At this point in time for the John Davidson, Jeff Gorton, and the New York Rangers, there are two key non-draft activities for the offseason. The first is addressing the blue line, something that if I cover again here, someone is going to yell at me. The second is free agency, specifically Artemi Panarin and the long-standing wish of most Ranger fans that he come to New York next season.
It’s clear that Panarin is the most talented player available and appears to be the high priority target for the Rangers. He fills a need as an elite scorer, true top line talent. His presence immediately knocks someone like Pavel Buchnevich to a more comfortable role on the second line and rookies like Kaapo Kakko to the third line, giving the Rangers significant depth.
But what if the Rangers don’t get Panarin? Do they go for Erik Karlsson to shore up the blue line? What about Matt Duchene and the much needed 2C role? All three big name free agents will come with high price tags, but the other two come with non-contract risks. Karlsson has his ankle issues. Duchene hasn’t hit 60 points since 2013-2014.
When it comes to a rebuild, big contracts for the wrong players can completely derail the entire process. Just look at Milan Lucic in Edmonton. Or look no further than Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, and other big contracts that blew up in Glen Sather’s face. A rebuild isn’t just about prospects, it’s about spending the money properly and efficiently. Do Duchene and/or Karlsson fit that mold? It’s tough to say. There’s no denying the skill. But there’s no denying the risk.
The next tier of free agents are in that pricey but probably not worth it range: Jeff Skinner, Jordan Eberle, Kevin Hayes, and Gustav Nyquist. They are all solid top-six players, but at an expected $6+ million on long-term deals, all are even riskier than Karlsson and Duchene. At the very least, avoiding this second tier of free agents is a must for Gorton.
If the Blueshirts miss out on Panarin, perhaps the best bet is trying to find a bargain bin contract, a guy like Benoit Pouliot was for the Rangers way back when. Accelerating the rebuild just to be competitive, but not a true Cup worthy team, is a step backwards. Go big or go home, that applies to free agency this year. Go big for Panarin, or go home and avoid the rest.