7 Thoughts from 7 Days: Rangers free agency leaves more questions than answers
The majority of free agency has come and gone for the Rangers. There were questions about what Chris Drury’s plan would be, and those questions were answered. However some of the decisions, both in free agency and in other moves, led to more questions for the Rangers. It’s difficult to find universal confidence in Drury’s first offseason at the helm. He’s had some good, he’s had some bad, and he’s had some “huh?” moves.
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1. The theme of free agency was toughness and grit. The Rangers found a hidden gem in Dryden Hunt, but made questionable acquisitions of Jarred Tinordi and Ryan Reaves. Tinordi and Reaves, both with two seasons under contract, don’t have much in terms of on-ice value. The extreme optimist in me says that Reaves, who was good with Gerard Gallant in Vegas, finds replacement level production on the ice. I don’t expect Tinordi to see many games, if any, when the Rangers are healthy. Perhaps I am being overly optimistic, though. The questions here are less about Tinordi and more about Reaves. Will he get too many games if others, perhaps Hunt, are producing more? Are we looking at another Tanner Glass situation? How much will his expected role impact his playing time?
2. Regardless of those free agency questions, the Rangers are still a significantly deeper team now than they were last season. Under David Quinn, there were three scoring lines and a punishment line. The punishment line doesn’t mean dishing out punishment. It meant it was used as a demotion. This current iteration of the fourth line gives the Rangers many different matchup options. They have fights, skill guys, speed guys, and all around guys. They have roles, and yet more questions. Will predefined roles blind the coaching staff? What if their matchups prove ineffective? Will they change it up?
3. On defense, the big acquisition was Patrik Nemeth, signed to a three year contract. Nemeth is a solid add, and someone who will round out that third pair. He’s likely to be stapled to Nils Lundkvist’s hip when the season starts as that third pair. This gives the Rangers something they didn’t do for Kaapo Kakko, and to a lesser extent Alexis Lafreniere. They are adding a fellow countryman and native language speaker.
For what it’s worth, Sammy Blais is French Canadian for Lafreniere.
It helps that Nemeth is also good, and replacing whatever that third pair was last year with Nemeth-Lundkvist is a monumental upgrade. But again a question. The Rangers signed Zac Jones early for a reason, so what is his future? Is he going to be in the Jack Eichel trade? Will there be a Jack Eichel trade?
4. The Rangers are putting all their eggs into Kakko, Lafreniere, and Vitali Kravtsov improving and being able to take top-six minutes. That is a big gamble, this soon into their NHL careers, Kakko is 20 and the senior statesman in the NHL here. Expecting all three to go right into top-six minutes is certainly an interesting, if very risky, approach. What if one falters? More than one? What if there’s an injury? Where’s the scoring depth? Why was trading Pavel Buchnevich such a priority that they were ready to walk away from his arbitration award?
5. In the end, Drury is focused on roles. It’s part of the fourth line revamp, but it’s also a part of the third line retooling as well. As it stands today, that third line is likely to be Kreider-Chytil-Goodrow, which will likely be on the ice to protect leads late in games. So you have your top two scoring lines, your third line as a defensive line that can score, and a fourth line of role players. But this is very much like fans building lineups. What if a top-six player gets hurt? Where is the scoring depth coming from? What if someone from the third line gets hurt? Does someone from the fourth line fill that role? This seems to be very dependent on staying healthy and everyone playing their roles well. We should all know better.
6. Gerard Gallant has had a lot of success getting the most out of his players and tailoring roles to the roster. If there’s a wild card, and a reason to be positive, it’s this. Gallant has the history and the track record, and quite frankly I think he’s the coach that can get this team over the top. Circling back to point #2, the Rangers are a better team simply by making the bottom of the lineup viable. But all coaches play favorites, and this is another set of questions. Will Gallant’s history with Reaves blind him? What about if the Rangers really do land Reilly Smith, who has been declining? Perhaps this is PTSD with AV and DQ, but what if GG (apparently I like initials) follows suit? He is, after all, human.
7. Let’s end this one with a prediction for the rest of the offseason, perhaps to lighten the tone of the post. At some point before the start of training camp, I think Jack Eichel will be a Ranger. I think the package will be headlined by Zac Jones, Alex Georgiev, Brennan Othmann, and Morgan Barron, plus a 2022 1st round pick. This gives the Sabres what they want in terms of value and futures. It gives the Rangers what they want in not dealing from their established young core or their top two prospects in Lundkvist/Braden Schneider. After that, I think the Rangers deal Ryan Strome for Reilly Smith and a 2nd round pick. It’s not the best deal, but it checks out with what we’ve heard already. I’d prefer to keep Strome if that’s the deal on the table, but it’s what I think will happen.