Jacob Trouba injury presents Rangers with salary-cap puzzle

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If you take a snapshot of the Rangers’ cap status on an off day, you will see that the team might have just under $8 million of available space. But that would qualify as an optical illusion.

Because nearly all of that space is a consequence of the team removing players such as Igor Shesterkin, Kaapo Kakko and K’Andre Miller from the NHL roster by sending them to the taxi squad in paper transactions in order to accrue savings based primarily on entry-level bonus provisions.

These paper transactions have become the rage across the league. Some of these moves have been dictated by the impact of COVID-19. For the most part, though, teams are doing it to save space, though some are doing it solely to save money that generally amounts to around $5,100 per day per player on a standard entry-level deal for an NHL base of $832,500 and AHL salary of $70,000.

According to Capfriendly.com, NHL teams made 513 transactions within the first calendar month of 2016-17; 553 in 2017-18; 620 in 2018-19; 647 last year; and … 2,203 this season.

But back to the Rangers, who, after refilling the varsity on game-days have a true amount of around $675,000 of available space. That is a function of the fact that the team has had Jack Johnson and Filip Chytil on Injured Reserve for a substantial length of time and have needed to recall reinforcements. Players on IR still count against the cap.

It is also a function of the team absorbing a $3.725 million cap charge on Tony DeAngelo’s one-way contract that has been assigned forevermore to the taxi squad. Oh, and of the bonus overage, too. But you knew that.

Jacob Trouba is the latest Blueshirt to go down, the defenseman having sustained a broken thumb by using an open hand to block Will Butcher’s shot at 16:53 of the second period of Tuesday’s match against New Jersey at the Garden. Adding insult to injury, Butcher retrieved the puck and scored 21 seconds later by banking one in off Trouba’s leg to give the Devils a 2-1 lead in a game they would win 5-2.

Rangers Jacob Trouba injury
Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba is out four-to-six weeks with a broken thumb.
NHLI via Getty Images

Trouba is expected to be sidelined for four-to-six weeks starting with Thursday’s match in Philadelphia against the 8-3-2 Flyers, whom the 4-7-3 Blueshirts are facing for the first time. The question confronting management is whether to place Trouba under the Long Term Injury designation.

If Trouba — who carries an annual cap hit of $8 million — were to go on LTIR on a game day where the Rangers are, say, $675,000 under the cap, they would gain an additional $7.325 million in space during Trouba’s absence. That would allow management to bolster the slumping club by making a deal or two that would entail adding payroll. Of course, the team would have to shed the additional money upon Trouba’s return so LTIR-ing No. 8 would provide for only temporary relief.

There are also other factors for general manager Jeff Gorton and the front office to consider that probably mitigate against placing the defenseman on LTIR.

First, if Trouba heals quickly, he might not miss 10 games or be sidelined for 24 days. The Blueshirts’ 10th game (beginning with the match in Philadelphia) is scheduled for March 9. That would be 20 days away. They are scheduled to play two games until the 24-day requirement is met. Of course, there is always the possibility that games might be postponed, meaning that a healthy Trouba might be forced to sit out until the complement of 10 matches is fulfilled.

Second, Johnson, who has been out with a groin issue since Jan. 28, appears to be nearing a return to active duty. When he is restored to the roster, the team could dispatch either Anthony Bitetto or Libor Hajek to the taxi squad. The Rangers would then have six defensemen on the active roster. Bitetto carries a $737,500 cap hit while Hajek is in at $833,333.

And third, and maybe most significant, if Trouba goes on LTIR, the Rangers would forfeit the benefit of accruing taxi-squad cap savings on their entry-level players’ bonus provisions. For example, by assigning Shesterkin to the taxi squad, the team would save on the goaltender’s $832,500 base but not so much of a penny on his $2.85 million bonus package.

So while there would be a temporary benefit to placing Trouba on LTIR, the preponderance of evidence suggests that such a move would not be worth it.

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