New Yorkers who have their mail delivered to Midtown addresses are not among the 99 percent required to clip coupons. The Rangers are no exception. The Blueshirts are not pressed for cash considering their ticket sales at Madison Square Garden and television revenue via MSG Network.
In that way, the $13 million they owed Dan Girardi over the next three seasons was not the issue. It was Girardi’s declining performance and $5.5 million average annual value that prompted the Rangers to buy out the defensive defenseman’s contract.
“I poured my heart and soul into this team for the past 11 seasons and I enjoyed every minute of it,” the undrafted Girardi said in a statement on Wednesday. “I want to acknowledge that the Rangers are a first-class organization who have always treated our players in a first-class fashion. My family and I are most grateful for the way we have been treated during our stay in New York.”
General manager Jeff Gorton was part of the hockey operations team that signed Girardi to a six-year, $33 million anchor on Feb. 28, 2014. But former GM Glen Sather was ultimately responsible for Girardi’s ill-advised extension. On Thursday, it was left to Gorton, a Melrose native and former Bruins interim GM, to make the painful decision to pay Girardi to go away.
The buyout will leave Gorton with six years of dead money to apply toward the Rangers’ cap ceiling: $2,611,111 in 2017-18; $3,611,111 in 2018-19 and 2019-20; and $1,111,111 for the final three seasons, according to CapFriendly.com. It is a big nut — cash that could have been applied toward bottom-six help or a trustworthy depth defenseman. But it was a decision that had to be made.
In 2010-11, Girardi hit his high-water mark of 31 points (four goals, 27 assists) in 80 games. Even then, there were red flags. During five-on-five situations, the right-shot defenseman posted a 46.7 Corsi For rating. It partly reflected the strength of competition. But it was also a sign that opponents possessed the puck at a high rate while Girardi was on the ice. While Girardi was patrolling the right side, opponents averaged 60.6 shot attempts per 60 minutes of play, the highest total allowed by any Rangers defenseman.
In 2010-11, Girardi was in the first season of a four-year, $13.3 million contract. At best, he was due a short-term extension upon the deal’s expiration. If the Rangers had exercised wiser judgment, they would have walked away from Girardi after 2013-14.
They had a better right-shot option in Anton Stralman, who scored one goal and 12 assists in 81 games to accompany a 56.2 Corsi For rating in 2013-14. Instead, they extended Girardi while letting Stralman walk. On July 1, 2014, Stralman signed a five-year, $22.5 million contract with Tampa Bay. He has become a top-pairing fixture alongside Victor Hedman.
Girardi executed the tasks that ex-coach John Tortorella and current boss Alain Vigneault preach: musclebound defending, stout leadership, a reckless willingness to block shots, and a zealous ability to play with pain.
Those qualities, however, clouded the fact that defense-first defensemen do not age well. The league was already trending toward smart, smooth-skating, and nimble defensemen who did their best work by dulling advances with their sticks and positioning, retrieving pucks, and getting them going the other way.
The Bruins had to buy out Dennis Seidenberg, a defenseman with a similar skill set and a $4 million AAV. The Maple Leafs sprinted to rid themselves of Dion Phaneuf’s seven-year, $49 million contract. The Flyers tucked Andrew MacDonald in the minors for part of 2015-16 because his $5 million AAV did not correspond with his inconsistent defensive abilities.
The Rangers would like to sign Kevin Shattenkirk, a New Rochelle, N.Y., native. But they may not be able to afford the point-producing defenseman because of Girardi’s buyout number and the raise due to restricted free agent Mika Zibanejad.
The Rangers are not alone in regrettable defense-first signings. Chicago’s usual cap crunch is not aided by the $6.875 million due to Brent Seabrook annually through 2024. Ex-Bruin Johnny Boychuk is entering the second season of a seven-year, $42 million payday. Defenseman Brooks Orpik has two seasons left on a five-year, $27.5 million deal with the Capitals. All three could be facing future buyouts, not because they can’t play, but because their contracts are not in line with their contributions.
It’s tricky to peg accurate value to defensive defensemen. Vancouver took a conservative approach by signing Erik Gudbranson to a one-year, $3.5 million extension. It was a safer alternative for the Canucks than locking themselves into a long-term commitment with the 25-year-old. With stay-at-home defensemen, teams are best served practicing caution.
FIGURING IT OUT
Forecasting first picks of Knights
For almost a year, GMs have moved their puzzle pieces around, trying to figure out who to protect from Vegas GM George McPhee and who to expose in expansion.
That exercise is nearing conclusion.
As of 5 p.m. on Saturday, 30 GMs were required to submit their protection lists to the NHL Central Registry and the NHLPA. Things are now in the hands of McPhee and his colleagues, who must make their selections by 10 a.m. on Wednesday.
