The Rangers and restricted free agent Pavel Buchnevich have reached agreement on a contract.
The agreement with the forward, announced by the Rangers on Friday night, means the team and player have avoided salary arbitration, which had been scheduled for Monday. It also opens a second buyout window for the Rangers, who are over the $81.5 million salary cap and are going to have to do something drastic to shed enough salary to get under the cap by opening night, Oct. 3.
The buyout window opens on Monday and will be open for 48 hours.
Buchnevich’s deal is for two years and worth a reported $3.25 million per year. Buchnevich, 24, had 21 goals and 17 assists in 64 games this past season.
The clock now starts on the Rangers, who need to trim their payroll after an active summer spent aggressively adding assets they believe will speed up their rebuilding process.
The summer started when they won the No. 2 overall pick in the NHL Draft Lottery, which they used to take Finnish forward Kaapo Kakko, and continued when general manager Jeff Gorton traded for 21-year-old defenseman Adam Fox and top defenseman Jacob Trouba. Then, on July 1, Gorton landed the biggest prize of the free-agent market, Columbus Blue Jackets winger Artemi Panarin, signing him to a seven-year, $81.5 million deal.
But in spending big on Panarin and Trouba — a restricted free agent whom they locked up last week with a seven-year, $56 million deal — the payroll quickly shot above the cap limit. Gorton still has two RFAs left to sign, defenseman Tony DeAngelo and forward Brendan Lemieux.
So Gorton now must trade away some significant salary — forwards Chris Kreider, Vlad Namestnikov and Ryan Strome are the most likely candidates — or reduce payroll by buying out the contract of a player or two.
The two names thrown around most often as potential buyout candidates for the Rangers are defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Brendan Smith. Both have two years left on four-year contracts signed in the summer of 2017.
A buyout of Shattenkirk — whose cap hit for each of the next two seasons is $6.65 million — would save $5.2 million against the cap this season, according to CapFriendly’s calculation. But next season, his cap hit would be $6.1 million, and the Rangers would carry $1.433 million of dead money on their salary cap in the two seasons after that.
A buyout of Smith, who carries a cap hit of $4.35 million per in each of the next two seasons, would save the Rangers $3.38 million this season, according to CapFriendly. But his cap hit would be $3.15 million next season, and the Rangers would carry $1.15 million in dead money on their payroll for two years after that.
If the Rangers don’t want to use the buyout option, then trading Kreider, who is entering the final year of his contract and carries a $4.625 million cap hit, would seem to be the likeliest move. If they don’t trade Kreider, they’ll have to sign him to a contract extension somewhere in the range of seven years and $7 million per year, and that won’t help their salary-cap situation in the next few years.
It’s hard to imagine teams lining up to trade for Namestnikov ($4 million this season) or Strome ($3.1 million). It would be harder still to imagine teams being willing to trade for Shattenkirk or Smith, even if the Rangers retain some of their salaries.