If not Joe Thornton, then who?

June 28, 2017, by

Sam Gagner posted 50 points last season, including 18 on the power play

At the draft GM Jeff Gorton expressed his comfort with having Mika Zibanejad and Kevin Hayes as his one-two punch down the middle – and whether you take that at face value or not, the Rangers have a gaping hole to fill at center in the wake of the Derek Stepan trade.

The most attractive solution is to sign Joe Thornton, the surefire Hall of Famer that has anchored San Jose’s top line for over a decade. Thornton has demonstrated terrific chemistry with Rick Nash in the past and is the one free agent that’s capable of matching, if not exceeding Stepan’s annual production.

But signing Thornton is not without its drawbacks. For one thing, Thornton and the Sharks have a mutual love affair that seems likely to continue. The only thing precluding a new pact between the two parties thus far is Thornton’s desire for a three-year deal, which is a tough ask for a near-38-year-old coming off major knee surgery.

That term is something that will rightfully scare New York, too. Opening negotiations with a three-year offer might very well capture Thornton’s attention, but it would be a puzzling direction for the Blueshirts who have committed to “rebuilding on the fly,” traded Stepan for cap flexibility and seem focused on welcoming a new era of young talent to propel the team into the future. Inking a guaranteed over-35 contract with a rehabbing vet that is obviously on the downside of his career just doesn’t seem likely.

If Thornton would agree to a lesser term, then this would be a different story. But again, in that case all roads lead back to San Jose.

So if not Thornton, then who?

The most tantalizing options – Matt Duchene and Alex Galchenyuk – are still available via trade, but New York will have a very difficult time coming up with the pieces to make a deal work. Colorado wants a top young defenseman as the starting point of any package, but you can rest assured that Brady Skjei isn’t going anywhere. Stepan would have been the foundation of any swap for Galchenyuk, but without him, there aren’t logical building blocks for a mutually beneficial deal with Montreal, either.

The free agent market is pretty barren beyond Thornton. There are a host of third- and fourth-line centers including Sam Gagner, Martin Hanzal, Nick Bonino and Brian Boyle, but none are overly enticing.

You can probably cross Boyle off that list as that bridge was burned when Boyle was allowed to leave Broadway for Tampa Bay in 2014. And he’s more of a luxury fourth-line pivot, anyway.

Hanzal and Bonino both appear to be realistic choices. Hanzal is 30 years old and Bonino 29, so a few solid years can still be expected of each and both men have proven capable of handling checking matchups, an area New York desperately needs help. Of course, the market for both should be significant and each player has major injury concerns, with Bonino currently recovering from a fractured tibia and Hanzal having played more than 65 games just once since 2009-2010.

Perhaps the most intriguing free agent is 27-year-old Sam Gagner, who posted a career high 50 points (18 goals, 32 assists), on a one-year prove it deal with Columbus. Gagner started the season on fire and was a catalyst for the Jackets’ potent power play, but his production dropped off in the second half and he was often relegated to the fourth line.

Suitors will be very wary of Gagner’s inconsistencies – it was just a year ago that he was on the scrap heap after a miserable season with the Flyers – and he only averaged 13:43 a game last year, but that could work to New York’s benefit if the Blueshirts are believers in Gagner’s redemption. He’s a righty shot, has the best chance of anyone other that Thornton at matching Stepan’s numbers, is a power play weapon and is still young enough to be part of the team’s present and future.

A two- or three-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $4 million annually might be possible, which would be a massive discount from Stepan and allow the Rangers to reallocate money elsewhere. Gagner would not be without risk – far from it – but he appears to be a puzzle piece that might fit well with New York’s new direction.

There’s one final unconventional option worth mentioning: the Rangers could move J.T. Miller back to center, which hasn’t traditionally been his most effective position but still might be a better direction than the free agent market. New York would still need to replace Oscar Lindberg, but Zibanejad, Hayes and Miller down the middle doesn’t look half-bad.

In that case, the Blueshirts could choose to invest the money fans have earmarked for a replacement center instead in a UFA winger, of which there are many more available.

The most attractive route remains a sign-and-trade deal with the Devils for Ilya Kovalchuk, which would certainly make the Blueshirts a more dangerous club. Of course, at age 34 he’d come with many of the same concerns as Thornton and would cost New York something in return via trade.

