The Rangers season kind of went as expected. With a record of 32-36-14, it was a rebuilding year where the focus was much more on the younger players developing than it was on winning. There was a still quiet a few teams that finished below them in the NHL standings, five to be exact. That doesn’t matter if luck is on your side come the draft lottery, and it most certainly was for these Rangers.
Welcome to the big apple, Kaapo Kakko.
After the Devils select Hughes with the first overall pick, the obvious choice to go second overall is the highly skilled winger out of Finland. Who if you haven’t heard, tore up the World Hockey Championship on route to helping Finland win gold. He showed many signs of being able to be an elite goal scorer in the NHL as soon as next season.
The Rangers also have the Jets first round draft pick, courtesy of the Hayes trade on deadline day. The Rangers have as close to a guaranteed “great pick” as you could get in Kakko, so it might be smart for them to take a more high risk, high reward player with the Jets pick in the late part of the first round. Along with two more picks in the second round, the Rangers have the ability to take some players that might be risky, long-term projects if they believe that they could one day be quality NHL players.
After the draft, it gets even more exciting for the Rangers. With no big pending UFA’s or RFA’s to worry about resigning, they will have almost 20 million dollars in cap space to work with this summer. Oh ya, it’s also one of the best free agent classes of all time.
The easy one to look at is Artemi Panarin. He has been linked to rumours of him joining the Rangers this off-season all year long, as it looks pretty clear he has no intention of re-signing with the Blue Jackets. If the Rangers can sign him, it’s a massive win for the Rangers. They have the cap space to sign him and not risk losing someone they really want to keep. But it’s a move that fits the Rangers new way of skilled players, and if he really does want to join the Rangers, they might not have to overpay him too much, which a lot of teams do in the free agent period.
What the Rangers have to be careful with is if they don’t land Panarin. This free agent class is one of the greatest of all time, if not the greatest. A big market team like the Rangers would love to make headlines on July 1st, but there is no big need to. If they don’t land Panarin, they don’t have to go out and drop another 8 million per year or more deal on someone. If they want to make a splash, they need to take their time and really contemplate if the move makes since for a team still a couple years away from competing for a Stanley Cup.
In terms of their RFA’s, they do have a few they need to sign. Defensemen Neal Pionk and Tony DeAngelo, along with forward Pavel Buchnevich all need new contracts, but it’s tough seeing any of those players costing the rangers more than maybe 3 million dollars a season.
Then looking at the trade front, the Rangers have a pair of defensemen they most certainly could look at trading this off-season, Kevin Shattenkirk and Marc Staal. Both players have two years left on their contracts, with high but not killer salaries. Shattenkirk has never lived up to the 4 year, 26 million dollar contract he signed a few summers ago, so if he were dealt this summer they might not be getting a lot of value in return. With Marc Staal, he has a little lower of a cap hit per season (5.7 mill) and is two years older than Shattenkirk, but a playoff team looking for help on the back end might still see major value for Staal. No doubt that the Rangers will explore options on trading them this summer, but it might ultimately have to wait until next summer when these players only have one year left on their contracts.
The Rangers goal next season will be continuing the path of developing their young players into solid NHL players. One of those young players is goaltender Alexandar Georgiev. Georgiev played in 33 games for the Rangers last season, and it would be safe to assume that he will likely be playing even more next season. Lundqvist still has two more years left on his contract at 8.5 million a season, and unless he has a late change of heart to go chase a Stanley Cup somewhere else, he will likely still be the main man for the Rangers for at least two more seasons.
So the season plan for the Rangers must be to remain patient. If they have the chance to make a splash with Panarin, thats great, but don’t force things. The team is looking towards the future, and spending too much money on the present might derail their long term goals a little bit.