In case you missed it, and based off the website traffic you didn’t, the Rangers inked LW Artemi Panarin to a seven year, $81.5 million deal that comes with a $11.6 million cap hit. As of June 30th when we all went to sleep, Panarin was expected to sign in Brooklyn, although there was a glimmer of hope. By the time we woke up, Panarin was very quickly rumored to be coming to Broadway. As per usual, I have some thoughts.
1. Before addressing his impact to the Rangers, let’s take a minute and celebrate a portion of this signing that was just pure joy for us. And that is that he was headed to Brooklyn less than 12 hours before he signed with the Rangers. It’s not just that the Rangers landed the biggest free agent this year, and probably in the last half decade or so, but that it sounds like they stole him from the Islanders. They didn’t pull a Nets on the big brother organization.
2. On to the contract. It’s a lot. It’s a big risk. It’s 14% of the cap right now, although that is likely to come down over the life of the deal. It puts the Rangers in a precarious position right now, as even with the Jimmy Vesey trade (more on that in a sec), the Rangers don’t have enough cap space to sign all their RFAs (more on that too). However the contract isn’t through Panarin’s late thirties, something we’ve become accustomed to. Panarin is an elite winger with significantly less mileage on his body, and this contract will take him from age 28 to age 34. It’s a calculated risk. It may be a nightmare of a contract in 5 years, but we can cross that bridge when it comes. Also it looks like there was no no-move clause, a bonus.
3. Panarin adds the guaranteed elite scoring winger to a lineup that consists of two potential elite scoring wingers in Vitali Kravtsov and Kaapo Kakko. If KZB remains a thing, then Panarin can be that safety net for Filip Chytil as the 2C as well, giving him a bonafide star to play with. Panarin is the type of guy who can carry two rookies and help them build confidence while producing. He truly accelerates the rebuild and provides the Rangers with a huge boost in primary scoring and powerplay effectiveness. With the other additions the Rangers have already made, his signing may actually give the Blueshirts a shot at a playoff spot.
4. Back to the contract, something else is coming. The Rangers have about $8.7 million left in cap space with Jacob Trouba, Brendan Lemieux, Tony DeAngelo, and Pavel Buchnevich left to sign. I think the safe assumption is that they will need approximately $14 million to sign that quartet, so they need $6 million in cap space on top of what they have today. It’s doable and there are some gimmes here since this includes Matt Beleskey and Brendan Smith, but it’s going to require another trade.
5. Speaking of trades, sending Vesey to Buffalo was a trade that was basically a salary dump, but the Rangers actually cleared themselves of a one-dimensional player. There’s a little addition by subtraction going on here, not as much as with Neal Pionk though. Vesey was horrible without the puck, but he did put in 15 goals a year. Panarin’s signing certainly replaces that offense, and then some. Vesey was not a two-way player and was a disaster without the puck, so this is another solid trade without bringing back salary.
6. The other moves made, adding the three AHL veterans and the two tweeners, shouldn’t be overlooked. They aren’t nearly as exciting as the other moves of the day, but they solidify depth and it is a valid assumption that they were vetted and will be a critical first step in creating a better atmosphere in Hartford. As important as the Panarin signing is, these lower key moves matter too.