But there’s also Patrick Marleau, Justin Williams, Alex Radulov, Thomas Vanek, Kris Versteeg, Brian Gionta, Chris Kunitz, Shane Doan, Jarome Iginla, Drew Stafford, Patrick Sharp, Viktor Stalberg, and so on.

Again, each of these players comes with his own warts, but there are plenty of additional options should the Blueshirts elect to move Miller back to the middle.

"If not Joe Thornton, then who?", 5 out of 5 based on 6 ratings.


  1. Mikeyyy says:

    So you are saying we should be keeping a wary eye on the prospect camp this week to determine if any are NHL ready. As they would be bringing up the 3/4 slots.

    If you can get a gem or two it makes this problem much easier to deal with.

    • Kevin says:

      I suppose anyone can win the lottery, but don’t think there’s any indication that any of these C prospects is close with the exception Nieves, who you can’t just hand 4C to, or Andersson. And expecting an 18-year-old to have a major impact is unfair


        People keep mentioning boo…. but, have there been any indications whatsoever that he’s not only ready to compete for a 4C role, but that he’d be a better fit than Andersson?

    • B A says:

      Sign ryan johansson to a hefty offer sheet.

  2. Richter1994 says:

    I like Gagner a lot and I have touted him for a signing here. The problem is that the FA market is so thin that some team will give Gagner a “stupid” contract like 5 years for $25M. That’s way too much. 4 years for $16M seems more appropriate as Gagner really has had one good year so far. So the Rangers will have plenty of competition here if they have any interest at all.

    I like Hanzal a lot. Could the Rangers just assume that Zib and Hayes are the top 2 centers and sign Hanzal as the 3rd C? Maybe. Hanzal does have injury issues because he plays a tough game, but he will get his 35-40 pts, defend well, and be able to take an important face off, while adding some sandpaper to the team.

    Thornton. I don’t see this at all. The guy has his family out west and will not have a lack of suitors to meet his 3 year demands. The Kings appear to be one of those teams, and that’s if San Jose doesn’t re-sign him anyway.

    Marleau. An interesting case. Has been a LW the last few years but can play center. Or, do the Rangers shift Miller to center and give him a LW in Marleau? Marleau scored 27 goals last year but how much of that is a byproduct of San Jose’s offense? They have Burns. But if we have Shatty for the PP then a guy like Marleau may make sense. Remember, he was willing to waive to come to the Rangers last year, so there is an interest on his part to come here.

    I’m not a Bonino fan, someone will overpay for him. Duchehe? Forget it. Someone will overpay on the trade cost as his game has plummeted according to the charts. So no thanks.

    Galenchyuk? Forget it unless you’re trading Miller or Kreider.

    Putting Miller at center is the last resort IMO as he is better at wing. But I guess if you get the proper linemates with him then it could work, like Marleau-Miller-Buch.

    Your move(s) Mr. Gorton.

    • Eugene says:

      Miller is a natural center, and it’s not Miller who feels uncomfortable there, but AV who doesn’t trust him

      • Richter1994 says:

        I guess it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world but he would need a scorer on his wing. There are appears to be several more choices at wing than at center in free agency, so maybe they go this way instead.

      • Mintgecko says:

        I’m not going to search for it but JT has basically said that he likes the wing spot better at the 2014 camp. Could you blame AV anyways for making the call? Hayes outshined JT at the time during camp. He was already a proven NHL center by the time JT made the team, it best fits his game and vice versa to JT Miller who has done everything besides write it out in his own blood that he prefers the wing instead of the center spot. Those were easy cards for the coach to draw out, sorry but this topic is your typical anti AV discussion. It’s like all the reasonable thinking goes out the door so people could have a narrative to drag AV’s name through the mud with.

        JG has recently just said that both Hayes and JT are top 6 player’s at the draft so this topic is worthless. I wouldn’t expect JT to be shifted back to his “natural” position, his 200 ft game is still a bit off.

      • Fotiu is God says:

        Your new pledge name is Eugenius.

        Stick tap.

    • Fotiu is God says:

      Not that I want to blow up The Richter kilt, but I’m lining up with you again.

