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Where Things Stand For New York Rangers Ahead of NHL Free Agency

Free agency opens on Friday, and it will be the start of a sprint until the new season begins.

New York Rangers v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2020 NHL Draft just wrapped up, and in normal times there would be a little time to catch your breath. But tomorrow at 12:00 p.m. will be the beginning of NHL Free Agency.

While the Rangers aren’t expected to be major players with any of the marquee free agents, due to their cap situation regarding dead money and rookie bonuses, there are some things to watch out for. It mostly involves the potential availability of their players, and some names who could depart. There’s also a few names the team could look to add.

So, let’s take a base level look at where things currently stand for the Rangers, and some key players to consider.

Ryan Strome

The Rangers qualified the RFA center during the draft just hours ahead of the 5:00 p.m. deadline. This was for the purposes of retaining his rights to avoid losing him to unrestricted free agency. So while Strome is still a Ranger, for now, there’s no guarantee he will return next season.

Strome made $3.1 million last season in the final year of a two-year, $6.2 million deal signed with the Edmonton Oilers. It was a career year for Strome in which he scored 18 goals and tallied 59 points in 70 games, while adding two assists in the playoffs. He is one year away from UFA status, and it would be in his best interest to go to arbitration, as that is his best chance of getting the most money.

But given the Rangers’ cap situation, it is understandable why they may not want to give him the $4.5 million or more he could command. I imagine it would be hard for an arbiter to look at his case and not side with him, and the number will likely be higher than the walkaway amount of $4,538,958.

Larry Brooks reports that the team is trying to get an upgrade to center Artemiy Panarin’s line, and there’s a chance they could walk away from Strome if his number is too high.

He’s going to have a strong case in arbitration that could earn him at least $4.75 million.

The fact is the Rangers have been trying to trade for a center and were unable to pull it off as the qualifying-offer deadline neared. They will continue to pursue what they believe is an upgrade in the middle for Artemi Panarin’s line. If Strome’s arbitration award is too rich for the Blueshirts’ blood, that’s the time they’ll walk away.

Evolving-Hockey has the most likely deal for Strome being an eight-year deal, but their prediction on a one-year award is $4,753,000.

I feel for Strome because he’s looking for security. His longest deal to date was his ELC, which slid for two seasons, and since then he’s signed back-to-back two year deals. He also had a career year at a time in which the salary cap is flat, and obviously doesn’t want to leave money on the table by signing a one-year deal and regressing statistically.

This year’s free agent market isn’t deep with centers, so it wouldn’t be surprising if a team that’s unable to add offense at other positions in free agency could contact the Rangers about his availability.

Tony DeAngelo

DeAngelo, like Strome, is an RFA due for a massive raise after a very impressive season. The 24-year-old rearguard finished with 53 points in 68 games which was fourth-best among NHL defensemen. The Rangers right side already features Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba, and with Nils Lundkvist a year away from playing in North America, there’s the possibility the team could move him for assets to fill other team needs.

I personally don’t think Lundkvist will be impacted as he should be on the roster pretty soon. The Rangers also feel Lundkvist could move left if needed.

“Actually our organization thinks we have a young player in Sweden [Lundkvist] that can play on the off-side, too. We’re pretty comfortable they can do it and we’ve had a lot of conversations about that, moving forward for next year.”

Evolving-Hockey’s contract prediction for DeAngelo is five years at $5,705,000, but their one-year award of $3,744,000 or two-year award of $4,267,000 also feels accurate.

In addition to that, DeAngelo could be a plan B for at least one team pursuing Alex Pietrangelo.

As of this moment the Golden Knights are over the cap limit for the 2020-21 season. They are actively trying to clear cap space, and would need to do so in either case. DeAngelo would likely cost anything above $4 million, while Pietrangelo would likely be double that.

I’d also keep an eye on the Philadelphia Flyers, as they have an opening on the right side after Matt Niskanen’s unexpected retirement. DeAngelo is from Sewell, NJ which is 18 miles away from Philadelphia. It would be weird to see the Rangers trade with the Flyers and help out old pal Alain Vigneault, but stranger things have happened before.

If DeAngelo does stay, there’s been talk of moving him left, which would something I’d need to see to believe it.

The Rest of the RFAs

All of the other main RFAs received qualifying offers as well.

The majority of this list should be pretty straightforward, although there’s always the chance a team that strikes out in free agency could look to make a deal for Georgiev.

Lemieux shouldn’t command a ton, nor should Di Giuseppe who seems like a reasonable Hartford first-liner / 13th forward candidate.

Jesper Fast

Jesper Fast is expected to test free agency on Friday.

Fast joined the organization in 2010 after being selected 157th overall in the sixth round of the draft. Since making his NHL debut, he’s appeared in 422 games in the regular season, and 40 postseason contests. He’s been a true success story for the Blueshirts, and if they are unable to come to terms on a new deal will be tough player to replace. He’s adored by his teammates, and has won the Players’ Player award five years in a row.

