This is shaping up to be a franchise altering offseason for the New York Rangers.
The Blueshirts won the draft lottery and claimed the second overall pick back in April, guaranteeing them one of Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko. About a month later, the team announced an old friend, John Davidson, as their new President of Hockey Operations. We’re now just a few days until the offseason officially kicks off and the Rangers are ready to make moves, as Phil pointed out this past weekend.
Change is coming to West 33rd, between 7th and 8th Avenues. Part of that change involves more than mainstay players going out, but those coming in. While everyone and their mother have linked free agent to be Artemi Panarin to the Rangers, there’s also an incredibly active trade market shaping up as teams close to the salary cap need to clear out contracts to pay their restricted free agents or make runs at the big unrestricted free agents that are hitting the market.
If the Rangers are going to jump into the busy trade market, there are a lot of names out there to consider. Which they consider depends on how they want to approach the offseason overall. Do they want to make incremental improvements? Make some big splashes and load up with their incoming young guns? Or do they use their cap space to take in bad contracts along with sweet, sweet draft picks and prospects?
The Rangers have a number of options, so let’s focus on the players they can acquire to both improve their team now and down the line. We’ll start up front with some forwards.
*Please note that I won’t be discussing precise trade packages for any players I mention since the trade market is constantly in flux and speculating on it isn’t my forte.
27 years old
Left Wing/Right Wing, Minnesota Wild
Contract: 4 years remaining, $5.5 million per year with a modified NTC.
21-21-42 in 82 GP
CF%: 52.99 | Relative Corsi: 2.99% | xGF%: 48.93 | Relative xGF: 3.54% | WAR: 1.3
Jason Zucker had a pretty odd 2018-19 season when it comes to being traded. Minnesota reportedly had a deal with the Calgary Flames all set at the deadline in February for Zucker before it fell apart at the last second. Then, just a few weeks ago, Pittsburgh winger Phil Kessel killed a trade to the “State of Hockey” that would have sent Zucker the other way to play with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. If the Wild are truly interested in trading Zucker then the Rangers should be all over him, especially if they move on from Chris Kreider.
While he may not have as much impact defensively, Zucker is a legitimate top-six winger. Should the Rangers want a more established winger on the second line or someone to slide into Kreider’s spot on the top line, Zucker could fit into the role — and there are a few other options that could fill that void as well, if not for Minnesota’s winger.
23 years old
Right Wing/Left Wing, Winnipeg Jets
Contract: Six years remaining, $6 million per year with a modified NTC in the last three years.
21-16-37 in 62 GP
CF%: 52 | Relative Corsi: 3.82% | xGF%: 50.42 | Relative xGF: 2.54% | WAR: 1.2
With what’s on the Winnipeg Jets’ docket this offseason, they’re going to be up against the salary cap. So, they’re going to have some very big decisions to make in order to fit Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor’s new extensions while also trying to work through the Jacob Trouba scenario. While it may not be what they want to do, The Jets may be forced into trading the shifty 23 year old winger Nikolaj Ehlers.
Like Zucker, Ehlers is a player that the Rangers can put onto their second line and immediately add a strong offensive boost. Unlike Zucker though, Ehlers doesn’t add as much defensive impact and on a team that’s going to have a lot of young forwards on it; they might want to have some help in their own end to alleviate some of the defensive responsibilities of their younger players. Having Ehlers locked in for 6 years at only 23 years old can also be a strong incentive for the Rangers when looking to bolster their offensive game.
31 years old
Left Wing/Center, Winnipeg Jets
Contract: Two years remaining, $4.125 million per year with a modified NTC
15-17-32 in 82 GP
CF%: 52.12 | Relative Corsi: 4.09% | xGF%: 51.46 | Relative xGF: 4.64% | WAR: 0.7
Staying in Manitoba, another name that the Jets could look to move is the older winger Mathieu Perreault. Because of the contract mess that the Jets find themselves in, it might behoove them to see if teams want to bite on the veteran Perreault before they move Ehlers. If they do, he’s another player that the Rangers can slot into the lineup and improve tremendously.
Wow, Mathieu Perreault is really good.
He may not put up big offensive numbers, but Perreault definitely drives play and probably more important for the Rangers, he prevents the opposition from doing so. Despite not being a top scorer, if the Rangers can steal him away from Winnipeg and put him with guys like Vitali Kravtsov or (and?) Filip Chytil, it would be a huge move to make this offseason.
25 years old
Right Defense, Winnipeg Jets
Contract: Currently a Restricted Free Agent
8-42-50 in 82 GP
CF%: 49.98 | Relative Corsi: 1.66% | xGF%: 48.67 | Relative xGF: 1.46% | WAR: 1.1
Might as well kick off the blue line with the player who has been linked to the Rangers for what seems like years now. After his entry-level contract expired, Trouba and the Jets couldn’t come to an agreement on a long-term contract and settled on a two year bridge deal. Then a one year contract followed. That last deal is up and Trouba is a 25 year old, 50 point right shot defenseman that is once again entering RFA status. The Jets have a lot of free agents to juggle, and yet another contract negotiation with Trouba might just force him out of Winnipeg if they once again can’t get to a long-term agreement. Any team that needs defensive help should be all over trying to get him.
There’s no doubt that Trouba is an immediate upgrade to what the Rangers have now on the blue line but that is a low bar to clear. The issue that comes up with Trouba is the cost, not just in terms of trade assets but also in contract terms. With Trouba, the Rangers would more than likely be trading for his rights and would still have to negotiate a new, most likely long-term, extension. That extension could see numbers in the 6.5-7 million a year range. While that is no doubt worth it for a player of Trouba’s caliber, I’m not convinced that there aren’t better, and more importantly, cheaper options available on the trade market.
29 years old
Right defense, Calgary Flames
Contract: One year left, $4.65 million with a modified NTC
9-26-35 in 79 GP
CF%: 55.98 | Relative Corsi: 2.95% | xGF%: 53.47 | Relative xGF: 1.13% | WAR: 1.9
The Flames are in an interesting spot as they have cap space to work with to go after some of the big free agents, but they also have to give new contracts to Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett. This could lead to someone like TJ Brodie becoming trade fodder this offseason, especially since he only has one year left on his current contract.
Brodie is a really interesting player as he doesn’t really impact his team’s offense, but he definitely prevents other teams from taking their shots. I’ve always been of the mind that the best defense is a defense that has three complimentary pairings and if you can put Brodie with an offensively skilled defenseman (like Tony DeAngelo or Adam Fox) then it could really go a long way in solidifying the backend.
26 years old
Right defense, Vegas Golden Knights
Contract: Two years left, $3.875 million per year with a modified NTC.
3-26-29 in 65 GP
CF%: 54.97 | Relative Corsi: 1.14% | xGF%: 57.56| Relative xGF: 2.64% | WAR: 1
The Golden Knights are right up against the salary cap and things are going to have to change if they want to finally lure Erik Karlsson out to the desert. One way to make room might be to trade away a talented offensive defenseman like Colin Miller.
If the Rangers want to improve their defense quickly for what should be minimal cost in assets, Miller should be their target. Miller was sat as a healthy scratch at times during the season, before rebounding in Round 1 of the postseason; that considered dip in his play could be what ends his time in Vegas. Although his value may have decreased, he pushes play up the ice and is fundamentally solid enough to cover his own end which could be a huge boost to a team that could do neither of those things last season to save their lives. Miller also adds another power play quarterback into the mix.
So these are six names that the Rangers should definitely make a push to trade for this offseason, but keep in mind these are just six names in a pool that continues to grow by the day. It should be a fascinating offseason folks, we’re just getting warmed up.