When it comes to the UFA market this summer, the aggressiveness of the Rangers will begin to reveal itself likely leading up to or around the time of the draft. The attitude could manifest itself via extensions, trades, or simply standing pat to an extent. In the same vein of making some key decisions regarding depth players, the Rangers do have a few areas where a low-cost UFA on a short-term deal could vastly help NYR begin to come out of the rebuild.
What follows is a review of six forwards and three defensemen that are all due to be UFA’s come July 1. To get a rough idea of who to review, I used the updated Evolving Wild contract projections (as of 5/5/19) to sort by UFA’s that would cost the least by cap hit. Based on previous work from Matt Cane, these predictions tend to be accurate to the tune of 75-80% or more (based on 2017 and 2018 data). So, it’s at least a good ballpark to consider some players.
From there, the focus was on finding players who rated well in Evolving Wild’s RAPM metrics. By finding players who have good three-year (2016-19) track records coupled with good 2018-19 seasons, we can at least find players who can likely provide a positive impact on the Rangers lineup, even if they’re in or beginning to decline, given their age. As a reminder, RAPM coefficients:
“…are offensive and defensive ratings for each player that are isolated from the other skaters they played with, the other skaters they played against, the score state, the effects of playing at home or on the road, the effects of playing in back-to-back games, and the effects of being on the ice for a shift that had a faceoff in the offensive or defensive zone.”
So with all that said, here’s the lower-cost UFA forwards I like the look of (sorted by projected cap hit):
In going through each player, we’ll start with Kruger and Pominville:
As much as Kruger had a down year in Chicago by his high defensive standards, he would certainly help the Rangers bottom six, especially given the youth that are working out the NHL kinks. Pominville is an interesting one, as he’s clearly beginning to decline. His cap hit was $5.6 million last year, and after playing mostly 3rd line minutes and scoring 31 points (16 goals), the contract model is a bit bearish on him.
For Ryan Carpenter and Colin Wilson, the word “industrious” comes to mind. Both have carved out decent bottom to middle six careers in the NHL so far. Neither are off-the-charts good, but Carpenters 2018-19 in Vegas intrigues me, given that the Rangers bottom six struggled with limiting shots and chances against. Wilson, while reliable historically, is in decline after 10 years in the NHL.
These two San Jose Sharks would again end up in the bottom or middle six of the rebuilding Rangers, both serving different purposes. Donskoi, historically, has been a very reliable third line winger who has shown flashes of offense. He’s having a quiet playoffs, which could be good for UFA suitors. Joe Thornton, meanwhile, played less than 16 minutes per game this season for the first time since he was 19 (in 1998-99!). He adjusted well, showing that he can still very much control the play and limit the opposition while he’s on the ice. His effectiveness on the Power Play is still very much apparent (not shown above), and should certainly be considered if NYR was going to pursue him.
In terms of preference for the six forwards, here’s my ranking:
- Pominville (RW)
- Donskoi (RW)
- Thornton (C)
- Kruger (C)
- Carpenter (RW)
- Wilson (Wing)
To be clear, I know the Rangers can likely only fit one of these individuals depending on other plans with the forwards. Based on value, it’s hard not to like Pominville as he can still be effective and chip in with goal scoring. Donskoi is the most complete wing of the bunch. Thornton would be a great 2C behind Mika and mentor for the younger Rangers, but it remains to be seen if he’ll even entertain leaving SJS. The bottom three would be fine in the bottom six for me, but it would depend on who comes out for them.
Onto the defense:
Not a plethora of solid defensemen this summer to choose from. That said:
In terms of depth defensemen, Chad Ruhwedel is perfectly capable. He does not chip in much on offense, but he has a dependable history and a good 2018-19 to prove he can perform in his own zone. Taylor Fedun, however, is above average for a third pair NHL defenseman. Chipping in on offense as well as preventing chances near his own net, it’s a bit of an indictment on the Sabres as to why they traded him.
Using Staal as a comparison, Braydon Coburn is what some Ranger fans and most analysts think Marc Staal is – an effective stay-at-home defenseman. Given his age, his effectiveness in moving forward will continue to diminish, but I’d be perfectly ok with Coburn over Staal or Smith at this point.
Ranking the defensemen:
- Fedun (RD)
- Coburn (LD)
- Ruhwedel (RD)
Taylor Fedun is the clear winner here for me. He has a track record to warrant interest but likely not enough of one to warrant a multi-year deal. The impact he would provide in replacement of Pionk (assuming 3rd pair minutes, 2nd at best) would be positive barring injury or a complete inability to adjust at all in New York. Coburn will likely draw interest around the league and it would also take NYR a few moves to find space for him.
Unless NYR plans to stand pat on the pace of the rebuild and sit out the UFA period, there should be some lower-cost UFA options on the market to help supplement the developing youth. How, or even if, they do this is beyond me – but I would like to think the NYR FO has already been having these conversations for months.
P.S.: coming soon, an RFA edition of this…