Economical Free Agent Targets: UFA Edition

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:

  1. Pominville (RW)
  2. Donskoi (RW)
  3. Thornton (C)
  4. Kruger (C)
  5. Carpenter (RW)
  6. 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:

  1. Fedun (RD)
  2. Coburn (LD)
  3. 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…

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  1. Rob

    Based on the list, they can keep all of the mentioned players, their not worth pursuing. I’d rather play an untested kid who will learn how to play, instead of playing guys who are forgetting how to play!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. With all the players mentioned. it’s not worth the time to write this. Play the kids, let them learn on the fly instead of signing retreads who the kids are probably better than anyway. If your going to sign anyone, sign a difference maker.

  3. Good stuff Rob… I gotta agree with Walt here a little. Signing Fedun would be more than fine, but what’s happening with Pionk and Shatty? And Fox has to get in the lineup. Maybe 2 years @ 1.5 per. if Pionk and Shattenkirk get traded. As a placeholder for Nils L.

    We could use a guy like Pominville but I afraid of decline, he’s no spring chicken. Plus he would be hindering young guys that need the playing time.

  4. Our entire team is filled with bottom-six forwards. Why would we need to sign another one?

  5. We have enough bottom 6 guys and 3rd pair defensemen. What we need is a top 6 forward and a top pair defenseman. Sure you will pay more, but success isn’t cheap.

  6. Hey Rob, I disagree with the premise that he Rangers are ‘coming out of the rebuild’ now, and with the idea of signing any of the players you mention. The Rangers have enough young people to fill the slots and a couple of older defensenmen too. I just don’t seethe logic or the need.

  7. Guess I’ll set the record straight then: I am not explicitly saying NYR should be looking to sign depth UFA players. That said, it all depends on how aggressive Gorton is in reshaping the roster. All of the following players, in theory, could get moved, not extended, or start next year in Hartford: Strome, Vesey, Namestnikov, Nieves, Brickley, Howden, Pionk, Smith, Claesson.

    Will most be back/on the roster come October 1 2019? Very likely! Could Gorton/NYR decide to make room in different ways, thus leading to 1-2 UFA’s on 1 year deals? Also yes. If or how they do this, as I mention, is anyone’s guess.

    Finally, many of the options above are more effective options than certain players that were “depth” guys for NYR this year. In the end, it’s a thought exercise – just as the Front Office does to completely understand their options should they choose to execute a certain plan.

    1. Thanks Rob for the clarification and for an extensive article. I guess seeing a few 30 + players on the list, and Old Joe, and a couple of near 30 year-olds was the main sticking point in my mind. I am hoping that if the Rangers decide to become aggressive that they avoid older players if at all possible. I am willing, however, to wait if they continue to build slowly.

  8. For what its worth, Eklund had some blurb about CHI and the Rangers being interested in dealing for Cody Ceci of Ottawa. Again, its Eklund, so………….

  9. Keep your shirt on Frances. Your criticisms are unfounded.

    I don’t see any unchecked enthusiasm for signing any of these players in the article; more like doing your homework and being prepared for injuries or setbacks to the existing cast. Nobody is saying grab these guys and play them over the kids (except maybe the bit about Big Joe as the 2c), and even that is tempered by his #3 rating.

      1. I’m guessing that projection might work out to the same $$$, but in a different term/ $$ combo and bonus structure.

    1. Let Dallas sign him so at least we get 1 first rounder out of the deal.

      I won’t lie, a 1 year deal for Thorton would intrigue me … quality person and quality player (at least in a secondary role).

      1. After 3 million years in SJ, why would Thorton come all the way east at the end of his career? For a one year deal?

        1. I didn’t say he would, I said it would intrigue me. I could even be intrigued by a 2 year deal at a reasonable price.

          1. He’s older than me pal, lol. How do you want the youth movement and then want this? Is there a “good tanto” and a “bad tanto?” 🙂

    2. We’re not allowed to re-sign Zuuc… Well at least for another year. New rules.

      He should’nt have been traded in the first place.

  10. Guessing that this piece was finished before Vancouver decided not to qualify Derrick Pouliot.

    For me he’s an improvement on Pionk/Gilmour/whatever, but not by much. He is the kind of player the front office goes after.

    1. I took a look at Pouliot – his projected contract is 3 years/$3.15 million per year. He generates an average amount of shots and chances and struggles to limit them. You’re right to say he’d be an improvement over Pionk, however for me there are a few more RFA D-men that would be better options (RFA piece coming soon).

  11. I mentioned a player yesterday that I would go after, that being Ryan Dzingel. He is an experienced scorer who could fit nicely as a 2C. Surround him with a rookie and a guy who isn’t afraid to go into the corners and you have a strong second line.

    We need to evaluate players that we have to see if they can play a role at the cost (value prop), otherwise move them (if someone asks for them) and replace them with a rookie vying for a spot. I would much rather see a Fontaine on the 3rd or 4th line that sign a bottom 6 forward. Spend your money on 1 or 2 pieces of filet mignon, instead of buying 5 pieces of chuck steak!

      1. Change of scenery, maybe at a discount. He needs to prove his value again. Has a talented upside.

  12. Forwards:
    1. pass
    2. pass
    3. pass
    4. pass
    5. pass
    6. pass

    1. pass
    2. pass
    3. pass

  13. I would target, Ferland, Maroon, Connolly, Tanev, Smith-Pelly, Garnet Hathawy, Noel Acciari and on defense, Patrick Nemeth, & Ben Chiarot, size and brawn..enough with the 5’10 185 guys…we have a ton of those guys.

  14. The Rangers need to target a top player like Panarin, if anyone. There may be plan B targets that may be available because of teams in cap hell.

    If the player can’t be in the Rangers’ top 6 then don’t bother. Same with a D man, if they are not top pair here, then pass.

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