Cap-strapped Rangers opt for speed and skill on day 1 of UFA frenzy, but what’s next?

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24: during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

BUFFALO, NY – JUNE 24: during round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Thankfully, Jeff Gorton’s hands were tied on Friday when the rest of the league partook in the NHL’s annual silly time, throwing money around like it was nobody’s business.

Players that the Rangers had noted interest in like David Backes (five years, $30 million) and Matt Martin (four years, $10 million) weren’t a realistic option, being that they barely have enough dough to bring back the guys currently on the squad.

And it’s probably a good thing. After all, nothing would be more Ranger-like than throwing the former Islander and face punching specialist Martin $3 million per. Also to that point, the high character, leadership provider in Backes would’ve had Glen Sather salivating if he hit free agency a few years sooner.



Instead, Gorton nabbed speedy winger Michael Grabner on a two-year, low cost deal. Grabner figures to be a fit in the bottom-six and on the penalty kill. His all-world speed will be relished by the Rangers, who were too slow to compete with the now Stanley Cup Champion Penguins in a seven game series. It’s a good signing that addresses multiple needs and comes in cheap.

The Rangers also announced lower profile signings of Nathan Gerbe and Adam Clendening.

Gerbe, who will be making pennies on the dollar this coming season, figures to be with the big club at least for the start of the season. He’ll be a stopgap while Oscar Lindberg recovers from hip surgery. He is small, and very skilled. That apparently was enough for the Rangers to take a flyer on him, coming off a particularly unimpressive season with Carolina last year.

Clendening is an interesting piece too. Only 23 years old, he is a right-handed shot and can be described as a player with good offensive instincts—his first pass is excellent, he doesn’t shy away from handling the puck either. He has been known for inconsistencies in his own end, the main reason why he hasn’t found a permanent top-six role yet.

Yesterday’s signings are relatively insignificant considering the mantra of sweeping change that was the story after the early playoff exit. They do however give us an inclination as to the direction management wants the team to go: more speed and more skill.

The losses in consecutive seasons of Beniot Pouliot and Carl Hagelin had a ripple effect. In Pouliot’s case—less precise skill from the third line the year after he left. In the case of Hagelin—less controlled chaos in the everyday lineup. Brining in Grabner and Gerbe, indicates that management has identified this as a need going forward, which is good.

Am I suggesting Nate Gerbe will make or break the Rangers’ season? No way. But if UFA day 1 gives us any lasting impression, it’s that Rangers management knows slower, heavier players are not the answer going forward.

So what’s next? There are some interesting names on the UFA market—particularly on defense. Gorton has failed to address the number one need coming into the off-season, which is quickly getting into crunch time.

Justin Schultz is a player who would fit the bill of a more mobile, offense oriented D-man, and is still in search of a home. The Rangers were rumored to have interest at last year’s trade deadline. Of course, the money Schultz will command (even if it’s not much) would require Gorton to make some salary-shedding moves.

Also still on the market is Jason Demers, the only right handed top-four option left on the market. There’s no doubt he’ll be in high demand at this point, likely driving the price out of NYR’s reach. It’s a pipe dream, but Demers would automatically become the team’s best right-side defenseman, and a perfect fit for captain Mac, who is in need of a right-side partner.

So, what is next? Probably nothing, until the trades come.

And if they don’t? well……. It could be a long year.

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