The 2019 NHL Draft is now over. The Rangers restocked the cupboard with a great draft. Now free agency looms large as the next phase of the rebuild begins. The Rangers aren’t necessarily expected to be a powerhouse any time soon, but this free agency looms large for them. As per usual, I have some thoughts.
1. On the draft, there were a bunch of complaints that the Blueshirts did not move any current roster players. It takes two to tango, and unfortunately without a definitive cap number until after the draft ended, a lot of deals for players with dollars attached to them went unfinished. Bob McKenzie said the Rangers were 100% trading both Chris Kreider and Jimmy Vesey. Neither was dealt…yet. Without knowing the cap ceiling, teams were hesitant, and you can’t blame them. It’s also worth noting that the draft is not necessarily the best place to trade a player with only one year left on his contract. I’d expect that both are dealt, if they are dealt, as the free agency picture becomes clearer.
2. Of course there were some trades made, but there were very few actual hockey trades. The Patrick Marleau deal was a cap dump that cost the Leafs a 1st round pick. The PK Subban trade was also a cap dump, which is why the return was so light. The only actual hockey trade was JT Miller to Vancouver, which was a gift to Tampa Bay. For some reason the Canucks gave up a 1st rounder in what was a needed move for Tampa Bay to clear salary. When in doubt, make trades with Vancouver, I guess.
3. If I’m Jeff Gorton and John Davidson, I’m staying away from the free agent class if I can’t land Artemi Panarin. They will have a better idea by the end of the day, since he’s meeting with them today. I’m on the fence about wanting him or Chris Kreider, though. It’s going to be one or the other. I’m biased so I’m leaning Kreider. He gives the Blueshirts something they don’t have –yes I’m aware I’m a broken record with this– with his speed/strength and his net-front presence. He’s also the clutchiest of the clutch in the playoffs. He just has a knack for big goals, like Justin Williams.
4. There was a rumor floating around on Twitter that Tyler Myers is likely headed towards a seven year deal with an $8 million cap hit. I find it to be unbelievable that teams –Vancouver, again– are dumb enough to sign Tyler Freaking Myers to a $56 million deal, but Kevin Shattenkirk at two years and $3.3 million can’t find a taker. That’s why I don’t believe the buyout talk for Shatty. Teams are going to balk at the free agent prices for these guys and look for a cheaper alternative. I think that’s going to become more apparent with the salary cap ceiling coming in at $81.5 million instead of $83 million. That extra $1.5 million means a lot.
5. The Metro Division is going to be an interesting beast in the coming years. The Caps and Pens are getting older, and while their superstar players can carry them for the time being, eventually we are going to see them fall behind in the race. The Rangers and Hurricanes have by far the best farm systems. The Devils have Jack Hughes and Subban. The Flyers have Alain Vigneault without a generational talent in net, so they should bleed goals. The Islanders are hoping Robin Lehner’s success isn’t a mirage. Of all these teams, only the Rangers and Hurricanes are well balanced enough for sustained success in the long-term, given they don’t screw up somewhere. It may not happen this year. It may not even happen next season. But there will be a changing of the guard in the Metro.
6. I know we like to give kudos to Jeff Gorton for his offseason work so far. And it truly has been magnificent. However there is still work to be done. They still, for some reason, employ Lindy Ruff. That’s going to be a problem for a young and developing defensive core. They have some bad contracts, but those will expire soon enough that buyouts aren’t really needed. The only thing that can truly set them back –now that we’ve established that Gorton isn’t going to trade the farm for a superstar– is a bad contract. That can be a Panarin contract. It could be a Kreider contract. But worse, it could be an egregious contract given to Matt Duchene, or Gustav Nyquist, or Joe Pavelski, or any of the other big names out there. Don’t pay for a name. This is the most dangerous part of the plan.
7. There’s a lot of talk about Vegas and their cap situation. Assuming the Rangers don’t get Panarin, they will have the cap space to add a bad contract with an asset. Assuming the Rangers don’t go after Colin Miller with Jacob Trouba in the mix, the talk is all about Nikita Gusev. The 26 year old LW is an RFA and scored at a higher rate in the KHL than Panarin. He signed his ELC in April of this year, so it’s not like he didn’t make the team. Vegas wants to keep him, but they are already over the cap without William Karlsson’s $5.9 million cap hit coming. Taking on David Clarkson’s LTIR contract –remember that LTIR isn’t free cap space, it’s just that a team can go over by that amount, which makes it difficult to accrue space and call up players– with Gusev helps Vegas out significantly, and gives the Rangers an educated dart throw with Gusev, who will be cheaper than Panarin.
8. Prediction: The Rangers don’t buyout anyone, and find a taker before the season starts for one of their more expensive blue liners.