Today officially marks the hockey calendar turning over to the 2021-22 season, and once the clock strikes noon, the free agent frenzy will begin around the league. General Manager Chris Drury has certainly followed through on his plan to make the New York Rangers harder to play against thus far, and that will likely carry over into the free agent shopping period later this afternoon.
There’s one big elephant that remains in the room as well, and that is in regards to the Rangers’ current situation through the middle of the ice. Both Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome will each enter the 2021-22 campaign with one-year remaining on their respective deals, and any certainty regarding their futures still remains in limbo. The Rangers have been connected to Jack Eichel the moment he became available in Buffalo, but the longer the situation drags on and the higher the cost appears to be, the less likely Chris Drury seems to be interested.
The Rangers are no strangers to the free agent craziness, and given the current strategy employed by Chris Drury, they could make some notable additions today. Let’s take a look at potential players the Rangers might be targeting to fill some of their needs.
Salary Cap Outlook
Projected Cap Space: $21,875,198
Dead Cap: $4,427,778
Roster Size: 19
Players Unsigned: Filip Chytil (RFA), Libor Hajek (RFA), Igor Shesterkin (RFA)
High End Targets
Phillip Danault is fresh off of a trip to the Stanley Cup Final with the Montreal Canadiens, and is in line to receive a hefty pay raise in the range of $6 million per season. Compared to someone like Landeskog, Danault isn’t going to blow the doors off with his offensive point totals, and in fact, he’ll do the exact opposite. Regarded as one of the better defensive-minded centers in the game, Danault does come with several risks at that price for someone who hasn’t eclipsed 53 points in a single season.
However, there is tremendous value in adding a player that can go head-to-head with some of the best in the game and shut them down pretty convincingly. It would certainly add a different dynamic to the Rangers lineup that hasn’t a true shutdown center in quite some time. Can he maintain that high-level of shutdown play throughout his mid-30’s though? That’s the million dollar question when it comes to free agency.
Blake Coleman made up one third of that Tampa Bay Lightning third line that did plenty of damage throughout the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The New York Rangers already nabbed one of the other members from that line after inking Barclay Goodrow to a six-year, $21.85 million contract last week. Could they be in the market to try and recreate some of that magic albeit at a much more premium price tag?
Every team wants a Blake Coleman on their side, and his addition would certainly further push the narrative of making the Rangers harder to play against. Had the Rangers not already made a pretty sizable commitment to Goodrow, I would imagine Coleman would be right at the top of their wish list. But hey, free agency creates some weird storylines, so never say never?
Elias Pettersson (RFA)
With Gabriel Landeskog being scooped off of the market by the Colorado Avalanche at the eleventh hour last night, I had to call an audible and decided to get really interesting. Offer sheets are considered voodoo by the entire league, but with this offseason already becoming pretty unique, why not add another wrinkle? There have been some rumblings that the Vancouver Canucks have become wary of a potential offer sheet, and the Rangers might be in a favorable position to strike.
Given that they have already balked at potential higher end packages for Jack Eichel, why not trade in some lottery tickets for some certainty? Kevin looked into what a potential offer sheet would look like last month, and all of the tricky compensation values surrounding it. The Rangers desperately wanted to draft Pettersson back in 2017, so now would be a perfect opportunity to reel in a pick that just barely slipped through their fingertips.
Lower Tier Targets
Continuing with the theme of the Rangers creating an “identity” type of fourth line, Jordan Martinook seems like a no-brainer in that category. Martinook is coming off a two-year, $4 million contact that he signed with the Hurricanes in 2019, and is looking to test the waters on the open market. With the Rangers already adding Sammy Blais via the Pavel Buchnevich trade last Friday, they could certainly do much worse than adding Martinook as a worthy sidekick.
Term is always a tricky situation when it comes to the open market, and Martinook is certainly looking to beat out the potential offer made by the Hurricanes. If the price ends up being right, the Rangers would be well on their way to creating their own “indenity” in the form of their fourth line.
Nick Ritchie was a surprising omission from the Boston Bruins’ qualifying offers on Monday, and thus will become an unrestricted free agent. When you think of “tough to play against”, Ritchie probably shoots right to the top of the list in terms of hitting and face punching. Ritchie is, however, coming off a season where he hit a career-high 15 goals in just 56 games. Ritchie was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks at the trade deadline two seasons ago, but clearly didn’t end up in the long-term plans of the Boston Bruins.
Ritchie is legitimately big too, weighing in at 6-foot-2, 232 pounds and would certainly make the Rangers “tough” by association. Ritchie will likely attract interest from plenty of teams, so the Rangers might be best avoiding a bidding war when they can look elsewhere.
With news coming out last week that the Rangers were moving on from Brendan Smith, they are most certainly in the market for a seventh defenseman. With Gerard Gallant now in charge behind the bench, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that he will have some say in personnel decisions. When you connect the dots, a potential reunion between Gudbranson and Gallant makes some sense.
Larry Brooks reported that the Rangers are looking to add an extra defenseman with size-and-strength? Check. Familiarity with the coach? (Gudbranson played under Gallant from 2014-2016 in Florida) Check. The stars seem aligned with this one, so we’ll see how it ends up playing out.
I included Patrik Nemeth’s name as more of a formality given that his addition is expected, but cannot be officially announced as of yet. Rumors circulated on Monday afternoon about the Rangers making a push to sign the 29-year old defenseman when the market opens later this afternoon. Larry Brooks reported yesterday that the anticipated deal will come in around three years, and pay Nemeth in the neighborhood of $2.5 million per season.
The Rangers were in the market for a veteran depth defenseman, and they got exactly that with the signing of Nemeth. Not to mention, he makes an ideal pair and creates a metaphorical safety blanket for incoming and fellow countryman Nils Lundkvist.
All contract and salary data courtesy of Cap Friendly.