There is recent precedent for the Rangers buying out a player to save some cap space, a longtime warrior at that. They bought out Dan Girardi's contract two years ago, and they could very well go the buyout route for at least one player this summer when the buyout period opens on Saturday.
"In all honesty, we haven't ruled it out," Rangers GM Jeff Gorton told the New York Post. "It's on the table. And regardless of what we do with this buyout window, we'd certainly look at the second one, too, depending on what comes up over the next few weeks. A lot can happen."
As the Post reports, Brendan Smith and Kevin Shattenkirk are the two big buyout candidates for the Blueshirts. Are there others? Let's take a look at whom the Rangers might buy out as they prepare for an important summer.
When the Rangers signed Smith to a four-year, $17.4 million contract two summers ago, it seemed like a great deal for both sides. Smith, whom the Rangers acquired at the 2017 trade deadline, had an impressive playoff run for the Blueshirts and appeared to be a great fit for their top four as a lefty comfortable playing the right side.
But Smith's contract has turned out to be cumbersome. His disastrous 2017-18 season included being waived and assigned to AHL Hartford. He played in 63 games this past season, but some of those came as an emergency forward.
Now, with two years left and a cap hit of $4.35 million, his future is a big question mark. The Rangers have a bunch of young defensemen they want to play and develop, and it may be worth cutting bait on Smith to save $3,379,167 on their cap in 2019-20 and $1,204,167 the following season. The Blueshirts would then carry $1,145,833 of dead money for two additional seasons.
The result of Girardi's buyout is four more seasons of dead money: $3,611,111 next season and $1,111,111 each of the following three seasons.
Another player who seemed like a great signing at the time, one of the top free agents on the market two summers ago who grew up a Rangers fan in New Rochelle and took a discount to come home. There were visions of Shattenkirk quarterbacking a potent power play and forming a strong top pair with Ryan McDonagh.
Those two played a total of four periods together to open the 2017-18 season before they were split up. Shattenkirk played through a torn meniscus which eventually required surgery and McDonagh was traded to Tampa Bay.
He then played in 73 games in 2018-19 but recorded just 28 points. From 2013-14 through the 2016-17 season, Shattenkirk had 189 points in 289 games.
Shattenkirk has a $6.65 million cap hit for two more seasons. A buyout would have big implications for this season as it would save them $5,166,667 for 2019-20, but they'd save just $566,667 for 2020-21 while carrying a dead hit of $6,083,333. The dead hit for the following two seasons would be $1,433,333.
This would be difficult for all involved parties given the pomp and circumstance surrounding Shattenkirk's initial homecoming. But as the Girardi buyout showed, the Rangers won't make decisions based on emotions. They'll do what's best for the franchise.
This seems less likely than it did a couple of years ago, especially since two other defensemen are greater candidates for a buyout. The Blueshirts loaded the organization with young defensemen and can't purge every veteran blue-liner.
That said, Staal has a $5.7 million cap hit over the next two seasons, and the Rangers would free up $2.8 million in cap space next season and $2 million for 2020-21 with a Staal buyout. They'd then have $1.2 million of dead money on the cap for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons.
The Rangers were in a position at the 2018 trade deadline, shortly after they announced in a letter to fans their intent to rebuild, to take on a bad contract. In dealing Rick Nash to Boston, they received Ryan Lindgren, Ryan Spooner, a first-round pick and Beleskey, who came with a $1.9 million cap hit as Boston retained 50 percent of his salary.
It's not exactly a huge burden for the Rangers to keep him in the NHL or bury his contract, which has one season remaining, in the AHL. But he clearly doesn't have a future with the Rangers and isn't very useful, so perhaps they let him go to try to pursue other opportunities.
Beleskey had 22 points in 53 games for AHL Hartford in 2018-19 and played four games in the NHL.
All buyout numbers come from CapFriendly's Buyout Calculator, which you can view here.