Now that the Alexis Lafreniere excitement is starting to die down, the Rangers can shift to their regular offseason activities. The RFAs are a big ticket item this offseason, but floating under the radar is Jesper Fast. The Rangers every-man is an unrestricted free agent and due a raise. The flat cap poses a big question: Can the Rangers afford Jesper Fast’s next contract?
It’s all about contract value for the Rangers. Per Evolving-Wild, the 28 year old Fast is looking at a 3-4 year deal worth about $3 million. On the surface, paying $3 million for Fast, just a $1.2 million raise, sounds like an easy number to manage. The Rangers have $13.6 million in cap space, and with Fast that leaves them with $10 million.
As per usual, there’s more nuance to this. The Rangers are likely going to slot Pavel Buchnevich and Kaapo Kakko on their top two lines. This means KZB stays together and Kakko gets a season with Artemi Panarin. That bumps Fast to the third line with most likely Alexis Lafreniere. That is, unless Vitali Kravtsov changes the conversation.
Spending $3 million on Jesper Fast’s next contract to be a 3RW to balance out that third line is ok cap management. There are worse things to spend $3 million on. This especially holds true as the league shifted to a more skilled game, where four scoring lines are an absolute necessity to win. Fast does the little things that lead to open ice and chances for his teammates.
The Rangers are a better team with Fast on the ice. The offensive impact this year is likely skewed to spending most of his time with Artemi Panarin, but the defensive numbers have always been there. The best defense is a good offense, and Fast is not only good in his own zone, but he does the things in the offensive zone that keeps the puck there. It’s why he complemented Panarin so well. There’s a lot of value in numbers like these.
Fast is also a top penalty killing forward for the Rangers. The numbers aren’t that pretty, but let’s remember the PK wasn’t that good this year. Also, Fast got 7 minutes of PP time this year, so those are worth ignoring. Fast has value at two strengths, and can probably add value on the PP in a pinch.
Beyond Next Season
What gets the Rangers into trouble isn’t next season, which is already a bit of a squeeze, but the years after. Fast is very quickly moving from top-nine winger to fourth line winger. In today’s NHL that isn’t a bad thing. The Rangers will need players like Fast on the fourth line to help balance out the lineup.
The thing is, are the Rangers going to be in a situation where they can afford to pay a 4RW $3 million? These kinds of contracts are what get teams in trouble. Just look at the Islanders, who gave $3 million or more to Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, Leo Komarov, and Cal Clutterbuck. Now they need to take drastic measures to keep Mat Barzal and Ryan Pulock.
Cap management goes beyond one season. The Rangers, with key RFA contracts expiring in each of the next four seasons, can’t afford to make the same mistake. In the short term, the NY Rangers can afford Jesper Fast’s next contract. But will they be able to for the entire term?