      Logic says Thornton stays in The Western Conference. (I think LAKs.)

      No to Bonino, Duchene. (Check your spelling, Anthony.)

      Martin Hanzal? He intrigues. Definitely. What a checking line that projects to.

      But now that St. Brendan is signed, I’m more inclined to dangle Nick Holden. In synch with a couple others, I’d reconsider Josh Jooris at 3C (if he’s not already Europe bound.) We totally blew his stint. Despite his injury, Jooris could’ve been better handled.

      But if I’m shadow GM I’d send Holden to Winterpeg for Adam Lowry: big American boy who hits and plays consistently hard, if unspectacularly. Maybe expand the pieces so we secure winger Brendan Lemieux, as well.

      • Richter1994 says:

        How did yo know I wore a kilt? lol

        Got some possibly disturbing vibes today. I don’t know if it’s just a smokescreen or what, but hearing Shatty isn’t the sure thing that people thought it was.

        My belief? This has been the worst kept secret in the league and I think that it’s just a smokescreen to avoid the proverbial “tampering” accusations.

        But if they don’t sign him? Then nothing else they do will matter anyway.

  3. Ranger17 says:

    Move JT back to Center . Resign Josh Jooris for the fourth line . Give Jensen a shot in camp and go from there .Stay away from Joe and Gagner . July 1st will tell us a lot about where GMJG is going this season .LGR

    • Kevin says:

      Not sure why Jooris would want to come back. But considering they literally don’t have a 4th line right now with Fast expected to miss a month, Jensen should finally get his shot

      • Reenavipul says:

        Pretty sure Jooris signed in Europe already.

        • Ranger17 says:

          I didn’t mind his game when he was here , and he would be cheap and save cap space . Give a NMC to him and he will sign Just kidding .Is TG officially gone

  4. SalMerc says:

    I still feel Vegas needs to move a centerman. They may want a future draft pick and someone who we drafted last year. Remember they need to build a strong AHL squad too. McPhee has shown to be quite smart. Don’t discount his team as a possible trade partner.

    • Kevin says:

      Don’t think anyone is impressed by Vegas down the middle, I’m not sure they’re in a position to move anyone. And AHL squads can be comprised of players without NHL contracts or affiliation, so that doesn’t really hold weight

  5. Walt says:

    Like Mikeyy about, first check and see what we have internally before we go down the UFA route, and live to regret it.

    I like the idea of JT in the middle, and would give that some serious consideration. I’d take a very close look at the Andersson kid, he may well be the key to our problem’s resolution. Given the write up from the people in the know, why not??????

    As for the UFA, well I would hold my nose and go the Gagner route, if cost, and term are reasonable. We also have a kid named Fogerty who I’d like to see on the 4th line. They say he is solid on defense, and is a sound citizen, who has shown leadership skills. Worst case scenario would be Nieves, or Jensen for the middle position on the 4th.

    The need for wing on the fourth line, since Fast will be out for some time, would be Stalberg. I like his game, checks well, can play the PK, and helps out with an occasional goal or two. I wouldn’t walk away from Radulov, I’d run like hell from him. Word is he wants some $6 mil, for long term 6-7 years? Not no, but hell no to him. The only other person I would consider for the wing, on a one year deal would be Iginla, maybe for 3rd line work. Everyone knows what he brings, but not more than one year.

    I’m still waiting for the deal, or signing of the right d-man to be our top pair guy. Also, let’s sign Smith to a reasonable deal, we know what he can do, and he proved he can play in NYC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Bobby B says:

      Spot on Walt, I too would not seeing Jerome Iglina on a 1 year contract, he proved last year with his brief time with the LA Kings, he still has something left in the tank. Heck, if this was the Iggy of 5 years ago, I would sign him to a 4 year deal. A 1st ballot hall of fame player, if his presence was on the Rangers Recent playoff runs, we win a CUP!! We need to sign Brendan Smith on the D.


        Unfortunately, during this last season (I can’t comment on what he did in LA), Iginla’s play didn’t just decline…. it fell off of a cliff.

        Of course, playing for a perennial bottom feeder might have had something to do with that, but I’d rather pass (unless we get him for dirt cheap to play on the 4th line).

