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Timo Meier Could Be An Intriguing Pavel Buchnevich “Replacement”

There’s a Buchnevich sized hole on the Rangers’ roster, and Meier could help the team at 5v5.

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Ottawa Senators v San Jose Sharks Photo by Amanda Cain/NHLI

Through 30 games it is abundantly clear that the New York Rangers miss Pavel Buchnevich, currently third in the NHL in goals above replacement behind only Nazem Kadri and Mikko Rantanen, especially at 5v5. If the front office wants to address the hole he left this season, Timo Meier could be an interesting option to pursue.

While the team has found a way to win games and pick up points in the standings, they need help at 5v5 which Meier may just be able to provide. The Rangers currently sit 18th in the league with a GF% of 48.93, and 22nd with an xGF% of 48.19 according to Evolving-Hockey. These numbers can improve if they get more from their top players at evens, but instead of banking on that, the front office should look into players who can help give them a boost.

Why might Meier be available? Some of the details associated with his contract make things interesting. The San Jose Sharks are sixth in the Pacific division with a record of 15-14-1 and 31 points in 30 games. The roster is long in the tooth, and they are at a crossroads in terms of deciding how they want to proceed with the roster.

Tomas Hertl is 28, and a UFA to be. Evander Kane and his $5.875M cap hit with three years remaining after this season remains in limbo in the AHL. Erik Karlsson is having a resurgent season, but is 31 and will be paid $11.5 million annually until 2026-27. Logan Couture, 32, will be paid $8 million a year until 2026-27 too. There’s also Brent Burns, 36, and owed $8 million a season for three more years and Marc-Édouard Vlasic, 34, collecting $7 million for four more years after this one. All of this is to say that the team has a lot of money tied up in older players with term, and as it stands they don’t have an easy path to contention that seems viable for the foreseeable future.

There’s no magic fix, but assistant general manager Joe Will has options. Doug Wilson, the Sharks GM, is on a medical leave of absence from the team currently, although I imagine he’d have some say in any big moves. Ultimately the Sharks won’t be able to easily move some of these big contracts entirely, but I do believe things could start their pivot with Hertl, if he chooses not to re-sign, and then move on to Meier in an attempt to get younger to add talent to eventually play with William Eklund and the other top kids in the system. There’s always a chance Hertl wants to stay and try and make things work, but even if that happens I just don’t see them ultimately signing Meier’s qualifying offer when the time comes. I could be wrong here.

Meier’s an interesting case because he costs $6 million against the cap this year and next, but has a $10 million qualifying offer when his RFA deal expires. Meier was one of the last players to take advantage of a quirk that has since been changed in the CBA. Had Meier signed his deal under the new rules, his QO would only be $7.2 million. That $10 million on paper is seemingly cost prohibitive for the Rangers, but that doesn’t exactly mean he’s going to get $10 million on his next deal. Hypothetically speaking, if the Rangers were to trade for Meier, they’d have him under contract for the rest of the regular season, the playoffs, and all of 2022-23.

They’d have time to discuss the framework of long-term extension that could be signed in January of 2023 with him that costs less than $10 million annually. The Rangers have the advantage of getting creative with signing bonuses upfront that offer Meier flexibility and could entice him to do a deal before it gets to the point of issuing a qualifying offer. But even if that weren’t to transpire, given where the Rangers currently are in the standings, and the production they are getting out of their current roster players, there’s an argument to be made that it is worth taking a risk on someone like Meier, even if he ends up being a rental.

There’s risk there because of what it will likely cost to acquire him. But this is something that the Rangers could find out once they start talking trade negotiations with the Sharks, and then decide if they want to proceed with Meier as a glorified rental, or someone they think they can sign. There are merits to both options, but financially the team could make it work.

