Antti Raanta. Oscar Lindberg. Dan Girardi. Michael Grabner. Marc Staal. Jesper Fast.
As roster decisions and wheeling and dealing in this unusual offseason begin in earnest this week, the first signs of whether one or more of these players won’t be on the ice for the 2017-18 Rangers will surface.
With the first expansion draft in 17 years — since the NHL added the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild and the Blueshirts surrendered defenseman Mathieu Schneider and forward prospect Dmitri Subbotin to Columbus — the Vegas Golden Knights will choose players who aren’t protected by the other 30 clubs. Protected lists must be submitted June 17, and selections must be made by June 21, two days before the NHL entry draft.
Knights general manager George McPhee says he has a pretty good sense of which players — up to 11 for each team — will be protected and is discussing side deals. For example, in 2000, San Jose traded players and draft picks to Columbus and Minnesota to ensure that neither team picked Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. With a similar package, Buffalo persuaded Minnesota not to select goalies Dominik Hasek or Martin Biron.
Because teams can protect only one goaltender and Henrik Lundqvist has a no-movement clause in his contract that automatically exempts him, if the Rangers want to protect Raanta, 28, the valuable backup who was 16-8-2 last season with a 2.26 goals-against average, .922 save percentage and four shutouts, they might engineer a swap. There are numerous goalies available, including Washington’s Philipp Gru bauer, Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo, Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury and Bruins prospect Malcolm Subban.
The Rangers have three other players with no-move clauses (Rick Nash, Girardi and Staal). On Thursday, the first buyout period opens, and speculation is that Girardi, and to a lesser extent Staal, are candidates. Friday is the deadline for waiving those clauses, although there is no indication that any of them would consent.
Girardi, 33, has three years remaining on his contract with an average salary-cap charge of $5.5 million. A buyout would spread the cost over six years, save about $2.88 million next season and $1.88 million each of the following two seasons, and cost $1.1 million each of the next three seasons. A buyout of Staal’s contract would be costlier and stretch over eight seasons, which is why the 30-year-old might be shopped, perhaps to Vegas.
Each of the 30 teams can lose only one player. But Vegas must spend at least 60 percent of the league’s salary cap, or about $43.8 million, in the expansion draft, which means McPhee cannot simply stock the roster with inexpensive players. The expectation is that the Knights will take on a few higher-salaried players in trades that include picks and prospects.
Players on entry-level contracts — such as the Rangers’ Brady Skjei, Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey — are exempt from the draft, and the Blueshirts are expected to protect Ryan McDonagh, Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller and Derek Stepan to complete the maximum of one goalie, three defensemen and seven forwards.
Beyond Raanta, it appears that Lindberg, Grabner and Fast — all on affordable contracts — are the Rangers most attractive to Vegas.
Grabner, who will be 30 in October, has speed and can score and will earn $1.6 million in the final year of his contract. Lindberg, 25, is an effective third-line center with upside and Fast, 25, who will miss the start of the season because of hip surgery, is a smart, fearless, two-way right wing. Both are restricted free agents.
Defensemen Nick Holden and Kevin Klein also will be exposed, but younger and better blueliners will be available for McPhee.
Naturally, more moves are widely expected at the entry draft in Chicago on June 23-24, but the offseason will heat up this week.