it would be the right thing to do.
So the multi-million dollar question becomes, who would the Rangers have to deal in order to make it worth it for Tampa, while still being in a position to keep Stamkos for the foreseeable future? A package built around Derick Brassard ($5 million a year for the next three years), Chris Kreider ($2.475 million and an upcoming RFA) and a second round draft pick would be a hard offer to turn down. Before you take to the comments section, read on to understand there’s a multi-faceted rationale to the proposal which takes into account certain parameters for the Lightning.
Brassard is a legitimate top-six center who at age 28 would fit in either ahead of or behind Tyler Johnson with ease. Since joining the Rangers Brassard has scored 18 or more goals and 40 points each season, and he’s on pace to have a career year in 2015-16. Put him with any of Tampa’s top end wingers and that he assuredly will continue to produce if he were to waive his no-trade clause. Kreider at age 24 is a physical winger with offensive upside who would be a cost controlled asset and a draft pick would just be a cherry on top. His play is certainly enigmatic, but there’s enough of a history and upside for the Lightning to be interested in someone like Kreider. There’s a chance other picks and a prospect could be added, but for all intents and purposes those assets don’t necessarily impact the cap.While Stamkos is worth more than the above package, how many teams will be willing to pony up legitimate assets for a player who can be signed once free agency starts? In addition Tampa needs some cost controlled players with a number of key players such as Nikita Kucherov, Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Victor Hedman due for new deals over the next few seasons. Therefore the team needs to limit what additional salary is brought on in the coming years.
The Rangers are one of the few teams that won’t have the cap space to sign Stamkos once free agency opens up, but they can add him at his current salary and then make corresponding moves to sign him. Theoretically, the Rangers could sign him on July 1, but the odds of them filing out the remainder of their roster with talented players would be tough as opposing teams would be able to outbid them on additional free agents.
Therefore the immediate need to create cap space to add a top player is something the Rangers can use to their advantage, and that’s something general manager Jeff Gorton should consider.
There is a good chance that teams such at the Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens and company would rather roll the dice and try and sign Stamkos straight up on July 1 instead of parting with key pieces to get him ahead of time. If this is the case than the Lightning assuredly will move their captain if they feel their chance of re-signing him is slim, and it would be hard to fault them for taking the Rangers offer.
In short, the Rangers could look to take advantage of Tampa’s situation by giving general Steve Yzerman an opportunity to save face, because not dealing Stamkos and losing him on July 1 would be a kiss of death to his job in Tampa. So while the logistics of such a move being pulled off are slim, why is it a move that would be worth it from the Rangers’ perspective?
Adding Stamkos would give the Rangers the chance to make a big run for the Stanley Cup this season and in the future. If the deal were completed, this is what the lineup would look like for a cup run.
The above lineup would be solid from a top-nine perspective, although there would be a chance to make a swap on the fourth line. While Brassard has been a great fit for the Rangers, you would be hard pressed to find someone who would rather have him than Stamkos. Kreider could be an offseason cap casualty, and moving him would allow the team to get something for him.
Simply put the Rangers are in a situation in which they have an elite but aging Henrik Lundqvist in goal and a less than desirable defense. While the group of forwards are good, they aren’t great and lack the requisite firepower to compensate in a situation where Lundqvist starts to decline.
Adding Stamkos to the mix would add some significant goal scoring and offense, and it would give the Rangers an option to build around. With limited availability to make changes on the back end due to a number of contractual clauses, it would make sense to do something to shakeup the forward core and add stability for when Lundqvist starts to decline.
If the Rangers made the suggested deal for Stamkos here is what the lineup could look like for 2016-17 and beyond.
The open slot and the highlighted ones aren’t set in stone, and they could be filled from players in the minors or even players acquired in a trade of Rick Nash. Nash is 31 and has two years left on contract worth $7.8 million a season. As a solid two-way player and scorer he would certainly draw some interest. In this machination I predict a deal sending him to San Jose to play with his close friend Joe Thornton. The two have history internationally with Team Canada, and the duo played together during the 2004 and 2012 lockouts for HC Davos in Switzerland.
His cap hit is a tough one to swallow, but he could be the difference maker on a team that is looking for an additional piece to put them over the top. Theoretically the Sharks could absorb his entire cap hit, as the team has only a few RFAs to retain.
While all of this is speculation, could the Rangers realistically swing it? Here’s a calculation using the current cap of $71.4 million, and what the team would have to do to make it work.
The above roster is a lot to digest, so here’s a breakdown that includes the Rangers making the following signings:
- Steven Stamkos to a eight-year deal worth $10 million a season, Keith Yandle to a five-year deal worth $6.5 million a season, J.T. Miller to a five-year deal worth $4.5 million a season, Kevin Hayes to a two-year deal worth $3 million a season, Pavel Buchnevich to an entry-level deal worth $925,000 a season, Nicklas Jensen to a two-year deal worth $900,000 a season, Ryan Bourque to a two-year deal paying him $650,000 a season.
- The total additions added to existing payroll would give New York a roster size of 20, $70,353,333 in committed salary and $1,046,667 in space. The only other addition needed would be a backup goaltender, which could be re-signing Antti Raanta, or a call up of Magnus Hellberg at $625,000 or Mackenzie Skapski at $663,333.
- Ideally more space and flexibility would be available if the Rangers opted not to re-sign Yandle, but overall the framework makes sense with all the major players accounted for. Take him out of the equation all together and it’s very doable.
As you can see, the Rangers could realistically make a run for Steven Stamkos that involves keeping him long term without losing a number of major assets. The raises given to free agents were fair, and may rival what actually happens.
The odds of the Rangers pulling a deal off may be slim, but this shows that the thought of Stamkos in a New York uniform isn’t just a fantasy. Obviously this hinges on Tampa taking a return of Brassard, Kreider and a draft pick and/or prospect for Stamkos, which isn’t a farfetched concept. It also involves the Rangers being able to move Nash and his $7.8 million salary, which is also a realistic possibility.
There are positives and negatives associated with such a move, but the Rangers have made bigger gambles on inferior players before. The odds of New York embracing a rebuild are slim to none, and that’s why a move like this could go down. Obviously a decrease in the salary cap would make things tough, but if the first two parameters were met it would simply mean the exit of Yandle.
Regardless the 2016 deadline is going to be an interesting one, and as long at the salary cap doesn’t go down the Rangers could make things interesting.
Financial terms via General Fanager and Cap Friendly.