Two of the Rangers’ restricted free agents, defenseman Jacob Trouba and forward Pavel Buchnevich, both have dates set for their arbitration cases. Trouba’s is July 25 and Buchnevich’s is July 29.
While negotiations continue with both players, their filings have triggered a clause in the collective bargaining agreement that opens up another window for general manager Jeff Gorton to execute buyouts. The 48-hour window opens three days after the final arbitration case is settled. After the seven-year, $81.5 million deal handed to the top free agent on the market, winger Artemi Panarin, the Rangers’ salary-cap situation has gotten quite a bit tighter.
Relieving some of that pressure would come with buying out the remaining two years on the deals for either Brendan Smith or Kevin Shattenkirk — if not both of the veteran defensemen. The dead cap space the team would have to carry for the next four years would vary from season to season, but would create quite a bit of immediate relief.
With Panarin’s added $11.6 million annual hit, the Rangers are projected to have just over $8 million in space. The assumption is the 25-year-old Trouba is going to eventually sign a seven-year deal for around $7.5 million to $8 million per. If the parameters for a new deal were already penciled in, it’s now clear why the Rangers waited to make it official.
Assuming that comes, Gorton is going to have to get creative with how he moves money. That comes right back to power forward Chris Kreider, the 28-year-old team leader who is entering the final year of his deal with a $4.625 million cap hit. Either an extension or a trade are the two most likely scenarios before training camp starts in September. It seems as if talks haven’t gotten far on a new deal, but Gorton has been patient throughout this whole rebuilding process.
He deftly acquired the rights for Trouba in a trade with the Jets on June 17, finally getting his righty-shot defenseman in his prime. Going back was a first-round pick (No. 20-overall) the Rangers had obtained earlier from Winnipeg in the Kevin Hayes rental deal, plus another restricted free-agent defenseman, Neal Pionk, whose own arbitration date was set for July 24.
Buchnevich, 24, is likely in line for a two-year bridge deal, whether he is still here or traded elsewhere to save some money. Gorton could also dump salary by moving 26-year-old Vlad Namestnikov, who has one more year at $4 million left on the two-year contract Gorton gave him last summer.
The Rangers also continue to negotiate with their two other restricted free agents without arbitration rights, defenseman Tony DeAngelo and forward Brendan Lemieux.