In July of 2008, the Rangers signed free agent Wade Redden to a six-year contract worth $6.5 million a season. It was a contract they'd come to regret: After two disappointing seasons in New York, the Rangers sent the high-priced defenseman to the AHL, because burying his contract in the minors meant he wouldn't count against the team's salary cap. It was a loophole in the last CBA that a rich team like the Rangers was happy to exploit. They'd still have to pay Redden every penny, but they could afford to do so. It was much more important to them that his contract not count against the cap.
But this sort of thing isn't allowed anymore. The new CBA — the one the owners have ratified and that the players are expected to approve soon — contains what's been dubbed "the Wade Redden rule": Starting with this season, players in the minor leagues who make more than $900,000 a year will count against the NHL team's salary cap. And though teams will be allowed to use two buyouts in order to get under the cap for 2013–14, they won't be allowed to use them until after this season.
So what exactly can the Rangers do with Redden? TSN's Bob Mckenzie lays out their three options. Spoiler alert: None of them are "Let him play for the Rangers."
Option 1: Trade him. Of course, that won't be so easy: They'd need to find a team with a lot of cap space who'd be willing to take on his contract, and to do that, they'd likely have to part with an asset or assets. Doing so would rid them of the contract entirely, but comes at a cost, since they'd basically be paying another team (in the form of players and/or picks) to take him off their hands. This is hardly ideal.
Option 2: Send him to the minors and use a compliance buyout on him after the season. Financially, this works ... if all goes according to plan. The Rangers have enough cap space right now to get through this season with Redden's contract counting against the cap, and they can buy him out after the year. But there's a problem with this option: If Redden were to get hurt this season, and the injury carried over to the summer, the rules would prohibit them from buying him out. In which case, they'd be stuck with his contract for 2013–14, when the cap shrinks to $64.3 million, and they can't afford to take that chance. Which brings us to ...
Option 3: Continue to pay Redden this season, but don't let him play anywhere. Frankly, unless McKenzie (and the rest of us) are missing something in the new CBA, it's the one that makes the most sense. Ultimately, the Rangers will want to do what's best for their roster and payroll situation now and in the future. In other words, they won't want to give up anything to make Redden (and more specific, Redden's contract) go away, and playing him in the minors is risky.
That said, ESPN's Katie Strang suggests one other possible outcome to all of this. She notes that Redden was injured for a chunk of last season, and in the most likely scenario above, he wouldn't play at all this year. And so if Redden is hoping to play for another team once he's no longer under contract with the Rangers, Strang wonders if he might consider voiding his current deal and moving on right now. Of course, that would mean forgoing millions of guaranteed dollars for an opportunity to play again, somewhere, for less money. For that to happen, Redden, who will turn 36 in June, would not only have to really, really, want to play again, he'd also have to believe that not playing anywhere during the lockout-shortened season would mean the difference between finding work next year and essentially being forced into retirement.