With the New York Rangers needing to shed over $4 million in salary by Opening Night in order to get under the NHL’s salary cap, most people (myself included) have figured that Wade Redden would be earning a one-way ticket to the AHL. Up until recently, the only question was whether he would be a member of the Hartford Wolf Pack or the Connecticut Whalers.
While the Hartford Wolf Pack part is still in play, the Connecticut Whalers part isn’t now that Howard Baldwin is in charge of the franchise and will re-brand the team the Connecticut Whale on or about February 29, 2011 when the team is expected to play an outdoor game at Rentschler Field against the Providence Bruins as part of a 10-day Hockey Fest.
A rose (or a team) by any other name would still smell as sweet to Ranger fans just as long as Redden and his $6.5 million contract vacate Madison Square Garden.
Interestingly enough, Coach John Tortorella softened his hard stance on Redden by extending a pre-season olive branch.
“We’re not going to single out Wade Redden as far as being isolated and say he’s going to Hartford, right now,” Torts told Newsday’s Steve Zipay. “I know Wade has read all that, and I’m sure it’s weighed on him a little bit. We need to let this play out. I know we’re over the cap, but a lot of different things can happen before the season starts.”
Even Glen Sather made a rare appearance in front of the media to come to Redden’s defense – sort of.
“I don’t think salary should have a distinction on whether a guy makes the hockey team,” Sather told Jesse Spector of the Daily News . “I’m sure we’ll be able to do that (get under the cap). There’s lots of ways to do it.”
Yes, the Rangers have some options other than sending Redden to the AHL. They could clear out the necessary cap space by gerrymandering the roster and moving out contracts like Todd White ($2.375 million cap hit), Sean Avery ($1.938 million), Matt Gilroy ($1.75 million), and Steve Eminger ($1.125 million).
The problem with this nickel-and-dime approach is that it leaves the Rangers little or no wiggle room if they decide to keep some youngsters like Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, and Mats Zuccarello-Aasen, or if they decide to sign a veteran blueliner like Garnet Exelby or Alexei Semenov.
They could try and trade Redden to a team with cap space, but not only would the Rangers have to pony up too much in the form of a bribe, how many teams will want to commit themselves to having Redden’s cap hit for three more years beyond this season.
The talk of a Redden for Sheldon Souray swap really does not help either team because Edmonton would be hard pressed to take back Redden and his salary – especially when Souray only has two years left on his deal. Even if Edmonton could be persuaded to do so, the cap savings would be negligible for the Rangers during the next two seasons ($1.1 million per season).
The Rangers could try and move Michal Rozsival and his $5 million cap hit, but they run into the same problems as they would trying to move Redden – how much would they really save and how steep would the price be to move him. Remember, New Jersey Devils President/GM Lou Lamoriello had to send a first round draft pick when he dealt Vladimir Malakhov to the San Jose Sharks in October 2006.
Sending Redden to the AHL eliminates the salary cap problems the Rangers have, but it opens the organization up to a whole new set of problems. How will Redden react to being exiled to the minor leagues? How much ice time will some of the Ranger prospects lose? Even if the prospect in question is a borderline NHL player, it still behooves the Blueshirts to play the youngster.
No, what the Rangers need to do is follow the lead of the Chicago Blackhawks and their dealings with goaltender Cristobal Huet. The Blackhawks are said to be close to arranging a deal where they would loan him to a team in Europe – thus removing him from their salary cap and keeping off their AHL affiliate in Rockford.
The move would not be without precedent around MSG. The Rangers did a similar thing when they assigned Darius Kasparaitis to Hartford in January 2007. The veteran defenseman reported to Hartford after clearing waivers.
Prior to the start of the 2007-2008 season, they Rangers placed him on waivers again and he went down to Hartford and played four games before he was loaned to SKA St. Petersburg. Kasparaitis, theoretically was still a part of the Rangers organization, but his contract did not count against the salary cap.
While technically in breach of his contract, with no transfer agreement in place between the NHL and Russia, the Rangers would have had to sue SKA St. Petersburg – which was not going to happen given that the Rangers were the ones who suggested it in the first place, as John Dellapina of the Daily News pointed out in October 2007.
“They asked me when I was sent to the minors if there was a possibility I could go and play in Russia,” Kasparaitis told Dellapina. “I’m still part of the Rangers. But I’m going there to play. Kind of like a loan.
Loaning to Redden to a team in Europe is not an original one. In fact, Larry Brooks of the NY Post mentioned the possibility in a September 16 NY Post article.
“Redden’s agent, Don Meehan, respectfully declined to respond to an inquiry from The Post whether he has been in contact with clubs in Europe on behalf of his client as an alternative to playing with the AHL Wolf Pack should the defenseman in fact go through waivers,” Brooks reported.
Redden going to Europe might be a win-win for all parties concerned. Not only do the Rangers remove Redden’s salary cap hit, but it is a case of out-of-sight, out-of-mind. If he was sent to the AHL, he would still loom large especially if younger defensemen in New York were struggling and Redden somehow staged a renaissance.
It is a plus for Redden because he would not have to endure an assignment to the minor leagues – which would be a first in his career.
The only concern is if Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL decide to make Redden a test case for tightening up loopholes in the CBA – much like did with Ilya Kovalhcuk and the New Jersey Devils.