With the 2018-2019 regular season officially in the books, the Blueshirts failed to make the playoffs for the second consecutive year. The future is looking bright as the Rangers continue to gather more and more assets. This article is a look into the near future and the problem management will face this offseason.
Draft & Young Players
The Rangers hold the number two pick in the NHL Entry Draft and will likely select Kaapo Kakko (assuming NJ selects Hughes). They also have the Winnipeg Jets first round pick and two conditional second round picks with the chance of turning into first round picks. Unless a trade happens on draft day, the Blueshirts will have six picks in the first three rounds of the draft.
The Blueshirts will also get the chance to bring two promising assets from the KHL. Vitali Kravtsov, the Rangers 9th overall pick in last year’s draft, and Yegor Rykov will likely be at Rangers training camp in the fall. Kravtsov had a phenomenal year in the KHL; he put up numbers similar to Vladimir Tarasenko, Artemi Panarin and Evgeny Kuznetsov under similar circumstances. Management had Kravtsov as the second best available forward in the draft last year, and the Russian has made management look like geniuses for not selecting the next player on the consensus ranking.
Rykov was acquired from the Devils last season in the Michael Grabner trade. The left-handed defenseman had nine points in the KHL regular season and three points in the KHL playoffs. Rykov is expected to come to camp and compete for a spot in the defensive lineup.
Managing the Salary Cap + Free Agency
The Blueshirts will likely have some money to tinker with upon free agency. According to CapFriendly, New York currently has about 17.5 million dollars of projected cap space. Pavel Buchnevich, Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Lemieux will get new contracts unless they are traded. Neal Pionk will likely get a contract while it’s up in the air what the Rangers will do with Freddy Claesson and Connor Brickley who are set to be free agents. The Rangers will likely have cap space ranging from 7-12 million dollars on July 1st without a trade.
The two big fish in free agency are Artemi Panarin and Erik Karlsson who are set to become unrestricted free agents (UFAs). Panarin has been linked with a move to the Rangers for quite some time. This would have to be the year to make it happen. Panarin will likely get a contract similar to Mark Stone. Because he is on the open market, Panarin will likely get something in the range of 10.5 million over seven seasons (10.5 x 7).
If the Rangers feel they need to free up more cap for free agency, then they do have some trading chips. Chris Kreider will enter next season on the final year of his current contract. Management will have to decide if he is worth something along the lines of 7 x 6. Kreider currently carries a cap hit of 4.6 million and he would get the Rangers some quality assets in return. They could also move on from Vlad Namestnikov or Jimmy Vesey. Like Kreider, both of them will be UFAs after the conclusion of next season.
The last option the Rangers have is a buyout. Kevin Shattenkirk, Marc Staal and Brendan Smith are all potential buyout candidates. The Rangers could save money now and hold more dead cap space in the future. Dan Girardi will cost the Rangers 3.6 million on the cap next year and three more years at 1.11. Unless they think there is a big move to be made, a buyout likely won’t occur.
A Good Problem is Still a Problem
Going into the 2019-2020 season, the Rangers will find themselves with a good problem on their hands. It appears that the Blueshirts will have way too many players which will force management into tough decisions on who to keep and who to move. It is a good problem to have, but the problem still needs the right solution.
With Buchnevich and Lemieux almost guaranteed to come back, the Rangers currently have 12 forwards on the roster.
This does not include Vinni Lettieri (RFA) or Brendan Smith who spent time at forward this season. It also does not include Kravtsov or Kakko who would both make the senior squad. If they also signed a forward in free agency such as Artemi Panarin or someone else, they will three additional forwards who will command roster spots. Simply put, there won’t be enough spots for everyone and one or two players could find themselves on their way out of New York.
The Rangers have the same problem at defense. Roster defensemen include:
They also have rookies Libor Hajek and Ryan Lindgren who each left a positive impression on management. Not forgetting Rykov and the Rangers have 10 defensemen who could make the team.
The last wildcard on defense comes in the form of Adam Fox. Fox’s contract rights are with Carolina, but Fox has made it clear that he has no intention of signing with the Hurricanes. The 21-year-old recorded 48 points in 33 games in the NCAA season and was a Hobey Baker nominee this season. Fox’s name has been heavily linked to wanting to join the Rangers, his boyhood team. Fox could be acquired from Carolina in a trade this season or he could play his senior year at Hartford and become a UFA after next season. If the Blueshirts trade for Fox, they could potentially have 11 defensemen.
Lindgren could likely benefit from another year in Hartford but management could decide he is ready to start in the big leagues. Management will have to decide soon on who they think has a role on the Blueshirt defense and if resigning guys such as Claesson or Pionk or buying someone out.
The interesting scenario for the Rangers comes in the form of goaltending. For many years it’s been the Henrik Lundqvist show and they have not had to worry about finding a goalie. With Lundqvist in the latter part of his career, the Blueshirts are looking for their next goalie. Alex Georgiev had many good performances throughout the year and showed how good he can be. He also had some not so great performances. But it is clear that David Quinn believes in the Bulgarian born netminder and it would appear that he isn’t going anywhere.
The x-factor in goal comes in the form of Igor Shestyorkin. For many years, he has been dubbed the prince to Lundqvist and it appears that he will finally join the Blueshirts before next season. In his KHL career, Shestyorkin holds a record of 88-25-15 with a .933 save percentage and a 1.70 goals against average. Although he plays for SKA, one of the power houses in the KHL, SKA is not known for playing great defense and are often bailed out by the 23-year-old.
Lundqvist will be on the team which will likely lead to a goalie battle between Georgiev and Shestyorkin in camp. The loser of that will likely find themselves in the AHL. Another possible scenario is the Rangers using a goalie rotation consisting of all three individuals. The Islanders used a three-man rotation a few seasons ago with Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss and JF Berube.
While there are many possibilities and outcomes, the Rangers are poised to make a splash one way or another. The Rangers are going to be getting younger and more skilled this offseason. The key decisions lie in what happens with the veterans on the team including Kreider. This is one of the most important off seasons the Rangers have had in quite some time and it can shape the future of the Rangers for the foreseeable future. Nothing is certain other than the fact that management must make the correct decisions on who to pay. The Blueshirts have an additional 4-7 players who were not regulars on this year’s team who will be looking for spots on the opening day roster. There won’t be enough room for everyone.