  6. Reenavipul says:

    I’d rather wildly overpay on a 1 year contract this year than get fair value for 3 -4 years.

    Hanzal as a 3rd line checking center, Gagner as your 4C and extra F on the PP.

    • Hatrick Swayze says:

      Especially considering the list of available names. Only a couple would I feel comfortable with committing to for 3+ years.

    • Richter1994 says:

      Gagner will cost too much as a 3C, never mind 4C. He could be more sought after than Thornton given his age.

      • Hatrick Swayze says:

        And if his power play production goes stale….. he’s going to turn into a toxic asset (from a cost / production standpoint).

        • Richter1994 says:

          Exactly. Not enough production to say he will play to even half the years of his new contract.

  7. flatbush says:

    Develop Miller at center. Wingers are easier to replace. Dont overspend for a relic when you can cultivate in your own garden. Of course you would need to hire someone to work with Miller since AV doesn’t do those things.

  8. Ranger17 says:

    We could also see what Vegas would want for Lindberg to come back on board

    • Walt says:

      Can’t be done until next year, according to the rules of the expansion, unless we trade with a third team to get him back!!!!!!!!!

    • Rich S says:

      Love that idea of bringing Lindberg back Rangers17…..
      Would like to see JT Miller at center, given Stepans time and pp time he gets us minimum 60 plus points , no problem!!!!!!!!!
      And bring back Stallberg, love his game….
      Resign Smith Today!
      Yes, wouldn’t mind messier or messier type coach to light fire under hayes and kredier at times……and make the PP work….
      NO to Thornton , NO to shattenkirk, NO BIG contracts…..

  9. Hatrick Swayze says:

    Jordan Weal.

    Plays center, shoots right. He is a UFA because he hasn’t amassed enough NHL games by the age of 25. Thus, can be had for only money and given his lack of a track record he shouldn’t command a whole ton of it. Was treated to Ozone deployments, but also faced the second hardest assignments (quality of comp) behind only Sean Couturier and managed a strong relative corsi number….. meaning he helped his team in the shots (“posession”) battle. In only 23 games last year he managed 8 goals / 12 points. Rumored to be talking to Vancouver, I hope he is on Gorton’s radar.

    • Richter1994 says:

      Isn’t he in high demand? depends on the $$ to risk on an unproven player.

      • Hatrick Swayze says:

        He’s certainly on team’s radars, but nowhere near as much as players like Thornton (3 years…… uh no), Gagner, Hanzal, Bonino. Will command less dollars and term than all those centers.

        • Richter1994 says:

          Young guy so I would think that Gorton would at least investigate. Thanks for the info.

    • 43 says:

      He’s also like 5′ 8″

      • Hatrick Swayze says:

        Don’t care

        • 43 says:

          Well, he’s also spent the last two seasons NOT playing center.

          • Hatrick Swayze says:

            How is that any different than the Miller to C scenario? Positional flexibility is a good thing.

            • 43 says:

              One, Miller is an established NHLer with good size and plays with a bit of grit. That said, he’s probably not playing center in the NHL ever again.

              Weal on the other hand, over the past two seasons has played a grand total of 37 games, scoring a mere 12 points. He’s small and unproven. If anything, he’s a fringe NHLer. That and he’s already connected to the Canucks, his hometown team.

              • Hatrick Swayze says:


                …just a list of a few recent players who were signed to no risk contracts. Some worked out some didn’t. Weal is a player I’d like to bet on. Obviously his NHL resume is lacking- so if Vancouver wants to pay up for his services and he prices himself out of the market, then fine- we look elsewhere. Until that happens, I will reiterate that I hope he is on our radar.

            • Rich S says:

              I like your logic, Hatrick….
              No risk, nice upside, under the radar, right handed, center……Many times unless the 5’8 guys are Marcel Dionne teams dont give them a chance…..I would give him a shot …

    • Ranger17 says:

      That would be a good signing for the 4C spot and he could move up to the 3C if Miller doesn’t work out there . Just stay away from Joe and Dave , and keep getting younger and faster . I liked what i saw when we played the Flyers about Weal . Nice pick Hattrick

      • 43 says:

        He’s a winger, though. He isn’t good enough at center to play that position in the NHL.

  10. 43 says:

    Gag’s been connected to Chicago. LA to Thornton.

