The dog days of summer are upon us, but we’re heading toward the home stretch of the offseason. The Traverse City Tournament is coming up, and soon after that camp will open. While there’s still time to breathe, let’s go over a quick to do list Jeff Gorton should have on his desk.
Sign Brendan Lemieux and Tony DeAngelo
I am really not sure what the holdup is here for either player here as we sit in the middle of August. Between the two of them, only DeAngelo has a legitimate cause to not accept the qualifying offer thrown his way, posting nearly a point every other game (30 in 61) in his tenure last season. Even so, it might be in his best interest to sign something short term, put up another quality season, and make more money for himself down the line.
Lemieux really has no leverage. Unlike DeAngelo, Lemieux’s main talents aren’t exactly expensive ones, although I would argue he’s the most efficient pest/enforcer/agitator the Rangers have had in a long while. Still, those talents are cheap, and Lemieux’s 17 points in 63 games doesn’t scream “big money,” especially for someone new to the team.
As things currently stand the Rangers have just enough room to eek out the two on qualifying offers — assuming Matt Beleskey and Brendan Smith are sent down to the AHL for the season.
Find a place to move Ryan Strome
The Rangers have already made one poor cap decision as a result of their inability to clear space for Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba organically. Buying out Kevin Shattenkirk apparently became a requirement at the time it occurred, but it could have been avoided had Gorton simply moved Ryan Strome at the trade deadline, or bought him out for pennies on the dollar because of his age loophole during the first buyout window.
Quick reminder: Ryan Strome shot 22% last year when his career average was under 10%. Math never loses, remember that.
Strome is an RFA at the end of the season, and his $3.1-million cap hit is a lot money on the books — especially now that Shattenkirk’s dead weight cap hit is over $6-million next year AND the Rangers might have new extensions to doll out to guys like DeAngelo and Lemieux, and will need to make decisions on Jesper Fast, Chris Kreider, and Alexandar Georgiev.
Strome is a net-negative for the Rangers, who likely will not take a roster spot away from a kid. Now that all the bad things have been done, him being in the opening night lineup isn’t really a problem — although we’ll re-visit this if he does become the 2C like some MSMs seem to think might be the case.
Regardless, his next extension screams mistake, and Gorton should use any type of a hot or even lukewarm start to find new trading partners. The Rangers have a slew of youth coming through the pipeline, and replacement level bottom-six players are a dime a dozen in August anyway. And they’d likely be an upgrade over Strome.
Figure out what to do with Chris Kreider
It sure seems Kreider is going to enter camp as a Ranger this year, and will do so without a contract extension or an idea of his long term future. Perhaps the Rangers have some type of an idea behind the scenes about what their plans on, but as of this moment it doesn’t appear the two sides have had substantial talks in regards to an extension. That probably doesn’t scream “extension,” and the fact that a guy like Kevin Hayes just walked about with a 7-year $50-million deal doesn’t bode well for the team from a comparable standpoint.
This is a headache that literally hung over the team until the deadline last year with Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes. In the case of Zuccarello the impending trade impacted his play on the ice, and the Rangers ended up needed to take a market value deal for him rather than finding a team willing to jump over the moon to get their hands on him. Hayes had a fine year with David Quinn before floundering in Winnipeg. The Rangers eventually used the 1st they got from the Jets to steal Trouba for Neal Pionk.
Kreider was nearly moved at the Trade Deadline, and I can’t imagine he’s feeling the love from the organization if they’re still not negotiating. John Davidson said all the right things in a recent interview, but it’s clear the Rangers are very open to moving him at best.
“I totally expect him to be in camp,” Davidson, the new Rangers president, told NHL.com. “It’s hard to make promises. Things change, but Chris is a valued member of the New York Rangers and I look forward to him having a great camp and a great run with us.
The Rangers shouldn’t have legit playoff expectations this year, but they’re very much so in a fragile place where a fair amount of key players are either rookies or in their sophomore NHL season, and having a sulky leader in the locker room isn’t the best situation. I have no doubt in my mind Kreider will be an absolute professional, but even Zuccarello felt the heat and he’s the happiest man on earth.
The sooner Gorton figures this out the better, but at this stage in the game it’s likely going to play out well into the season before we get a resolution.