The Rangers’s (re)build took another big step forward Friday evening when the team announced a two-year extension for Pavel Buchnevich. The young Russian forward’s signature also kickstarted the clock on a second buyout window, set to open today, that the team is all but certain to make use of.
Now more than $4 million over the $81.5 million salary cap ceiling, trades and buyout scenarios have rightfully dominated the discourse surrounding the team, but lost in the fray are extensions due to Tony DeAngelo and Brendan Lemieux — the team’s final unsigned restricted free agents this summer.
Without the possibility of arbitration to fret over, it’s understandable that both men have taken a backseat since the offseason began. But the fallout from what comes between now and Wednesday when this second buyout window closes should pave the way for important extensions due to both players.
Should the Rangers heavily subtract from their blue line, as expected, DeAngelo — long for the team or otherwise — will likely be relied on for at least this coming year. And, though his role will perhaps be less front-and-center, Lemieux is of particular interest here given the unique position he’s in relative to his age and contractual status.
Despite playing in just 63 games between the Winnipeg Jets and the Rangers last season, Lemieux still managed to score 12 goals and register 17 points despite averaging just over nine minutes of ice time per game. The move to New York, however, improved both his overall points-per-game rate (0.32) as well as his time on ice, which jumped to just under 13 minutes a game.
Provided Lemieux’s 19-game sample in New York — admittedly a small one — isn’t a total and complete abberration, the roughly 0.3 P/GP scoring rate he performed at last season could make for a fantastic return on investment should it continue and the Rangers manage to keep him at the bargain rate he’s likely to sign for.
According to The Twins over at EvolvingWild, Lemieux is projected to be retained for $993,510 on a two-year ticket. That kind of contract would not only carry him through his 25th birthday, but could see him put up career numbers given what we know of forward scoring arcs relative to age.
By no means is Lemieux a savior, but he’s no slouch, either. Though he leaves plenty to be desired in his passable-but-ugly skating style and negative career shot share, when accounting for his deployment as a bottom-six checker, his performance should be commensurate with his salary. For now, at least.
There’s also positives to be said of his between-the-whistles qualities that are designed to boost the engagement of his line mates, not to mention distract the opposition, though it’s fair to note the occasional misfire.
Lemieux’s hyper-aggression is what endears him to both fans and his coaching staff, but isn’t without its own risks, including the penalty differential he battles with each year. He lead all Rangers last season in penalty minutes per game (2.18) and had the fourth-highest minor penalties per 60 (1.72) — though the latter also deals with a heavy sample size caveat.
Still, while fighting has dwindled across the league on its way to becoming a non factor event, physical play hasn’t, and Lemieux brings it in spades. In many ways, what he lacks in offensive ability is generally made up for in his relentless physical approach in which he’s often the catalyst to battles both during game play and after the whistle.
While there is clearly a limit to the height of Lemieux’s would-be success — one heavily influenced by his own talent shortcomings — there’s still enough left to his approach worth investing in.
Should the Rangers start the year, for example, with Lemieux flanking a line including Brett Howden and Jesper Fast, they’ll have plenty to be excited about while the rest of the Eastern Conference prepares to deal with the nightly annoyance.
The Rangers will need to pay close attention to both the player he is and the player he becomes over the next few seasons, because it’s all too easy to fall in love with energy-types. The problem is that energy usually has a visible shelf life — one you don’t want to be on the wrong side of the ledger of when the battery drains, leaving you with a liability with none of the distraction or upside to disguise it.
Luckily for New York, the position they’re in should heavily mitigate whatever risks surround Lemieux, so long as any deal he’s signed to isn’t complete with unnecessary term.
Like a piece to a puzzle not yet complete, it’s easy to assume unimportance given his limitations. But the more the Rangers lock the big picture in place, the more important the remaining picture becomes — one Lemieux has all the tools and upside to be part of.
Though he may be left for last among players to sign, Lemieux is worth keeping around, at least for short while. Depending on the exact nature the Rangers take in shoring up this temporary cap crisis, in fact, he can even help punctuate this incredible offseason they’ve had with an exclamation mark.