    I keep hearing Rangers and Radulov, but at seven years.

    • Reenavipul says:

      Do the reports think Slats is still GM?


        …. So, on draft night, you didn’t find it odd that he was the first one up there on the stage? It could be nothing, but….

        I think he has much more control over the team still than we realize.

        • Reenavipul says:

          I guess you didn’t see the NYR draft doc a few years back…Slats is frickin out to sea.

          He’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know, yet I’m pretty sure I’m still learning while he’s busy at La Quinta(and not the one in Yorkton, SK next to Denny’s.)


            He might be out to sea, but even the saltiest of swashbucklers comes back to port every now & again……

        • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

          He’s still a figure head for the franchise.

          I think we can safely say he’s not pulling the personnel strings at this point.

  11. amy says:

    I would love for us to get Shattenkirk because he will help the defense or Radulov would be a great fit

    • pavel_burito says:

      This is just an opinion, but I don’t think Radulov would keep up his end if signed to a long term deal. He did well during his “show me” year, but he was playing for a contract.

  12. Ranger17 says:

    Amy we are going to get BRASSARD back for you

  13. Rangers Rock says:

    The first and major problem is we do not have a leader! Who will the captain be? Hank can’t be our defacto leader. Make Kreider the captain! He can carry the team on his shoulders. No one else is strong enough.
    Then we worry about centers.


      “Make Kreider the captain! ”


      … I’ll give you this – it’s certainly an original idea!

      • Fotiu is God says:

        Yea, Dog.

        As original-imaginative as that safety test the engineers at Chernobyl undertook.


          Heyyy now, don’t be so presumptuous – I never said I liked the idea!

          Actually, in all seriousness, if you guys thought McD made for a passive captain…..

          Can you imagine giving the ‘C’ to a beast of a player who’d rather jump out of the way than hit somebody…?

          Now that I’m writing this, I’m beginning to wonder why it hasn’t already happened…. it would be such a Rangerish move.

    • Rangers Rock says:

      Captain, Captain, Captain, Captain?
      Yes, Captain!

    • Fotiu is God says:

      Yes, and Chris’s teddy bear could be Alternate Captain.

      You know, Mr Snuggles: the one his Nanny, Psychologist or Dominatrix lost during last season’s playoffs.

      You did view Kreider’s epic fade? His Entitled Millennial Mope? The same that every TSN, HNiC and NBC analyst or meat puppet couldn’t help but call out?

      And you’d consider some Back Bay/Boston prep school type who flat out disappears on the Greatest Stage, the biggest moment of his career, or that of his teammates… to lead?

      Hey man, send me a postcard from Zeta Reticuli, eh…

  14. wwpd says:

    bring back lindberg if the price is right; otherwise skip it. try out JT at center again, bring back jagr on a 1 year $4M deal. sign a few spare parts and rotate through some kids from the farm during the regular season. sink or swim with most of a lineup and finish the “rebuild on the fly” at the 2018 trade deadline and entry draft.

  15. JAKE says:

    If I were Gorton. I’d be on the phone with Chicago trying to get a deal done to bring Anisimov back to NY. And I’d also try to bring big Brian Boyle back as well to replace Lindberg as our 4th line C. Either Boyle,Gagner or Bonino. I want big BB back tho! And Artie!

    • Sally says:

      Bringing back Anisimov back might be helpful to Buch.

      • 43 says:

        He was pretty instrumental for Panarin’s transition into the States. Artie seems like a genuine good dude, and I still miss him. I’d be all for resigning him.

        • Peter says:

          Anisimov would be a good choice. He is 29, so he has some years left. If they sign any older players a guy around his age is the oldest I’d go.

  16. 43 says:

    This name used to come up here often, usually with reticence, and hasn’t come up at all recently. But, being that Gorton seems fine with reclamation projects, young former first-round players already going onto their third team, what about Nail Yakupov?

    I’m not really for or against, but curious what others think.

    • Hatrick Swayze says:

      Just like with Weal, all for it if it can be done for the right dollars and term. As long as the player can be sent to the AHL with minimal cap implications (aka contract as close to 950k as possible) then go for it.

