The salary cap for the 2011-2012 season is going to rise, this much we know. With a rise in the regular salary cap comes a rise in the summer salary cap, which is 10% higher than the regular season cap. At the projected $62.2 million cap for next season, the summer cap would increase to $68.42 million. That is an increase of $6.22 million for the summer months of free agency. This increase becomes essential for the Rangers, as all players that have an NHL contract are added to the summer roster/cap hit. This means that any player who is signed to an NHL deal, no matter where they played (ie: AHL) will be on the summer cap. This of course, means that Wade Redden and his $6.5 million cap hit will again become a factor in the Rangers summer plans.
For all intents and purposes, the summer cap rise and the re-introduction of Redden’s contract is a wash. The $6.5 million cap hit is $300k more than the projected salary cap rise. On the surface, this looks like a wash, but when looking a little deeper, it essentially forces the Rangers to push up their timeframe for their summer plans. Gone is the $6 million cushion to sign their targeted unrestricted free agents and get their restricted free agents under contract. Essentially, the Rangers have to comply with the $62 million cap all summer.
That unfortuntely creates a bit of a problem for the Rangers, who have five key restricted free agents to sign in the summer. The Rangers faced a similar problem in the summer of 2009, when they were negotiating with Brandon Dubinsky the first time around. Dubinsky didn’t re-sign until the middle of September. While it’s unlikely that the negotiations with all five RFAs will take that long, it is a scenario that may have to occur to stay cap compliant. The good thing is that the Rangers can re-waive Redden in September, and use that freed up space as they see fit for the RFAs.
The Rangers can also employ a strategy similar to what they did with Henrik Lundqvist in the summer of 2007. For those that recall, the Rangers had just signed Chris Drury and Scott Gomez to monster deals, but still had to sign their franchise goaltender, and had little room to do so. So the Rangers orchestrated a one-year deal with Lundqvist for $4.25 million, with the promise of extending that contract in January, when the extension wouldn’t count against the current year’s cap. In February of 2008, Lundqvist signed his six-year, $41.25 million deal.
If need be, the Rangers can employ this kind of strategy with a player they see as a clear cut future of the franchise. The first player that comes to mind here is Ryan Callahan. There is a school of thought that says lock up Cally first, as he is the future captain of the team. However, employing the “Hank Strategy” –as I’m going to call it– gives the Rangers significant short-term flexibility while trying to be cap compliant. It is clear Cally is the future, as was Hank in 2007. It shows a commitment to the player and the team.
The re-introduction of Redden’s salary to the summer cap isn’t a good thing for the Rangers, but it’s not something that will hamstring the Rangers from making the moves necessary to dress a team that is an improvement from last year’s team. The more you look at it, the more it becomes an “it is what it is” scenario. Luckily for the Rangers, they have done a good job clearing salary cap space. With the projected rise in the cap, it’s still likely that even with Redden’s contract on the summer cap, they will be able to make all the moves they plan on making this summer.