In a season full of surprises, none was bigger than 22-year-old defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
The former Wisconsin Badger was stolen from Montreal in the laughable Scott Gomez salary dump, arguably Glen Sather’s greatest transaction as general manager of the New York Rangers.
McDonagh spent the first half of the 2010-2011 season quietly honing his game in Connecticut before being called up on January 3, 2011.
He immediately clicked with Michael Sauer, bolstering New York’s second defensive pair just in time for the playoff push.
But even McDonagh’s stellar rookie season couldn’t prepare us for his monster 2011-2012 campaign.
With Marc Staal lost to a concussion, McDonagh joined Dan Girardi on the top pair and matched the 2012 All-Star every step of the way.
McDonagh really stole the spotlight in the postseason and his signature moment came in the triple overtime Game Three thriller against Washington when McDonagh logged a ridiculous 53:17 and blocked eight shots.
Following his banner year, many Rangers fans are clamoring for the team’s number one priority this offseason to be signing McDonagh to a long-term contract extension. While there’s no question that McDonagh is worth far more than the paltry $1.3 million he made this season, an extension isn’t likely forthcoming.
McDonagh represents one of the best bargains in the league entering the final year of his Entry Level deal and New York isn’t likely to open contract negotiations early.
On the open market, McDonagh could likely command $5 million per season. The Blueshirts might be able to lock him up for slightly less if they attempted to sign him now – say $4 million per year – considering the advantage of immediate financial security and the comparable recent deals inked by Staal and Girardi.
However, that’s not the way New York has done business in recent years.
Part of what has made the Blueshirts so successful is the team’s radically altered economic philosophy, one in which young commodities that far outperform their contracts are highly preferable to overpaid veterans.
Of course, the Rangers figured that out a bit later than many other teams, but they are now among the most cost conscious organizations when it comes to following their carefully designed plan for exploiting young talent.
It’s very advantageous for the Blueshirts to employ McDonagh at a discounted rate for the short term as it frees up plenty of cash and it also gives the organization protection in case McDonagh’s development stalls or he succumbs to injury.
Those reasons are why the Blueshirts have preferred to stretch Entry Level contracts to the max before issuing paydays.
Consider the recent youngsters that were due for new Broadway deals:
- Brian Boyle – Scheduled for arbitration date on July 25, 2011, inked a two-year $3.4 million deal a couple of weeks before hearing
- Brandon Dubinsky – Re-signed for four-years, $16.8 million the morning of his 2011 arbitration appointment
- Ryan Callahan – Signed a three-year, $12.825 million deal hours before his arbitration hearing last summer.
- Mike Sauer – Avoided arbitration hearing last summer by signing a two-year, $2.5 million deal
- Dan Girardi – Avoided scheduled arbitration date and was re-signed for four-years, $13.325 million in 2010
- Marc Staal – Inked a five-year, $19.875 million contract after a holdout in 2010
McDonagh would be a restricted free agent next summer, meaning New York could choose to take him to arbitration to settle on a new salary. The Blueshirts may also control McDonagh’s rights for a couple of more seasons, depending on what happens with the new CBA. And unfortunately for McDonagh, he has very little leverage to change anything about his current situation.
The Blueshirts have been unafraid to threaten young players with arbitration hearings in recent years and though nearly all have re-upped before ever setting foot in court, the team has ended up with cap-friendly deals in nearly every situation.
However it’s quite possible that the Blueshirts could regret not extending McDonagh now for a few reasons:
- Tricky summers lie ahead when Artem Anisimov, Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan and Michael Sauer become free agents in 2013 and Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, Dan Girardi and Henrik Lundqvist are due for new pacts in 2014.
- Failing to extend McDonagh could also burn the Rangers (if you want to look at it that way) should NBC Sports Network’s Pierre McGuire’s playoff prediction that McDonagh will grow into a 50-point player come true, for high-scoring defensemen have a much easier time negotiating giant paydays.
- Though it’s unlikely there will be dramatic changes to the economic system for handling young players with the new CBA, there is at least a chance and the Rangers’ current plans could be thrown for a loop.
No one wants to see hard-working homegrown players that have earned new contracts be shortchanged, but the reality is that the savings gained by employing young, cheap players makes extra cash available to go after the missing piece of the puzzle in unrestricted free agency, be it Brad Richards a season ago or Zach Parise this summer.
New York does risk the possibility of angering some of its core players that believe they’ve earned raises with their service to the franchise, but thus far the Blueshirts have avoided such confrontations and McDonagh doesn’t seem like the type to stir the pot.
There exists a fine line between antagonizing a player and playing to win within the league’s economic rules, but GM Glen Sather has done a phenomenal job of straddling it over the last few seasons.
And if the Blueshirts do surprisingly end up paying McDonagh a year early, it should show you just how valuable they consider him.