The fact that Rangers winger Pavel Buchnevich and defenseman Jacob Trouba filed for salary arbitration yesterday isn’t particularly noteworthy in itself. However, them doing so opens up a second buyout window later this offseason and it certainly appears as if GM Jeff Gorton is going to need to use it.
As things stand, New York has a little over $8MM in cap space, per CapFriendly. Most, if not all of that, will be earmarked to Trouba. Buchnevich is looking at a sizable raise on the $925K he made on his entry-level deal. Meanwhile, defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and winger Brendan Lemieux are also restricted free agents in need of raises on their new contracts but weren’t arbitration-eligible this summer. There’s no way all four sign new deals without the Rangers going over the $81.5MM Upper Limit.
There are two prominent buyout candidates on their roster in defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and Brendan Smith. Both have two years left on their contracts and have been shopped around the league with no takers thus far. Buying one (or both) blueliners out would give Gorton some much-needed cap space to work with.
A buyout for Shattenkirk would free up over $5MM alone for next season. However, given the front-loaded nature of the contract, the savings would drop to just $567K for 2020-21 while adding an extra $1.433MM on the books for two years after that so there would be some long-term pain for that short-term gain. Smith’s deal was also slightly front-loaded but doesn’t have as extreme of year-to-year variances in the buyout cost. Buying him out would save $3.379MM next season and $1.2MM in 2020-21 while adding $1.145MM for two seasons after that.
Back when the first buyout window closed, Gorton didn’t know whether or not he’d be able to land the big fish on the free agent market in Artemi Panarin. That wound up happening with the winger signing for over $11.6MM per season so their financial situation is a lot different now than it was just a week ago. They didn’t need to buy anyone out then. Unless they decide to start trading a couple of players away for future assets, they may need to this time.
The window will open up once both Buchevich and Trouba are under contract, something that could still take a month or more to happen depending on where they’re slated on the arbitration schedule. As a result, it may be a while before Gorton is forced to make a decision on how to free up that extra cap room but he certainly still has some work to do to get the team cap compliant for October.