It’s no secret that the Rangers are exploring salary-trimming options to accommodate new contracts for restricted free agents Jacob Trouba, Pavel Buchnevich, Brendan Lemieux and Tony DeAngelo.
The $11.6 million-per-year commitment to star offseason signing Artemi Panarin along with the need to sign the aforementioned RFAs will place stress on the Blueshirts’ salary-cap number. Let’s estimate that Trouba, Buchnevich, Lemieux and DeAngelo’s combined salaries will total just under $15 million in average annual value.
According to Cap Friendly, the Rangers currently possess just over $7 million in cap room on a 21-man roster without the foursome signed to new deals. Something’s got to give for the Rangers to fill out their roster while simultaneously relieving cap pressure for both the short-term and long-term.
Chris Kreider, Vladislav Namestnikov and Ryan Strome have been suggested as tradeable options to alleviate the cap crunch. Brendan Smith and Kevin Shattenkirk are buyout possibilities. Interestingly, the New York Post recently suggested that Buchnevich could be on the trade block.
Few players in the league are totally hands-off, untradeable talents. I’m sure there’s a price that’s high enough for general manager Jeff Gorton to consider moving Buchnevich, but it would have to be a very juicy offer.
Right now, the 24-year-old Buchnevich is at minimum a second-line talent, and when his game is at its best, he’s a one-on-one nightmare for defenders. I don’t think his talent is the kind of talent a team gives up on unless there’s something very wrong with his attitude or work habits.
We’ve seen the Russian challenged by coach David Quinn, and he responded in the appropriate way. After the All-Star break, Buchnevich found greater consistency and finished 2018-19 with 23 points in the last 32 games. I think Quinn knows how to appeal to and motivate the 6-foot-3 wing. Last season’s benchings and tough love prompted Buchnevich to work harder and seek improvements.
There’s a sense that he’s about to blossom and take the next step in his career. Could he become a 70-point player? It wouldn’t shock me. That’s why the Rangers shouldn’t consider trading Buchnevich at this still-developmental stage of his career.
Trading Kreider isn’t ideal, but it makes more sense. At age 28, he’s maxed out to slightly above a 50-point player. While his total package of speed, skill and brawn is impressive, I don’t think it’s enough to warrant a six- or seven-year, $7 million-per-year raise.
Buchnevich is the player you bet on because of his progress and his untapped talent. It would be a big mistake for the Rangers to give up on him this early unless the trade return is massive. The Rangers should hand Buchnevich a “show-me” two-year, bridge deal.
Though there’s a risk that comes with players outperforming their bridge deal salaries, the Rangers need to save money in the short-term and also need to fully assess Buchnevich’s ceiling before handing him a long-term deal. If he hasn’t reached his potential by year two of the bridge contract, that’s when you trade him.
It’s imperative for the Blueshirts to give Buchnevich the opportunity to continue working with Quinn and the chance to prove he can still be a hit on Broadway.