There are only a few days left in August, and many of the New York Rangers are back in town ahead of the start of training camp. The Rangers’ social media channels have shared some photos and videos of players such as Mika Zibanejad, Filip Chytil. Brett Howden, Lias Andersson, and Boo Nieves, to name a few, working out and training. Others, including Henrik Lundqvist, have posted on their own pages that they are New York bound.
But the offseason isn’t finished for the Rangers — not with two RFAs still unsigned. So while a number of players are reuniting, which is being posted on social media, there’s been nothing from Brendan Lemieux who remains without a contract as of this writing.
Lemieux is one of two players currently without a contract, the other being Tony DeAngelo. And at this point, it’s unlikely that the Rangers will blink first in negotiations. They can go into the season with Lemieux unsigned and not skip a beat since they have an abundance of forwards.
Here’s a projected depth chart assuming some assignments/promotions between the Rangers & the Hartford Wolf Pack:
L1: Artemi Panarin — Mika Zibanejad — Kaapo Kakko
L2: Chris Kreider — Filip Chytil — Pavel Buchnevich
L3: Vladislav Namestnikov — Ryan Strome — Vitali Kravtsov
L4: Lias Andersson — Brett Howden — Jesper Fast
Healthy Scratch: Boo Nieves or Greg McKegg or Vinni Lettieri
(This is a hypothetical, but more or less these are the forwards who will likely be on the roster. Feel free to submit your own hypothetical lines. It should also go without saying that Lemieux rightly makes this group deeper overall.)
The Rangers’ lack of trades this summer means there could be a lot of shifting of players around positionally until an optimal fit is found. Andersson, Namestnikov, and Strome are three players who could bounce between center and wing, and I wouldn’t rule out Howden getting some shifts left of center.
Chytil is technically another player who fits the same description as the above group, but for now it is better to have him on the second line than the third-line left wing behind Panarin and Kreider. If the Rangers were to trade Kreider before the season, that would open up some possibilities for new combos.
After looking at these lines, it’s pretty easy to see why the Rangers’ have been pretty quiet with Lemieux. Via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:
DeAngelo’s agent, Pat Brisson, and Lemieux’s representative, Claude Lemieux, politely declined to provide updates on talks between their respective clients and the Rangers. The same holds true for New York management.
At this point, though, it does not appear that the Rangers are inclined to move off their initial bids. That means that DeAngelo and Lemieux, each of whom play with a necessary jagged edge not necessarily prevalent throughout the roster, have only two means of leverage.
Brooks later went on to say that neither player really is in a position to cash in, and I agree with that somewhat. But while the Rangers can afford to be without Lemieux, the same can’t be said about DeAngelo.
The Rangers are far more likely to circle back with Tony D — a defender who tallied 30 points in 61 games last year — than they are Lemieux if things remain the way they are currently closer to the start of camp. Their depth on the right hand side could be pretty thin if DeAngelo isn’t signed by opening night. Jacob Trouba is slated for the top pair and Adam Fox somewhere in bottom-four depending on DeAngelo. Without him though, that likely puts Brendan Smith on his offseason to fill the void.
Back to Lemieux — he doesn’t have as much of a leg to stand on with the Rangers, and I’d be interested to hear what kind of a deal he’s looking for. An offer sheet is technically possible, but given the amount of top-tier and secondary tier RFAs currently without contracts, I don’t think there’s a team out there who will pay him up to $1,395,053 (no compensation); let alone anything above that.
He suited up for 19 games with the Blueshirts and tallied three goals and assists for six points (0.315 P/GP). While that per game average is higher than the 0.25 he had with Winnipeg — 9-2-11 in 44 games played — the Rangers likely want to see more out of him first.
Lemieux was drafted 31st overall in 2014 by the Buffalo Sabres, and was traded to Winnipeg on February 11, 2015 in a package along with Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, and a first-round pick.
Lemieux made the jump to the AHL with the Manitoba Moose after finishing his OHL career (106-83-189 in 209 games, 0.90 P/GP), and posted a line of 33-32-65 in 117 games (0.56 P/GP). The 2018-19 campaign was the 23-year-old’s first as a full-time NHL player, and he ended up with the Rangers in the Kevin Hayes trade prior to the deadline.
While production is certainly one part of the equation, it isn’t the be-all-end-all. One thing you can say about Lemieux is that he brings an element to the team that the Rangers didn’t have, and that’s someone who plays with an edge and isn’t completely devoid of skill. Over the last few seasons the Rangers have opted to carry someone on the roster who could fight to try and change the tone at times, but many of them have been useless with the puck on their stick.
Early on I saw some make comparisons to Sean Avery, but it is way too early for those comparisons, In fact, the Rangers would be lucky if that’s what Lemieux ultimately turned into, and that would be a situation in which he’d be in position to command some term and a proper salary.
During Avery’s tenure with the Rangers he was known for his agitating and antics, but he was also a damn good hockey player. He spent 264 games in a Rangers’ uniform, tallied 123 points, and averaged 38 points a season while posting very solid possession numbers.
We haven’t seen enough of Lemieux to say for certain, but on this team he’s a bottom-six player. On a deeper team, he’s likely just a fourth-liner. To find a role in the top-nine, he’d have to find a way to make more of an impact on the scoresheet and below the surface. In terms of underlying numbers the sample is small, and he’s been a sub 50% player in terms of shot share, and a negative relative to his teammates.
With that said, Lemieux is a player who is on his third team since being drafted. I don’t say this as a slight to him, but he’s someone who wants to have a career as a hockey player. The quickest way for that to happen is to sign for his qualifying offer amount or a team-friendly deal with the Rangers, and make the most of his opportunities.
I don’t see a world in which a higher offer comes in, and if Lemieux sits out for a bit before ultimately signing for his QO amount of $874,125, he’ll put himself at a disadvantage. This is because as it stands he could be in a position to carve out a decent spot for himself in training camp.
Lemieux is a player who possesses many of the qualities that are important to head coach David Quinn, and is bound to get chances to prove himself based on his work ethic and hard-nosed style. The Rangers’ cap situation is a tricky one, and there’s not much room to fit Lemieux beyond his qualifying offer. Even if there were, the Rangers have don’t have many reasons to pay him more than that right now. September 12th is the day that players are set to report for the opening of training camp, and it will be surprising if Lemieux isn’t among the group of players vying for an opening night roster spot.