Kaapo Kakko is unlikely to get a big deal off his ELC, Julien Gauthier won’t get a big raise, and the only other players that need to be replaced would be Greg McKegg, Kevin Rooney, and Alexandar Georgiev. If the Rangers acquired Meier, he could essentially be taking money that could otherwise be spent on Ryan Strome, so if it were a one-for-one swap from a salary perspective for the 2022-23 season, the team would need to find $1.5 million to make things even, which could be done by not carrying a seventh D like Jarred Tinordi ($900,000) and potentially moving out a bad contract. There’s also the fact that the cap is projected to increase by $1 million next year, but that could change because of new attendance limits in some Canadian cities due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

With all of that out of the way, why Meier?

For starters, he’s 25 and played 342 games to date. He’s been in the league just as long as Buchnevich, and in that span has been worth 42.4 goals above replacement. Buchnevich has been worth 46.4 goals above replacement. Here’s how they compare in each individual category that goes into their total GAR.

Evolving-Hockey

And here’s a look at career progression for each player.

Evolving-Hockey.com
Evolving-Hockey.com

The biggest difference is that Buchnevich has been more of a driver than Meier, but that said, 159 of Meier’s 217 career points have come at 5v5, which equates to a 73.2% 5v5 points percentage.

Micah Blake McCurdy, HockeyViz.com

This season Meier is 11th in the NHL in GAR at 8.9. At even strength he has 22 points (7 goals and 15 assists), and 14 of his 22 even-strength points are primary. He’s also sporting a nice GF% of 69.12, a CF% of 50.3, and an xGF% of 59.52.

He’s rebounded nicely from a down 2020-21 season which saw him finish with a line of 12-19-31 in 54 games while shooting 7.7% Meier only took 155 shots last season, and this year is up to 111 shots in 25 games. When weighing his ice time, he’s attempted 20.6 shot attempts per 60 this year, up from 19.99 last season. That has resulted in a G/60 of 1.10, up from 0.84 last season, and an ixG/60 of 1.24, up from 0.87 last season. In fact, this has been a career year thus far for Meier in individual expected goals per 60. Here’s a brief look at his slash lines career to date.

  • 2021-22: 1.10 G/60 | 1.24 xG/60 | 20.60 iCF/60
  • 2020-21: 0.84 G/60 | 0.87 xG/60 | 19.99 iCF/60
  • 2019-20: 1.06 G/60 | 1.01 xG/60 | 17.21 iCF/60
  • 2018-19: 1.21 G/60 | 1.17 xG/60 | 20.34 iCF/60
  • 2017-18: 0.86 G/60 | 0.93 xG/60 | 17.39 iCF/60
  • 2016-17: 0.45 G/60 | 1.12 xG/60 | 22.67 iCF/60

Here’s a look at his RAPM chart, and to learn more about that you can read this explainer.

Evolving-Hockey.com

Meier turns 26 in October of 2022, and turns 27 just before the start of the 2023-24 season which means that he’d be 28 if he were to string things along to hit unrestricted free agency in July 2024 after agreeing to a deal after his current deal expires. The Rangers have a clear need at right wing, and the assets to make a deal. The Sharks are at a crossroads and could choose to sell high on Meier now, because waiting until next year might not yield a better return. Teams could bank on there being a chance the Sharks won’t qualify him, and they could instead try and sign Meier as a UFA.

In terms of cost, it undoubtedly would be on the high side, but it would be for a very good young player with another year on his deal. The Rangers have a surplus of defense prospects, and are projecting to be a team that isn’t going to be picking early in the draft the next couple of years. They also have some interesting forward prospects. The Sharks prospect pool is pretty solid, and the Rangers could add to that.

The point with Meier is that he’s a proven commodity that would be an add that can help now, and in the years to come. I previously wrote that Claude Giroux would make for a decent rental if available, but Meier could be just as good a fit, even though he’ll be more expensive.

Whether he’s a rental or a long-term addition, Meier would be a good fit, and could help give the team something extra they need to compete with other contenders come playoff time. Top teams load up on talented players, and Meier is a very talented player that still has upside.

Stats via Evolving-Hockey unless otherwise noted.