  17. SalMerc says:

    Somehow I do not think we are done with blockbuster trades. I would not be surprised to see either Krieder or JT included in a deal that brings back a true #1 center. Then we use the remaining wingers with Zucc/Nash/Vesey/Buch to really create 2 crushing lines. Our third line with Fast & Grabner becomes a checking line and the 4th line develops. All this smoke and mirrors talk about actually having a #1C and a #2C is just talk.

  18. Gorty's Boys says:

    If we can get a quality player, I really want to see Kreider traded, on the other hand, I don’t want to trade him. He is the most polarizing, confusing Ranger ever, IMO.

    • pavel_burito says:

      Kreider is the American Kovalev. So much talent, too many vacations

      • Fotiu is God says:

        Stick tap, Pavel.

        Phenomenal analogy.

        • Peter says:

          Does that mean Kreider gets traded to Pittsburgh or Montreal, learns north and south directionality, and flourishes?


          • Fotiu is God says:

            I smell what you’re cooking here, Peter.

            To your counter, I offer this: Stepan embarrasses the very face of our franchise with his punk ass drive by as our club melts down.

            Jeff Gorton shows him the way to Mesa. Goodyear. Or whatever overbuilt, water-wasting, life-snuffing, vacuum of an exurb the ‘Yotes occupy. Albeit until the franchise relocates to Seattle.

            Cream Puff Kreider tanks on his teammates. Disappears, so noticeably, so appallingly nearly every play-by-play or between period analyst from Vancouver to Halifax says, “What the ‘eff is wrong with Kreider?!”

            Did he decide to pack his equipment with the Romanov Dynasty Eggs he’s trying to keep from Russian gangsters?

            Did Chris lose his teddy bear?

            Did the adult film star who broke MDZ’s heart run amok on Kreider?

            Bye Chris. Mr Gorton’s got a map to Winnipeg for you.

            • Peter says:

              If Kreider brings Trouba, I might let him board the Jets.

              I hate to say that, but Trouba would likely be a bigger difference maker for the Rangers than Kreider might ever be. Like Alexi, Chris may need a change of scenery.

              Not a trade to be made lightly.

              • Richter1994 says:

                Trading a scoring winger is not ideal given the weaknesses of the center position right now, and I am all for getting Trouba, that’s fr sure.

  19. Peter says:

    JT at center? Maybe that is worth a try unless the player is really against it.

    Zibanejad is now no. 1 and the Rangers will live or die with him. Personally, I think he is ready and unless they bring in someone better who is also young (emphatically NOT Joe Thornton) they don’t really have a choice. When they shipped Stepan out Mika became number 1.

    I think that a lot if the older player names being tossed around as possibilities might not really be on Gorton’s radar. I get the feeling from the Stepan trade that he is going all in to get young people. Before I thought it was wishful thinking on my part. But, he didn’t trade any of his young guns, and he traded Brassard young Mika, and now took a pick and a talented 21 year old project for Stepan, it seems like a man with a young player plan.

  20. 43 says:

    Brendan Smith just resigned, 4 yrs $17.4 mil.

  21. Walt says:

    Bob McKenzie ✔ @TSNBobMcKenzie
    NYR and Brendan Smith are close to finalizing what is expected to be a four-year deal, at $4.35 mil per year!!!!!!!

    If true, great news for the boys in blue!!!!!!!!!!!

  22. stuart says:

    Time for an offer sheet

    July 1 the Rangers make one of two offer sheets:
    Leon Draisaitl 5 years $9,000,000 per all up front
    Evgeny Kusnetsov 5 years $9,000,000 per all up front

    Dolan just sold Cablevision and is sitting on gobbs of money both Edmonton and Washington are both capped out with McDavid’s 13m and Oshie ‘s 7m

    That’s what I would do, if ity money.

  23. Peter says:

    Joe Thornton talk is crazy talk in my opinion.

    • Richter1994 says:

      Wouldn’t it be something if both Thornton and Marleau came as a package deal?

      If that happened, then, MAYBE a winger goes to Winnipeg for Trouba. Problem is though that the Jets want a young lefty D man and that’s Skjei, who is not going anywhere.

  24. Larry says:

    What about Patrick Marleau if Thornton stays in Sharks? It’s hard for the Sharks to keep both of them.