The magical offseason for General Manager Jeff Gorton and the New York Rangers continues. I’m having a hard time imagining a better offseason since the ill-advised, but at the time incredibly exciting, Scott Gomez/Chris Drury double in 2007.
The Rangers landed the biggest fish in the pond, as usual on the first day of July, but this is different than the Rangers of old. This is different than bringing in Brad Richards on an enormous contract as he was exiting his prime. This is different than out-bidding other teams for the likes of Wade Redden because the Rangers “had to have their man.” This is different than the Rangers throwing gobs of money at problems and throwing caution — and youth — to the wind.
Every single sign from the past 72 hours pointed to the Rangers being out of contention on Panarin. Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky seemingly wanted to be a tandem signing and both loved Florida. The Islanders were reportedly the highest bidder on June 30. Wait! Now Colorado is in the mix too? Oh crap, teams are offering upwards of $13-million a year for him! Oh. My. God. Columbus is coming in with less than three hours at the midnight deadline to sign him to an eight-year contract and they’re offering $100-million total! On the day before free agency, everyone seemed to think it was the Islanders, not the Rangers, who had the best chance of landing the Breadman.
It doesn’t appear as though Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky will be signed as a set. Signs point toward Bobrovsky ending up in FLA while NYI appear the favourite to land Panarin. Both players are repped by the same agent, Paul Theofanous.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 30, 2019
Now it’s obvious that much of what we saw unfold was posturing by Panarin and his agent to get the price up, but at the time all the big boys were leaning that way. I was mocked for wondering if this wasn’t Panarin and his team trying to drive the Rangers’ offer up, because if the Islanders’ offer was so good and he wanted to go to the Island, then why not just agree to terms then and sign at noon the next day? But that confirmation never came. Panarin never agreed to terms with the Islanders and time kept dragging on, even as more and more people had the Rangers on the outside looking in. The morning of July 1 rolled around and Panarin was still thinking, and the Islanders’ offer was still the biggest one on the table, but that’s as far as it ever got.
If this was the Rangers of old, the threat of Panarin spurning the Rangers for their crosstown rivals would have never been accepted. Remember, Sather once out-bid the Columbus Blue Jackets (then not even a division rival) to ensure he got his man in Redden. So good was his offer — and such is the allure of the bright lights of Broadway — Redden never even returned to Columbus to see if they would match. He signed the dotted line and became one of the biggest mistakes of Sather’s tenure post-lockout.
These New York Rangers? The Jeff Gorton-led New York Rangers? They played hardball and never blinked. The Islanders offered $12.5-million over the course of seven years, and Panarin — despite trying to up the Rangers’ offer — ended up accepting Gorton’s contract worth $11.6-million over seven years.
Not to be forgotten were the New York Knicks getting the gut-punch of the decade when Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving turned them away to team up in Brooklyn. Not that the Knicks have anything to do with the Rangers, but for all the heat James Dolan was getting it wouldn’t have been hard to envision him calling John Davidson and telling him to get Panarin at all costs to avoid getting a kick two days running with two different organizations. If those conversations were had — and that’s all my speculation — it clearly didn’t change the team’s directive.
Reports prior to July 1 claimed the Rangers wouldn’t go over an $11.5-million AAV no matter what other teams were offering. In the end, the Rangers got him for a hair over that, but it was still good business. You pay for stars when they’re available, especially guys in their prime.
Panarin to NYR -- 7 yrs X $11.64 mil— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) July 1, 2019
The Rangers got their guy. pic.twitter.com/cuZiNzvlaX
You don’t need me to tell you how good Panarin is. The man has some of the best overall numbers since joining the NHL.
Panarin's league ranks since coming to the NHL:— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) July 1, 2019
Points - 7th
Primary Points - 8th
5v5 Points - 5th
5v5 Primary Points - 4th
He immediately plugs in as a top-line winger and drastically improves the team’s offense, but it’s more than that. With Panarin the Rangers, and David Quinn, can ensure they have the firepower to be able to slow cook guys like Kakko and Kravtsov, if needed. He’s a fantastic power play threat to be added with the newly minted Fox and Trouba, not to mention holdovers DeAngelo and Shattenkirk. Panarin will likely love playing with Mika Zibanejad, who will in turn get so much more space because teams will need to focus on Panarin as well.
Panarin is an instant game-changer on the ice, but he also completely alters the Rangers’ plans this summer off of it. Jimmy Vesey — moved to Buffalo for a 2021 3rd — is the first casualty to save cap space. Trouba, Pavel Buchnevich, Tony DeAngelo, and Brendan Lemieux need to be signed at some point, and the four will likely come in around $16-million total. As of this writing — post-Panarin, the Rangers have around half of that available.
I would expect the team will look into potentially buying out Kevin Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith, or less likely, Marc Staal, but the team can save over $7-million if they shed the contracts of Vlad Namestnikov and Ryan Strome without taking back salary. They will also save a little money when Matt Beleskey goes back down to Hartford, but it will be additional savings.
Which brings us back to Gorton. The Rangers are fine salary wise right now, but that will start to change as young players graduate from entry-level contracts and start requiring raises. Every dollar matters, and Gorton landing Panarin for $900K less a year makes a difference — especially if the cap does rise in two years with a new TV contract.
If nothing else, Gorton is cementing himself as a prime general manager in the NHL, and the past 19 months have been an incredible lesson for re-building teams. The biggest building block (Kakko) was part luck, but everything else was precise execution to a well-thought out plan.
The Rangers now boast one of the most lethal winger corps in the NHL — although what happens with Chris Kreider remains to be seen. Gorton has work to do for sure, but so far the work he’s done has been outstanding.
Oh ... Artemi Panarin.
And, of course, Kaapo Kakko too.