Fast believes he can earn as much as $4 million on the open market, which would be a significant increase from the $1.85 million a year he currently makes. I personally wouldn’t sign him to a deal at that ticket, but if he’s willing to take somewhat of a discount, it would be better to pay a little extra for a sure thing, as long as term isn’t an issue, than paying a player in that ballpark that’s a bit of an unknown. The flat cap means there should be significant value options on the open market, and I suspect that’s how the Rangers will proceed.

Unqualified RFAs

A flat cap and some NHL teams having tight internal budgets resulted in a number of restricted free agents not receiving qualifying offers. The addition of these players to the free agent pool could allow for some bargain signings once free agency opens, and there are a few the Rangers could consider.

Carter Verhaeghe is one forward who could be of interest for the Rangers. Verhaeghe was a third round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2013, and the 25-year-old just won a Stanley Cup but is a causality of the team’s cap crunch. In 2018-19 he tallied 82 points in 76 games with the Syracuse Crunch, and appeared in 52 games this season with the Lightning.

It is a small sample of 466 minutes at 5v5, but he had a 57.01 CF%, an xGF% of 56.06, and an actual GF% of 40.11. In terms of above replacement metrics, Verhaeghe was worth 2.5 goals, and 0.4 wins respectively.

I’d expect that there will be teams who can offer more in terms of money and opportunity than the Rangers, but it would still be worth reaching out to his representation to see what he’s interested in doing.

Evan Rodrigues is another name to keep an eye on given his connection to David Quinn at Boston University. This season was a down year for Rodrigues in which he had 10 points in 45 games played, a drop off from the 29 in 74 he had with the Buffalo Sabres in 2018-19.

From an underlying numbers perspective, in the seven games with Pittsburgh, Rodrigues posted a GF% of 53, a CF% of 63.79, and an xGF% of 63.47. For the sake of fairness, here’s a three-year look.

The Rangers will likely be looking to add some depth for Hartford that could play in some capacity for the big club if needed. The Rangers did that when they signed former BU Terrier Danny O’Regan last summer, so don’t be surprised if Rodrigues is someone the team looks at in free agency.

This is not to say he’s a top choice, but more so that he’s a familiar option that could be had for minimal cost.

Vinnie Hinostroza is another name, and one that would fit the profile of players the Rangers have targeted in the past. In 2018-19, Hinostroza had 39 points in 72 games. This season he had 22 in 68 which could be a byproduct of his reduction to 13:06 a game vs. the 15:16 he average the year prior.

From an underlings perspective, Hinostroza had a GF% of 52.71, a CF% of 49.84, and an xGF% of 50.03. He was also worth 4.4 goals above replacement, and 0.8 wins above replacement.

Overall, Hinostroza is a forward that was pretty much neutral at 5v5 offensively, but was solid at preventing chances against.

He’d be a perfect buy low target, and even if he’s unable to get back to being a 35 to 40 point player, he’d be a good addition 5v5 for his defensive impact.

Lastly, there’s Lucas Wallmark who spent 60 games with the Carolina Hurricanes this season, and 7 with the Florida Panthers.

In total he finished with 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points while skating 12:47 a night. With the Canes he had a GF% of 48.01, a CF% of 52.22, and an xGF% of 52.6 while being worth 3.6 goals and 0.6 wins above replacement.

The Rangers could use some defensive minded forwards in their botton six, especially if Fast leaves, and Wallmark could be a good fit for them.

Left Defense

Shoring up the left side is arguably one of the more important things the Rangers will do this offseason. At a bare minimum the team has expressed interest in finding a veteran to replace Marc Staal, but ideally they should add a true top four option to help protect Ryan Lindgren. He had a decent rookie year alongside Adam Fox, but there needs to be a backup plan in the event he regresses. Even if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t be fair to ask him to primarily carry the load on that side again, and there aren’t many internal options who can help. There’s always the potential K’Andre Miller starts the season with the big club, but it would be unfair of the Rangers to expect him to be a key difference maker from the start. I went through a few names in August, and still think someone like Ben Hutton or Slater Koekkoek (didn’t receive a QO) would be a decent addition.

Henrik Lundqvist

The New York Rangers’ legend and future Hall of Famer is expected to sign with the Washington Capitals when free agency opens on Friday.

Although Eddie Lack is holding out hope that he joins the Colorado Avalanche.

It is expected that the 2020-21 NHL season will start on January 1, which is 85 days away from now. That means the Rangers will have the rest of October and all of November to get most things sorted out, because they’d ideally have the team together in December.

A lot of the main pieces are already set, but the Rangers will need to make decisions on their RFAs, improve the center depth, and rebuild the left side. They will have to do so while navigating a flat cap, other teams with internal budgets, and uncertainty of what the game will look like in terms of fans in the stands, and that could ultimately impact the money thrown around Friday at the start of free agency.

Stats via Evolving-Hockey and Hockey Viz unless otherwise noted. Financial data via Cap Friendly.