Rangers have tough contract issues ahead of NHL cap increase

Finally, Rangers will have room to breathe under the salary cap starting in the 2024-25 season, as the NHL anticipates the return of the revenue link under the formulas outlined in the collective bargaining agreement extension memorandum.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, as Sportsnet first reported on Tuesday, has advised club executives that the cap, which will rise by $1 million to $83.5 million next year, is expected to rise to nearly $87.5 million to $88 million for the year. 2024-25 and up to $92 million for the year 2025-26.

Although these are expectations, not guarantees, this represents a two-year increase of 10.18 percent. This would signify the largest such jump since an 11.04 percent increase over two seasons from 2013-14 to 2015-2016.

That’s welcome news for Rangers chief and general manager Chris Drury, who will be tasked with keeping goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin on Broadway before he can enter the open market, somewhat coincidentally, in 2025-26.

Keep in mind that by then, the strict no-move clauses will have expired in the deals of Chris Kreider and Jacob Tropa, both after 2023-24. The same is true of Vincent Trochek after 2024-25. These will not be trivial considerations when the time comes.

But the news does not mean calm. It’s not a get out of jail card. Not with Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller in the second decades after this season as restricted free agents. It will still be difficult for Drury to negotiate those deals while facing an increase of only $1 million to $83.5 million for 2023-24.

Rangers defender Candry Miller (left) responds after scoring a goal in a pre-season game against Islanders on September 26, 2022.
Rangers defender Candry Miller (left) responds after scoring a goal in a pre-season game against Islanders on September 26, 2022.
Jason Szenes

Rangers are believed to have reached out to representatives of both the Crown Jewels, but it is unclear if talks are progressing or if they have been pushed back to the off-season. It will be a priority for Rangers to reach extensions with both Lafreniere and Miller as soon as possible, as the club were able to deal with Adam Fox and Mika Zibanegad a year ago, before the 2021-22 season is three weeks old.

Miller, who has been a top-four player primarily in defense since his first league game, looks set for a breakout season. Lafreniere, who wasn’t quite able to make the top six during his first two seasons, may be in the same rankings after falling out of favor in the post-season.

The probability of negotiating long-term deals should be boosted by knowing that the ceiling will increase annually and organically within two years. However, the Blues have to reckon next year, as the club took out $65.1 million earmarked for 11 players, thus leaving $18.4 million to sign Miller and Lavrenier (and possibly Philippe Chettle) and fill out the rest of the roster.

If they each entered into bridge deals of around $4 million each, that would leave the club around $10.4 million to add nine players. There will be some cutting and pasting next year, for sure.

Neither Miller nor Lavrinier will have arbitration rights, but it is clear that comparisons will benefit the negotiations. For Miller, the 22nd overall pick for the 2018 draft, the three-year bridge deal Noah Dobson signed with the islanders this summer for $4 million each is instructive.

Dobson was named 12th overall in 2018. He didn’t have the same first four responsibilities as Miller, but Dobson scored 51 points last season (13-38) while scoring 22 of his points (3-19) as a staple in the first. Playing strength, he averaged 2:37 of ice time per. Overall, Dobson scored 72 points (17-45) in 160 games during his first three seasons.

Alexis Lavrinier during Rangers training on September 22, 2022.
Alexis Lavrinier during Rangers training on September 22, 2022.
Robert Sabo

By contrast, Miller averaged 25 seconds per game in the power game, while playing behind Fox, Tropa and even Nils Lundqvist (when he was here) and Zach Jones. Miller scored a total of 32 points (12-20) in 132 games including two (1-1) with the man advantage.

The Coyotes’ 16th overall pick of 2016, Jakob Chychrun scored 34 points (11-23) during his first two seasons before signing a six-year extension worth an annual average of $4.6 million. This works well on Miller’s long-term number, but it will prove difficult for the next couple of years.

Lafreniere’s numbers are likely to be frustrating due to his publication. The comparisons are not necessarily clear in the 2020 first overall pick, who has 52 points (31-21) in 135 games, but has not scored a solid goal. Senator Tim Stutzel, a two-place pick later in 2020, signed an eight-year extension of $8.35 million each after placing 87 points (34-53) in 132 games in his first two seasons. Nothing like that is defensible for Lafreniere.

Lafreniere and Stutzle are the only strikers from 2020 to have played the entire past two seasons in the NHL. 14th-placed Joel Farabi in 2018, signed a six-year $5 million extension after scoring 59 points in his first 107 games. Again, this will likely work in the long run, but not next year.

News about the cover was welcome. But there’s still a season to come (and the next) to navigate. It is still difficult.

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