With the news the National Hockey League salary cap could rise to as high as $63.5 million next season, much of the focus has been on what teams could do with the extra money. For the New York Rangers it makes the chase for Brad Richards much easier to complete while resigning the key restricted free agents (Callahan, Dubinsky, Anisimov, Sauer, Boyle) that the team must do as well this summer. One aspect that has not been talked about much is whether the extra $4.1 million, if the cap goes to the max number of $63.5, could mean that some of the Rangers who have been rumored to be buyout candidates might get another year on the roster.
The main candidates that have been discussed in buyout talks have been captain Chris Drury and winger Wojtek Wolski with some speculation regarding Sean Avery as well. Part of the reason for the buyouts was to clear room to go after Richards this summer, but with that added money the pressure to find the money for next year would be greatly reduced.
There is no question that Drury is still massively overpaid at $7.05 million against the cap next season. Working in Drury’s favor is the apparent good standing he has with the coaching staff and players within the room. He can have value to the team as a fourth line center, faceoff man and penalty killer, but the salary itself is a killer. In terms of the cap though the question becomes with the cap likely to go down in future years as there is a new CBA do you wait out the last year of Drury, paying the extra $3.33 million against the cap in order to save the 1.67 million off the cap in the 2012-13 season. There is also some question whether the Rangers would truly want to buyout their current captain.
What works for Wolski in this scenario is the weak nature of the unrestricted free agent market in terms of forwards. There are few forwards out there who have the skill to be real impact players for the $3.8 million that Wolski will make next season. Working against Wolski is his inconsistency and inability to maximize his tremendous physical tools over the past few seasons.
The decisions on Drury or Wolski do not come in a vacuum. Factors involved will include: projected cost of signing the five key restricted free agents listed; projected cost of signing Richards; what if any other needs the Rangers seek to fill through free agency.
If the $4.1 million increase goes through, then it is conceivable that the Rangers could keep their key RFA’s, sign Richards and keep Drury or Wolski on the roster at their salary, but it would leave little to no other money. The $3.33 million that would be saved in the Drury or Wolski buyout against the 2011-12 cap could be used to add more offensive scoring or even an offensive defender this summer. While everyone is thinking about how to spend the potential new money from a cap increase, there is also the potential it means some players stick around longer than expected.