Who the New York Rangers Should Target This Offseason

New York Rangers Offseason
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The New York Rangers had an extremely meaningful 2019-20 season, but it has come to an end. Now, the page has turned and they look to build upon the success of the season and address its failures. Just recently, they won the draft lottery and the rights to select French-Canadian phenom Alexis Lafreniere, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

The Should-Be Targets of the New York Rangers Offseason

The New York Rangers lineup never dropped jaws but their success clearly showed that the holes some noted weren’t as bad as once thought. Simply put, the New York Rangers offseason really only has two must-gets: a top-six, two-way centre, and a top-four, stay-at-home left-defenceman.

Top-Six Two Way Centre

It’s no secret that the Rangers are extremely thin down the middle. Currently, their center depth consists of Mika Zibanejad, a proven first-line center; Ryan Strome, a fringe second liner whose point totals were heavily inflated as a result of his time next to Artemi Panarin; Filip Chytil, a good third-line center with top-six potential; and Brett Howden, a bottom-six center. Neither Zibanejad nor Strome are particularly proficient defensively (as shown by the xGA/60 of their respective RAPM charts), and there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding 21-year-old Chytil.

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Considering that Ryan Strome is an RFA who will look to capitalize on his career year, the Rangers cannot make the mistake of resigning him to an expensive long term deal. Rather, they should look at outside alternatives to round out their forward group with someone who can contribute on both ends of the ice.

Anthony Cirelli

This is where Tampa Bay Lightning center, Anthony Cirelli, comes in. At only age 23, this young Canadian center is the most reliable defensive option on arguably the best team in the league. Since he is in the shadows of players such as Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Victor Hedman, he does not receive the recognition he deserves. He spends 38 percent of his time on ice per game against elite competition, compared to 28 percent for Stamkos, 30 percent for Kucherov, and 30 percent for Point. Common linemates of his include Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Ondrej Palat, who are all excellent players, but not on the elite level of Stamkos, Kucherov, or Point.

Cirelli creates his own chances, drives play well and does an excellent job shutting down opposing top lines. Among all forwards in the league, Cirelli ranks near the top in terms of shorthanded time on ice, puck battles won, stick checks, and defensive zone loose pucks recovered. 

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Cirelli also maintains very solid expected goals rates, both for and against while serving mainly in a shutdown role. He had 44 points in 68 games and was on pace for a solid 53 points in a full 82 game season. Clearly, he’s an excellent 200-foot player who will continue to develop his skills.

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Evaluating Tampa Bay’s salary cap situation, it is crucial that the Rangers take advantage. Tampa only has $5.3 million available in cap space but many spots left to fill and multiple key free agents left to resign (Erik Cernak, Cirelli, Pat Maroon, Mikhail Sergachev, Kevin Shattenkirk, etc). The Rangers must capitalize on this opportunity to get the two-way center fans have been waiting for. Whether it is discussing a potential trade or sending an offer sheet, the Rangers front office must aggressively pursue Anthony Cirelli.

Stay at Home Defenseman

Another major need of the Rangers is acquiring a shutdown left-handed defenseman. League-wide, the Rangers ranked 30th in expected goals against per 60. With the exceptions of Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren, not a single Ranger defenseman was effective in the defensive zone, including Jacob Trouba. When acquired last offseason, Jacob Trouba was called upon to be the number one defenseman the Rangers were lacking since the departure of Ryan McDonagh. Trouba had an extremely difficult time adjusting to the Rangers’ system and his defensive partners didn’t help. For much of the season, Trouba was paired with Brady Skjei and Libor Hajek, who were both defensive liabilities (as indicated by their RAPM charts below). In order to be the strong puck-moving offensive defenseman he was in Winnipeg, Trouba needs an efficient defensive defenseman as a partner.

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Jonas Brodin

This is where Jonas Brodin of the Minnesota Wild comes in. He ranked second in the league in defensive zone blocked passes this season and does a great job defending the front of the net, the inner slot area, and the inner portions of the circles where the highest danger scoring chances come from.

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In addition, Brodin ranked second among all defencemen league-wide in even-strength defense goals above replacement (EVD-GAR) while producing a fairly good 28 points in 69 games. Brodin, if acquired, would bolster the Rangers top-four, significantly improve their penalty kill, and help lower the toll on the goaltenders.

Brodin comes at a price tag of $4.1 million and will be due for a raise next offseason as a UFA, but the value he can bring makes it worthwhile. According to Michael Russo of The Athletic, the Wild may be interested in Rangers center Ryan Strome. The Wild also have a need for consistent goaltending and high-end talent, which the Rangers can provide through the likes of Alex Georgiev and the Carolina Hurricanes first-round pick, which they attained through the Brady Skjei trade. At the 2020 trade deadline, there were rumors of Minnesota general manager Bill Guerin being in trade talks for a potential deal revolving around Brodin. If Brodin is available, Jeff Gorton must not be frugal with his assets, for Brodin is an elite defensive defenseman with the ability to transform the Blueshirts blueline.

Thanks to Evolving Hockey, HockeyViz, and The Point Hockey for the stats in this piece.

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