Last week, I took a trip down memory lane and looked back on some of New York’s more recent professional tryouts. While the team’s attempts at bringing in veterans during training camp and having the player earn a contract haven’t worked out it shouldn’t dissuade Jeff Gorton from kicking the tires on a handful of the players on the open market. With a glaring hole down the middle of the team’s lineup, as well as the need to find a better spare forward than Matt Puempel, the Rangers have nothing to lose by giving some free agents a look.
After a season and a half of dependable play as a member of the Washington Capitals, Winnik has found himself without a contract through the dog days of summer. For a player who was in such high demand that resulted in getting traded for 2nd round picks at two consecutive trading deadlines in 2015 and 2016, how Winnik has managed to go a month and a half without signing a contract is bizarre. With modest salary cap hits of $1.3 million and $2.25 million on his last two contracts, it’s hard to believe that unrealistic salary demands are the reason for his prolonged unemployment.
If training camp rolls around and Winnik is still available, the Blueshirts would be foolish not to offer him a chance to earn a roster spot on Broadway. Although he may not have the top end talent the team is sorely lacking, Winnik fills a plethora of other needs. He offers Alain Vigneault another option down the middle in case Lias Andersson isn’t ready for the NHL or if any injuries ever crop up. If the team stays healthy, Winnik has also proven himself as an effective defensive winger, so he could slot in nicely on the 4th line as well as the penalty kill rotation.
At this point, UFAs have mostly signed. So let's call this the list of most notable PTO candidates (except for Jagr). pic.twitter.com/2sw6PW1ZWF— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) August 15, 2017
Unlike Winnik, the reasons for Hayes remaining unsigned are crystal clear. After being dangled as a trade chip in a potential deal for Cam Talbot two years ago, Hayes was shipped off to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Reilly Smith and Marc Savard’s contract as a salary dump. The Bruins signed him to a three year contract, but bought him out this past season after an abysmal 16-17 season where he recorded only two goals and five points in 58 games.
Hayes isn’t in the same tier as a player like Winnik or Cody Franson, (who’s likely headed to the Chicago Blackhawks training camp on a tryout) but he’s still an NHL caliber talent with some connections to the organization. Jimmy’s brother Kevin has become a household name for Rangers fans over the last three seasons, so adding another Hayes to the mix could be beneficial for both sides.
While he might not be the most effective play driver available, Hayes has developed into one of the league’s premier net-front presences. Travis Yost examined which players have been strong around the net since 2014, and discovered that Jimmy Hayes is tied for 13th in the NHL with Jeff Carter and Max Pacioretty with 12 goals via tips and redirections. Fans seem to clamor for players who can crowd the crease and score “garbage goals”, and Hayes has carved out a niche for himself as a player of that ilk.
While Winnik and Hayes would strictly be depth options, a reunion with P-A Parenteau could provide Alain Vigneault with another player capable of playing higher up in the lineup. Parenteau has a history of skating with elite talent and producing. While Parenteau’s first significant NHL breakthrough came with the Rangers back in 2009, but he became a hot commodity after emerging as a perfect partner for the Islanders’ star center, John Tavares. Since his days in Nassau, Parenteau has bounced from Colorado, to Montreal, (where he played one season before getting bought out) to Toronto, to Brooklyn, to New Jersey, to Nashville.
While his days of riding shotgun with elite players are over, Parenteau would still serve as New York’s best option to move up the lineup when needed. Michael Grabner is a useful bottom six player, but would be overmatched in a more prominent role. Jimmy Vesey was force fed top six minutes throughout the 16-17 season, and he served as an anchor around the necks of Derek Stepan and Rick Nash from November until the end of the season.
With training camp opening in less than one month, Jeff Gorton is running out of time to make final adjustments to his roster. His team still has multiple flaws that can be addressed by one or more of the available free agent options. Even if none of the players on the open market can fix New York’s problems, kicking the tires on them wouldn’t harm the team. Professional tryouts are no risk agreements that the organization can back out from if they don’t feel like the player will fit. For that reason, the Rangers would be doing themselves a disservice by not inviting any veterans to camp.