The Rangers’ summer of blockbuster moves produced its latest big highlight Friday when the club announced it had reached agreement with restricted free agent defenseman Jacob Trouba on a contract, avoiding salary arbitration with their presumed No. 1 defenseman by locking him up with a reported seven-year, $56 million deal.
The contract, which carries an average annual value of $8 million, pushes the Rangers over the $81.5 million salary cap for now (by $900,000, according to Cap Friendly), with the club having four other restricted free agents – Pavel Buchnevich, Tony DeAngelo, Brendan Lemieux and Vinni Lettieri – still to sign. Buchnevich, like Trouba, had filed for salary arbitration.
The Rangers acquired Trouba June 17 from Winnipeg, returning the Jets' first-round pick, No. 20 overall, which had been acquired as part of the Kevin Hayes trade in February. The Rangers also sent the Jets defenseman Neal Pionk, himself a restricted free agent, to complete the deal. (The Jets took defenseman Villie Heinola of Finland with the pick they got back from the Rangers.)
Trouba, 25, a Rochester, Michigan, native and the ninth overall pick by Winnipeg in the 2012 draft, played in all 82 games last season for the Jets and had eight goals and 42 assists, for 50 points. At the time they acquired him, the Rangers had not yet landed the prize of the free-agent market, forward Artemi Panarin. When they won the battle to get Panarin, with a seven-year, $81.5 million contract ($11.64 AAV) on July 1, that created a situation they now find themselves in, where they are over the salary cap and need to find some way to shed salary and create cap space to sign their remaining RFAs. They can be up to 10 percent over the cap up until opening night, Oct. 3.
General manager Jeff Gorton will try to trade players to offload salary, of course – one of those, potentially, being Chris Kreider ($4.625 million cap hit). But another way to create cap room would be to buy out the contract of one or more players, as the decision by Trouba and Buchnevich to file for arbitration allows the Rangers to open a second summer buyout window. The window will open two days after their final arbitration case is decided or settled (Buchnevich’s hearing is scheduled for July 29), and will remain open for 48 hours.
The most talked-about buyout candidates are defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk, who has two years remaining on his contract with an annual cap hit of $6.65 million; and Brendan Smith, who has two years remaining at an annual hit of $4.35 million. Buying out Shattenkirk would free up $5.16 million this season, but would cost the Rangers a cap hit of $6.08 million next season, and $1.433 million of dead money on the cap in each of the two seasons after that. Buying out Smith would free up $3.37 million this season, but come with a cap hit of $3.14 million next season and $1.14 million in each of the two years after that.