Drury Can't Be Bought Out?!?!

It all seemed so clear just a few days ago. How the Rangers were going to upgrade their roster and become a legitimate cup contender. They would fill their primary need, that of a #1 center, by signing Brad Richards. They would easily have enough cap space to offer Richards a market-value deal by buying out the utterly disappointing Chris Drury's contract as soon as the buyout period began. Drury was even warned by GM Glen Sather that this was going to happen.

Yep, it was all good. The last stain of Slats' irresponsible free agent spending sprees would be gone. Except when is it ever that easy for Ranger fans? Never, never is it that easy for us.

Now comes news from the New York Post's Larry Brooks that maybe Chris Drury can't be bought out at all. What?!?!?!?!?!? Yes, that's right. Brooks reported that because of a degenerative knee, Drury would not be able to be bought out.

Just like in the regular world, you can't fire someone who is disabled. Drury is set to file paperwork with the league claiming that he is and will be unable to play in the NHL due to a degenerative knee injury that caused him to miss a chunk of the regular season this year.

Now I've perused the CBA (available for download on the official NHLPA website) looking for any articles that cover buyouts and Long Term Injury (LTI) and I can't find anything directly stating a club cannot buyout the contract of a player eligible for LTI. Maybe Brooks is incorrect but for the sake of argument let's say he's right. After all, Brooks wasn't the first to suggest if Drury was legitimately hurt he couldn't be bought out. Arthur Staple of Newsday made the same assertion.

So if the Rangers are precluded from buying out Drury, where does that leave the club as it attempts to squeeze a market-value contract for Richards and re-signs all of their RFA's?

According to Capgeek, the Rangers have just less than $41 million committed to the cap going to 13 players; eight forwards, three defensemen and two goaltenders. Really though since Drury's cap hit is counting but he won't play, we only have 12 players under contract. Assuming a full roster of 22 players (13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies) the Rangers need to sign, trade for or promote from the minors some combination of 10 players.

The salary cap is expected to rise to somewhere between $62 and $63.5 million according to several estimates. That leaves the Rangers with around $21.5 million in cap space should we assume a cap ceiling of $62.5 million.

Two more things to consider: one-way contracts for players demoted to the minors the previous league year (i.e. Wade Redden) count towards the summer cap and; the summer cap ceiling is 10% higher than the regular season cap ceiling. That means the Rangers have roughly $47.5 million committed against a summer ceiling of about $68.75 million. That really leaves the Rangers $21.25 million. Basically, the extra 10% the summer cap allows is all swallowed up by Redden's deal being counted against the summer cap.

Alright, let's calculate roughly which RFA's will be re-signed and what they will count against the cap before we see if the Rangers have the cap space necessary to still make a play for Richards.

Here are the RFA's I expect back and the salary or cap hit I expect each to account for:

Brandon Dubinsky - $4 million
Ryan Callahan - $4 million
Artem Anisimov - $1.75 million
Brian Boyle - $1.75 million
Mike Sauer - $1.5 million

I think those numbers are fairly close to what each will get. Maybe I'll be proven too high on some or too low on others but all-in-all I should be close. That's a total of $13 million which reduces our available cap space to $8.25 million. Plus we've only added five players when we probably need nine or 10 to fill out our roster.

I've also neglected to mention newly-acquired D Tim Erixon who agreed to an entry-level deal accounting for an annual cap hit of $1.75 million. That further reduces our available summer cap space to $6.5 million with three or four more roster spots to fill.

With Richards expected to sign a deal for between $6 million and $7 million, if not more, the Rangers would be forced to commit all their cap space to Richards without filling all of their roster spots.

Now there are procedural ways to tweak the numbers and allow the Rangers more room. Naturally they could free up over $3 million if they decide to buyout the remaining year of Wojtek Wolski's deal. That may not make a lot of sense since they do have a need for skill on the wings and despite his inconsistencies, Wolski might be the clubs second most skilled offensive player.

They also have the benefit of not having to count the cap hits of entry-level players like Erixon, Evgeny Grachev, Carl Hagelin, etc. since they have two-way contracts. Only one-way contracts and players who finished the year on the big club and who are still under contract count against the summer camp. With several young guys expected to challenge for roster spots, including the three mentioned above, this gives the Rangers a little more wiggle room.

The Rangers may also be able to get Ruslan Fedotenko to agree to another "tryout" with the Rangers with the understanding he will make the final roster and with a prearranged salary. Since he would be on a tryout, Feds wouldn't count against the cap.

Plus there is the simple question of when can the club put Drury on LTI and gain the LTI exception. Let's look at the numbers again ($62.5 million ceiling, $41 million commitment, $13 million more to RFA's) while assuming Redden's deal and the 10% summer cap allowance cancel each other out. The Rangers, accounting for the LTI exception, would be able to exceed the cap ceiling by as much as the $7.05 million value of Drury's cap hit. But if they can't place Drury on LTI until they are required to finalize their roster in advance of the start of the regular season (which is also the earliest they can shed Redden's cap hit too), its going to be much more difficult to get Richards and all of their RFA's under contract this summer.

Maybe this is much ado about nothing. Maybe Staple and Brooks aren't completely accurate on whether the Rangers can buyout Drury or not. Maybe Drury will retire since he can't play next year anyway. Maybe Glen Sather, with advance knowledge of Drury's situation, has already made plans to clear cap space in order to pursue Richards.

Regardless, that's a lot of maybes in an off-season that the Rangers need to be smart and careful. I don't like all of these questions. The summer plan looked so simple before all of this came up. Without a doubt, this off-season is going to be very active, very exciting and very scary for me.