The New York Rangers, for the first time in a long time, didn’t even bother to really dip their toes into the free agency market. Aside from a savvy one-year deal for Fredrick Claesson, and re-signing Vladislav Namestnikov to a team-friendly two-year deal, Gorton enjoyed the first day of July in silence.
And really, that was for the best.
Adam joked that Gorton should simply turn off his phone and browse the market after the upcoming July 4th holiday, as all the crazy deals would be out of the way, and the solid bargain signings would be sitting around waiting for a contract. He wasn’t wrong. July 1st was crazy.
Gorton didn’t try to make a big splash with James van Riemsdyk (who had been linked to the Rangers as his “boyhood team”), but did watch the Flyers lock down the 25-30-goal scorer to an enormous five-year, $35-million dollar deal. He didn’t go after names like James Neal (reportedly signing a five-year deal in Calgary), or David Perron (who was signed to a reasonable four-year, $16-million deal). We should note he wasn’t permitted to be a part of the John Tavares discussions that led to his seven-year, $77-million contract.
Even the players the Rangers were linked to, signed elsewhere as Gorton (smartly) watched. Leo Komarov had been in the news as a Gorton target for a week, but the Rangers allowed the Islanders to make that mistake — with a four-year, $12-million deal for the 31-year-old, declining center. Sure, Vegas protected Gorton from himself by re-signing Ryan Reaves to a two-year, $5.55-million deal, but that was really the only mistake the Rangers were reportedly going to make. Antoine Roussel went to Vancouver for four years at $12-million, Jay Beagle got the exact same deal from Vancouver, as well. All players who had been linked to the Rangers in one way or another.
Gorton didn’t even make a play at some of the smarter risks; or if he did it wasn’t publicized. Tobias Rieder being the main example, as he went to Edmonton on a one-year, $2-million deal.
There are still solid depth moves out there. The 22-year-old Anthony Duclair screams worthy reclamation project, while Tomas Jurco would be a worthy cheap investment as well. But that’s not really what this story is about, this story is about Gorton winning free agency by doing nothing.
There’s still work to do. Kevin Hayes and Brady Skjei have to be re-signed. Gorton needs to find a home for Ryan Spooner if he can’t lock him down to a two-year deal. Jimmy Vesey’s contract negotiations are floating around out there as well.
As things stand right now, the Rangers have the third most cap space of any team in the NHL with nearly $24-million. Financial flexibility is an asset, and Gorton should be looking to teams like Toronto, Chicago, and even Los Angeles to help ease their cap issues ... for a price. Matt Martin, specifically, is someone I can see the Rangers bringing into the fold for a sweetener, and someone who adds the toughness that David Quinn wants while not hurting the Rangers’ odds as their continued rebuild next year. At this stage, anything within the two-year window should be fair game.
You have to applaud Gorton for not jumping into the water, even though there might have been some temptation. This was the long play starting last February, and the fruits of those labors have started poking through as well. Ryan McDonagh signed a seven-year, $6.75-million per year deal with Tampa, just days after J.T. Miller signed a five-year, $5.25-million per deal. To put that in context: Namestnikov will cost the Rangers $4-million for the next two years. McDonagh and Miller will be a combined $12-million for the next five. Oh, and McDonagh got a no trade clause through 2026. I love both McDonagh and Miller, but woof.
Yes, the rebuild is going to continue for at least another year or two. The Rangers might be able to set their sights on being a playoff team in two years, but the majority of that would have to come from internal growth. If July 1st proved anything, it’s that free agency doesn’t help as much as these general managers think it does.