After winning the second NHL Draft Lottery, securing the No. 1 overall pick and the rights to super winger Alexis Lafrenière, the Blueshirts find themselves in a position to take a significant step forward in their rebuild heading into the 2020-21 season.
New York will most likely add Lafrenière to a winger corps that features Hart Trophy finalist Artemiy Panarin, Chris Kreider, Kaapo Kakko, and Pavel Buchnevich. The Rangers are set on the wings, especially in the top six going forward but there is a glaring weakness in the forward corps and that is down the middle. While the Rangers are set for with Mika Zibanejad on the top line, especially after his 75 point campaign this past season, there are a lot of question marks down the lineup at the center position. The biggest question focuses on the second-line center spot in particular.
On Friday, Tom suggested the Rangers could take a hybrid approach through free agency, but today we will be looking at some trades that could be made.
First, let’s take a look at the incumbent center in that role.
Contract: $3.1 million, expiring RFA
2019-20 Production: 18-41-59 in 70 games played (2.58 Pts/60)
Possession: 48.97 CF%, -2.47 C/60, 3.33 CFRel%
Expected Goals: 52.64 xGF%, 0.3 xG/60, 0.47 xGFRel%
GAR: 6.7 GAR (0.5 xGAR)
When the Rangers traded Ryan Spooner to the Edmonton Oilers for Ryan Strome, it was seen as a typical “change of scenery” deal as neither player had worked out in their former home. In his first season on Broadway, Strome put up a respectable 33 points in 68 games while his underlying numbers looked rather thin. To follow that up, the Rangers installed Strome as their second line center and put him next to the incoming Artemiy Panarin leading to Strome having a career year alongside the uber-talented winger putting up 59 points in 70 games.
Normally, this is production that you want to build around, however Strome is entering his last year of restricted free agent status and the Rangers, with a flat salary cap, have to make some tough decisions since there are going to be some big entry-level contracts expiring over the next few seasons. On top of that, while Strome’s point totals hit a career high, the underlying analysis still left much to be desired.
General Manager Jeff Gorton also finds himself in an enviable position to upgrade the roster as securing the 1st overall pick should give Gorton the freedom to utilize other assets such as the first round pick that the Rangers picked up in the Brady Skjei deal with Carolina, as well as their 2021 first rounder to go along with other assets like Strome, defender Tony DeAngelo, and goaltender Alexandar Georgiev. If there was ever a time for the Rangers to be aggressive and upgrade at 2C, it’s now. The question is, who do they target?
I am going to look at three players in particular, one that has been mentioned a lot lately, a teammate of his, and a dark horse candidate. I will not be speculating on trade packages, just highlighting players the Rangers should pursue as hard as they can.
Contract: 4 years, $6.375 million per year (modified no-trade clause starting in 2020-21)
2019-20 Production: 22-26-48 in 70 games played (2.27 Pts/60)
Possession: 49.04 CF%, -2.21 C/60, -2.12 CFRel%
Expected Goals: 47.91 xGF%, -0.22 xG/60, -0.27 xGFRel%
GAR: 1.1 GAR (0.5 xGAR)
Monahan, the center that’s been on everyone’s radar, especially after the Calgary Flames were knocked out of the playoffs by the Dallas Stars, could be a player that a lot of teams circle around as the Flames enter an offseason of uncertainty and could potentially look to make moves to break up a roster that has, in some eyes, failed to meet expectations in terms of playoff success. While most of the attention will be on winger Johnny Gaudreau, the Rangers really don’t need to add wingers and could shift their focus on the 25 year old Monahan to fill that 2C void.
However, there are some major red flags around Monahan as the 25-year-old winger has rather pedestrian underlying numbers and will probably be a contract that Calgary tries to get out of before his modified NTC kicks in at the start of the 2020-21 season. The 6’2” center had a career year two seasons ago, posting a 34 goal, 82 point campaign while shooting 16.3%, far above his career 14.9 shooting percentage. In fact, Monahan’s statistical profile mirrors Ryan Strome’s quite and probably would not be the upgrade that the Rangers should be looking for in that second line role.
Contract: 4 years, $4.85 million per year
2019-20 Production: 29-25-54 in 70 games played (2.35 Pts/60)
Possession: 50.37 CF%, 0.84 C/60, 0.32 CFRel%
Expected Goals: 50.14 xGF%, 0.01 xG/60, -0.07 xGFRel%
GAR: 5.2 GAR (9.7 xGAR)
While Monahan might get all the attention from Calgary, the real target just might be Elias Lindholm. He was drafted as a center, and this year spent time playing on the wing, but has taken over 800 faceoffs in each of his two seasons as a Flame. The Swedish forward is two years removed from a career high 78-point season, and like with Monahan, the Flames might be looking to cut cost and recoup futures as we enter the flat cap world and moving on from the right-handed pivot could bring Calgary a haul to start building around. It also helps that Lindholm is signed for the next four years at a remarkably valuable number with no clauses attached to his deal.
While the offensive numbers might not jump off the screen for Lindholm, his value lies in his two-way ability. For a team loaded with young, skilled forwards and in desperate need of defense from...well...everywhere, the Swedish pivot can swing between the second and third lines, be deployed late to protect a lead, head up a penalty kill, and add in a scoring touch that is set to improve should he slot in next to Panarin.
Contract: 2 years remaining, $5.625 million per year (Modified NTC starting 2020-21)
2019-20 production: 16-20-36 in 48 games played (2.45 Pts/60)
Possession: 53.13 CF%, 7.03 C/60, 5.56 CFRel%
Expected Goals: 54.8 xGF%, 0.48 xG/60, 0.67 xGFRel%
GAR: 9.3 GAR (6 xGAR)
Hey, remember that kid that ended Martin Biron’s career all those years ago? Yeah, he should be on the table and the Rangers should do what they can to bring him to Broadway. Of the three players listed here, Hertl is probably the biggest reach in terms of availability but since his contract is structured similarly to Monahan’s. With a modified NTC kicking in before the start of next season, San Jose might be enticed to move the Czech center to kick start the rebuild that they are probably steering into.
The big red flag though, is that Hertl suffered a season-ending knee injury in January, thus limiting him to just 48 games even in the shorted season. There is a risk there, since his status is still unknown but adding him to the Rangers’ lineup gives the Blueshirts a formidable one-two punch with Zibanejad and Hertl down the middle, while still potentially having Filip Chytil in the picture in some capacity. Having those centers flanked by a combination Panarin, Kreider, Lafrenière, Buchnevich, or Kakko would take the team’s depth to another level, and would allow for a number of different looks up front. Bringing in the Czech pivot can also alleviate some of the defensive pressure among the forward corps while not sacrificing any offense. The Rangers have the assets to pull off something big this offseason and Hertl can fix a lot of what ails the team up front.
These are only a few options that are available to the Rangers this offseason, what do you think? Who do you want to see the Rangers go after?