An Early Look at Who The Rangers Can Target in Free Agency
The Rangers are in a spot we haven’t seen them in for years, and it’s a strange sight to see. Sellers at the deadline, hoping for them to lose for better odds at the draft, at least I am, and just hoping for a revamped coaching staff come next season. One thing that hasn’t really come up, mainly since we’re not even in the playoffs yet, is free agency.
Since the Rangers are all in on the rebuild, I don’t see a lot of money going around come this summer; but that shouldn’t deter them from picking up a few pieces here and there to fortify the line up with veteran leadership and solid play. I have no problem with the Rangers resigning most of their seven RFAs this offseason and letting all of their current UFAs go. Assuming this happens and they don’t do something stupid like re-sign David Desharnais or Cody McLeod or Paul Carey, they’ll have a few spots left open to work with. I believe the Rangers should focus on getting veteran leadership to help their younger players get a feel for the game. I’m sorry to disappoint you if you were hoping for John Tavares, James Neal or Evander Kane, but signing these guys to huge deals will hurt the Rangers in the long run, and it’s time for them to start a different approach towards a cup winning team. I have chosen three players the Rangers should sign this off-season and it’s definitely subject to change in the coming months depending on the contracts of RFAs and players they draft this year.
Ilya Kovalchuk, RW, 35
Let’s start with the obvious one first. It’s no secret that Kovalchuk has expressed interest to rejoin the NHL and possibly join the Rangers, as we reported back in June 2017. It’s also no secret that he has a good amount of off-ice issues he needs to work on, like reportedly getting drunk before a KHL playoff game and getting benched or infamously pulling a Bobby Bonilla and retiring after getting a fat contract (as a Mets fan that still makes me mad). But there’s no doubt that he’s playing some solid minutes for SKA Saint Petersburg by registering 32 goals and 33 assists for 65 points in 55 games this year. Though his age and attitude are problems, the Rangers can use that to their advantage by possibly signing him to a smaller, more manageable contract. Also, since his contract with the Devils is up this season, he doesn’t need permission to rejoin the league. The Rangers have a history of signing players with off the ice problems such as Ryan Malone and giving them another chance at the NHL level, so it’ll be unlikely they shy away from making a deal with Kovalchuk. Aside from that, I believe his presence will bring a new type of leadership into the Rangers locker room and a potential role model for the young Russians the Rangers have all throughout the system. The veteran, Russian sniper will fit in well with Pavel Buchnevich and Vlad Namestikov don’t you think? Kovalchuk’s current cap hit was $6.67 million per year, but I don’t see the Rangers signing him anywhere over $4 million for two years.
Michael Grabner, LW/RW, 30
Both Grabner and Rick Nash have expressed interest in rejoining the Rangers next season. I don’t see Rick Nash re-signing, only because he’ll want multiple years and some decent money. Since the Rangers are rebuilding and getting younger, he shouldn’t be part of the future unless he takes a significant pay cut. Grabner on the other hand, in my opinion, most likely will only get up to two years on the market. Since his speed is his most valued trait, and since he’s aging, some teams might not want to pay him decent money if they’re worried about him slowing down. Grabner is a solid penalty killer and a smart player. Rounding out the bottom six should be a priority for the Rangers if they do somehow want to compete in the next few years. Grabner can give the Rangers that insurance; and while he just got traded last month, he’ll have no problem fitting in with the team again. A two year, $2 million deal will be a good fit for this speedy winger.
Greg Pateryn, D, 27
The Rangers have some solid defensive prospects coming their way soon. The defense with Brady Skjei, Marc Staal, and Kevin Shattenkirk may be joined by Neal Pionk, John Gilmour and possibly Tony DeAngelo next season. There’s a problem with this though because most of these defensemen are either two-way defenders or offensive defensemen. The re-signing of Brendan Smith was potentially getting that shutdown guy replacing Dan Girardi and working well with Brady Skjei like he did in the playoffs. Unfortunately, Smith couldn’t live up to his high expectations and was ultimately sent down to the AHL. The point I’m trying to make here is that the Rangers need another d-man to play that physical, shutdown role that was vacated after Girardi was bought out. Greg Pateryn could potentially be that player who gives you those big minutes. Currently with the Dallas Stars this year, the 27-year-old, right-handed defensemen played in 62 games averaging 19:42 of ice time while blocking 120 shots and accumulating 140 hits, that’s good for 39th and 43rd in the league respectfully (as of 3/15/18). That’s better than anyone currently on the Rangers roster. Though his plus/minus is something to shy away from, he will still give you the grit and give up the body game in and game out. For a one year deal at $1 million, this guy could be a steal for the Rangers to provide some solid defense.