It is a complicated process that involves multiple factors: projected player performance, personality, age, salary, marketability, health, and coachability, to say nothing of granular characteristics such as left- or right-handedness. Mix in the trade variable, and it is evident why conducting mock drafts is a waste of time.
“It’s not humanly possible to evaluate all of them as thoroughly as you’d like,” said Tim Chan, associate professor of industrial engineering at the University of Toronto. “There are so many combinations and permutations out there. We did a quick computation number on the different scenarios, and it’s more atoms than there are in the universe.”
Chan would know. The Vancouver native, who earned his PhD in operations research at MIT, specializes in optimization, the practice of determining a preferred conclusion upon considering multiple parameters. Scheduling patients optimally and designing fastest shipping routes for packages are two examples of optimization at work.
Chan and a team of his students applied some of their optimization expertise into NHLExpansionDraft.com. It is an optimization exercise made into a clickable interface, taking into account some of the variables that McPhee and his group are considering ahead of Wednesday’s final decisions.
Based on its default settings, the site assembles the Golden Knights’ roster with a single click. The model considers what would be the best protection formats for the 30 teams being looted: 7-3-1 for most teams, including the Bruins, and 8-1 (eight skaters, one goalie) for the franchises fortunate enough to be stacked on the back end. For example, the model protects P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm, Roman Josi, and Ryan Ellis for Nashville.
The model’s primary parameters are age, 2017-18 salary, and 2016-17 performance. Financial numbers are from CapFriendly.com. Performance data is compiled through point shares and goals versus threshold, which are considered in advanced statistics, as well as player ratings from EA Sports’ NHL 17.
The model’s reliance on analytics partly indicates why it designates Colin Miller as the third defenseman the Bruins will protect after Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug. Miller’s game translates well to advanced stats. In five-on-five play, Miller posted a 60.3 Corsi For rating, second-highest on the team after only Patrice Bergeron (61.1). When Miller was on the ice, the Bruins allowed 43.9 shot attempts per 60 minutes of play, the lowest rate on the roster. Then after factoring in Miller’s age (24) and price ($1 million annually), it’s evident why the model prefers him over Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid.
Whether the Bruins feel the same will not be known until the protection lists are released on Sunday. Kevan Miller proved in the playoffs that he has gained coach Bruce Cassidy’s trust as a third-pairing defenseman and penalty killer. He averaged 25:14 of ice time, third most after Chara and Charlie McAvoy. Kevan Miller’s skill set, however, does not translate to robust advanced stats: 53.7 Corsi For, 48.2 shot attempts allowed per 60.
The model has Vegas selecting Kevan Miller. He is younger and cheaper than McQuaid. On Wednesday, we’ll see if the Golden Knights are thinking the same way.
In Ottawa, Neil is punching out
Ottawa strongman Chris Neil will not return to the only organization he’s known. The hulking right wing, the Senators’ sixth-round selection in 1998, will have to look elsewhere if he wants to keep playing. Had Neil signed an extension with Ottawa, his ice time would have been limited.
“I’d have to say my conversation with Chris Neil was one of my top toughest things to do as general manager here,” Pierre Dorion told Ottawa reporters on Thursday. “I have the utmost respect for Chris Neil. If you look as recently as the Rangers series, I don’t think we win that series without him. Chris, to me, represents everything that people would want us to be. His character, his leadership, his grit, what he’s ready to sacrifice and what he’s ready to do for his teammates, his ability to take on way bigger and stronger guys and fight for his teammates — it’s something that will never be forgotten in this organization.”
The 37-year-old enforcer concludes his Ottawa career with 112 goals and 138 assists in 1,026 games. Neil has 2,522 penalty minutes, the NHL’s active leader in naughty behavior. Zdeno Chara is second with 1,779.
If Neil is unable to land NHL employment in 2017-18, he will leave behind a handful of like-minded musclemen. Jared Boll, Ryan Reaves, and Cody McLeod are the only tough guys under contract. The days of every team carrying a fighter like Neil and Shawn Thornton are over.
“I’m a little bit old school in that players should be allowed to police themselves to a degree,” said Thornton, who squared off with Neil five times, according to hockeyfights.com. “I’m not talking about taking it back to the ’70s with stick-swinging and bench brawls. But I believe there should be consequences to your actions if you’re out of line. I think players should take it into their own hands within reason. The speed of the game is faster than it’s ever been. We worry about player safety, and fighting is a scapegoat for that.”
