As a shortened and hectic offseason approaches, Last Word on Hockey is looking ahead towards how teams will deal with the reality of a flat salary cap. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make. We’ll operate going from worst to best. Today’s piece focuses on the New York Rangers offseason.
New York Rangers Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
The New York Rangers surprised many by showing enthusiasm and dedication throughout the season. The newly reborn Rangers team finished 27-23-6. A valiant effort that saw the young team just miss out on the playoffs. It is possible to hypothesize that if they were in a pre-Covid situation the story may have played out differently. However, the biggest news from New York was the departure of Coach David Quinn and the signing of Gerrard Gallant which may/ may not have an impact on decision making.
The Rangers have six unrestricted free agents to settle up before the upcoming 2021-22 season. the majority are those continually jostling for a permanent role within the team. These include Phil Di Guiseppe, Julien Gauthier, and Filip Chytil, and Jack Johnson. Brendan Smith is an unrestricted free agent and likely not be re-signed.
The biggest decision for the Rangers organization will be Rangers restricted free agents Pavel Buchnevich and goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who both have arbitration rites. Defenscmen Libor Hajek and Brett Howden will also join the RFA list.
Salary Cap Outlook
CapFriendly predicts the team at a current $ 57.7 million hit for next season, giving the team $23.8 million in open space. It gives the Rangers some flexibility to make adjustments and retain their younger talent. Also by buying out the controversial and troublesome Tony DeAngelo the Rangers look to save around $4.4 million. New York may also have a little more wiggle room depending on who the Seattle Kraken take in the expansion draft. New general manager Chris Drury and new bench boss Gerard Gallant are in return to the post-season mode. This New York Rangers offseason will be pivotal.
Major Likely Departures
An unusual pick-up for the Rangers, Jack Johnson was bought out by the Pittsburgh Penguins and signed a one-year deal in October last year. Presumably in the hope to provide experience, physicality, and depth to the New York defense. Obviously, as a stay-at-home defenceman has not contributed much statistical value to the team. Scoring one goal in 13 games. Johnson is unlikely to be re-signed as he does not fit the future vision of the team but was a low-risk requirement to begin with.
Phil Di Giuseppe
Although the 27-year old has steadily increased game time over his two seasons with the Rangers. It may not be enough to keep him within the organization. The Canadian forward netted one goal with seven assists in 30 games during the last regular season and has struggled to solidify a permanent role in the bottom six. Di Giuseppe’s departure would free up more space to acquire those most needed re-signings.
Libor Hajek is a restricted free agent going into the off-season. However, the 23-year old 2nd round pick is in potential danger of not being re-signed with the Rangers. In his two seasons, the Czech has provided the Rangers with physicality and much-needed defensive depth but the potential talent pool makes it difficult to really show off and make his mark within the team. This one could go either way. The Rangers can probably extend his contract without make damage to cap space.
Major Likely Re-Signings
Butchnevich will be the biggest post-season decision for the Rangers. They will want to keep him but it depends on the cost. The Russian native has spent his whole five-year career as a Blueshirt, topping off this season with 20 goals and 28 assists equaling 48 points. Making him leading second for the Rangers goal scoring behind Artemi Panarin. Last season was a career-high in points for the 26-year-old and finally is demonstrating his worth within the organization. Buchnevich deserves a longer-term, higher-value contract but if the Rangers cannot give it to him he may be tempted to leave his New York home.
Since the departure of Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers’ hopes have depended on their relatively brand new goaltenders. Alexandar Georgiev learned much under the shadow of the King but Igor Shesterkin outshined Georgiev from the start. He’s cool under pressure and can withstand many shots per game, the Rangers will want to re-sign the 25-year old. Although statistically decreasing last season at .916 Save percentage from .932 the previous year. Shesterkin has more than doubled his game time with 35 games with 31 starts. Much like Buchnevich, the Russian goaltender deserves a raise to reward his efforts. Ideally, a longer-term one would allow Shesterkin to settle into more responsibility and be a future investment for the team. And with a stable force between the pipes will give the ranger’s defense more time to work out their game.
Chytil has been considered a slow burner forward from the start. A first-round pick in 2017 for the Rangers, was often overlooked by previous Rangers coaches. Although only notching eigth goals, 14 assists for 22 points at season end. It’s thought re-signing the 21-year old is a smart choice for the Rangers. The Czech forward has speed, skill and shows the willingness to adapt to fit the needs of the team. The Rangers also have a big gap in centre depth.This is a problem they have had this rebuild. With more game time, Chytil can become a permanent role within the bottom six. He has the potential to fill any forward gaps going forward.
Potential Free Agent Additions
As always Rangers are tight-lipped on who they look to acquire upon trade deadline. Getting the 15th Pick in the Draft lottery may enhance their bargaining tool somewhat. Getting a two-way forward will be a priority this New York Rangers offseason. Jack Eichel has been tossed around as a trade target, but it would cost a lot in picks and players.
It is rumored that the New York Islanders two-way forward Casey Cizikas may be another option for the Rangers. The 30-year-old would provide experience, particularly in the face-off circle but it is unclear if that’s the direction the team would want to go. The Islanders are currently performing well in the playoffs and that experience would be useful for the Rangers going forward. Acquiring the Canadian forward for a short-term contract wouldn’t bust the bank either.by
The Carolina Hurricanes free agent could be a good fit by joining the Metropolitan Division rivals. He would add some grit on the back end like a Cizikas to prevent teams like the Isles and the Washington Capitals pushing around their skill players. The Rangers should prioritize Shesterkin and Buchnevich first, but adding Martinook could be a key depth move.