The first day of free agency has come and gone, and the NY Rangers were much more active than anticipated. The Rangers signed six unrestricted free agents, and re-signed one restricted free agent. It made for an eventful, if underwhelming day. As per usual, I have some thoughts.
1. Five of the six UFAs signed were inked to two year contracts. This has obvious expansion draft implications. The “NHL” caliber expansion draft fodder is Keith Kinkaid, Anthony Betitto, and Kevin Rooney. All three were signed for two years for that particular reason. Of these three, only Kinkaid is destined for the AHL right off the bat. It is expected that both Rooney and Betitto are competing for 12/13F and 6/7D roles, respectively.
2. The Rangers didn’t commit any big money yesterday. They didn’t have the money, which was good, and they didn’t spend any money, which was better. They only added about $2.5 million of actual NHL cap hits in bottom of the roster players. We expected this, albeit not in the quantity in which they did.
3. The Colin Blackwell signing is a shrewd signing, and a guy I hope to see make the roster over Rooney. He has limited NHL experience, but the numbers suggest he could be better than expected. It’s unlikely he’s going to make any sustainable impact, but he’s more rounded than Rooney. He’s not a noted fighter though.
4. Let’s get to the elephant in the room. That’s Jack Johnson. Johnson is only signed for one year, and for the most part can be buried if need be. But let’s be very clear, Johnson is not a good defenseman. He’s arguably worse than Marc Staal, whom the Rangers just packaged a 2nd round pick to get rid of. Dumping Staal and a 2nd to just sign Johnson seems like an odd choice.
5. There are a lot of people who are saying the kids will play if they are better. Let’s remember that Johnson just finished a season in Pittsburgh, playing with Jacques Martin, where he averaged 17+ minutes a night. JD also has familiarity with him. They signed him to play big minutes and be a stopgap. Yes it’s a one year deal. Yes it’s cheap. But let’s not pretend that Johnson is going to either A) turn a corner, or B) get benched for a kid and/or if his play is predictably bad.
6. The argument that “the kids will play over him” only really works for Bitetto, who is just as bad. Let’s just agree on this already. Both Johnson and Bitetto have no history of being productive NHLers in recent years. Johnson is only here for one year, and Bitetto serves an expansion purpose. I get it. They are not here long term and they are cheap. Hopefully they don’t get big minutes. But they have a history here.
7. Signing both Bitetto and Johnson is an alarming red flag on how the Rangers *STILL* evaluate defensemen. This has been their Achilles heel for a decade now, and they still haven’t learned. Focusing on the players and the cheap contracts risks missing the forest for the trees. We are process people on this site, and this is bad process. Always look at the big picture. This big picture is not a good look.
8. There’s still more work to be done here. The offseason is still not done. Yesterday wasn’t the best for the Rangers. But this appeared to be, aside from Johnson, expansion draft prep. Let’s see what they do with their RFAs and in trades. Free agency was just one step for the Rangers.