Senators all right on the left
Dion Phaneuf threw a wrinkle into Ottawa’s plans by declining to waive his no-movement clause ahead of the expansion draft. Given the four seasons at $7 million annually remaining on Phaneuf’s contract, it was possible the Golden Knights would have passed on selecting the 32-year-old, left-shot defenseman. But as much as the Senators would prefer not to lose Marc Methot, Erik Karlsson’s top-pairing partner, the left side is a position of strength. They have Methot, Phaneuf, Mark Borowiecki, Frederik Claesson, and Ben Harpur in the mix. High-end prospect Thomas Chabot, also a left shot, could make the varsity this fall. Chabot is the left-side equivalent of Charlie McAvoy — a dynamic 200-foot defenseman who will not need much AHL prep work, if any. “They can only take one player,” Dorion said of the Golden Knights. “Maybe, as an organization, we lose that player, we move forward. Whatever the position, I feel our depth is very good, whether it’s on defense with some of the kids we have coming.”
Both sides win in Drouin trade
Claude Julien is a happy guy. The ex-Bruins coach now has one of the most skilled players in the league in Jonathan Drouin, wheeled to his hometown team Thursday. Drouin, who wore No. 27 in Tampa (he will flip those digits in Montreal), has as much magic in his hands as Alex Kovalev, who sported the same number. The left-shot wing scored a career-high 21 goals and 32 assists in 2016-17. It is not even close to what he can do with more experience and ice time. The Lightning are just as pleased to receive Mikhail Sergachev in return. The left-shot defenseman, who doesn’t turn 19 until June 25, scored 10 goals and 33 assists in 50 games this past season to help Windsor win the Memorial Cup. He is good enough to make Tampa’s roster as a teenager, even though he has a year of junior eligibility remaining. Forward was both Tampa’s position of strength and a financial liability, given that Drouin, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat required raises. Defense was the Lightning’s weakness. Tampa addressed both issues. This is a trade that both teams love.
The Rangers added the consulting services of Connecticut-based strength and conditioning coach Ben Prentiss to their payroll. Prentiss will be responsible for tailoring training programs for current Rangers and prospects. Prentiss has counted current Blueshirts Chris Kreider and Marc Staal among his clients. Former charges include ex-Ranger Martin St. Louis, whose thunderous thighs could have been classified by arborists for the Audubon Society. Hungry Rangers, however, may not look forward to their future offseason programs. Prentiss demands his clients go gluten- and dairy-free while under his summer watch.
Bridge deal for Teravainen
Teuvo Teravainen submitted a good first season with the Hurricanes. The ex-Blackhawk, acquired as the sweetener for Carolina’s acceptance of Bryan Bickell’s contract, scored 15 goals and 27 assists in 81 games. The budget-conscious Hurricanes, however, went with a two-year, $5.72 million bridge deal with Teravainen instead of a long-term extension following the expiration of his entry-level contract. It gives Carolina two more years of cost control with the skilled left-shot wing. The Hurricanes are in excellent shape in 2017-18. The contract gives GM Ron Francis time to figure out his budget, which is due to soar. Promising defensemen Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce, and Ryan Murphy will be restricted after 2017-18. Same with Elias Lindholm. By then, Francis might have to trade some of his players to afford the second contract of Slavin, who projects to be a keeper.
Old friend Sergei Samsonov, formerly one of Carolina’s pro scouts, will shift to the development staff in 2017-18. Samsonov will work with the organization’s forwards. He becomes Carolina’s second ex-Bruin to work in this capacity. Glen Wesley is also in development, tasked with overseeing the franchise’s defensemen . . . Nice of Bill Belichick to give hockey a nod when commenting on fullback James Develin during Patriots minicamp. “He goes into the corner and gets the puck,” Belichick said, according to a team transcript. “He doesn’t stand in front of the net and put it in, but he goes and digs it out.” Next thing you know, Bruce Cassidy will be praising Torey Krug’s ability to progress through his checks when he’s quarterbacking the power play . . . The Blackhawks officially named Ulf Samuelsson and Don Granato on Thursday as assistant coaches. Both have ties to Joel Quenneville. Samuelsson and Quenneville were teammates in Hartford. Granato, meanwhile, was head coach in Worcester, St. Louis’s former AHL affiliate, when Quenneville was behind the Blues’ bench . . . Mike Vellucci will replace Samuelsson as coach of the Charlotte Checkers, Carolina’s AHL club. Vellucci will continue to serve as Carolina’s assistant GM. Vellucci last stood behind the bench for the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers, counting ex-Bruin Tyler Seguin as one of his former players.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin led the Penguins to their second straight Stanley Cup title and third overall in four trips to the championship round. This year, the duo matched their Cup Final high of 11 combined points, and both finished with positive plus-minus ratings for the first time.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.