New York Rangers offseason begins with several lineup issues to address
The New York Rangers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs last Saturday and general manager Chris Drury has already been busy working on the 2022-23 season.
Once the playoffs started, there wasn’t much the Rangers President & GM do to but watch and evaluate his team.
Now that the disappointment of failing to get to the Stanley Cup Final has subsided a bit, the organization has to address several issues in preparation for the beginning of training camp in September.
That began with the extension of Vitali Kravtsov, who could surprisingly have a role with the team after a tumultuous relationship last season.
New York Rangers Free Agency
The Free Agency period begins on July 13. Drury has from now until that day to negotiate and re-sign some big names on the team’s roster. Should the team not re-sign an unrestricted free agent, that player can walk away and try to find a better situation with any other team.
Seven players are slated to become UFA’s along with four RFA’s.
UFA’s: Andrew Copp, Ryan Strome, Frank Vatrano, Greg Mckegg, Tyler Motte, Kevin Rooney, and Justin Braun
RFA’s: Kaapo Kakko, Julien Gauthier, Alexandar Georgiev, and Sammy Blais
Rangers big decision on Ryan Strome
Drury and the organization have to decide who is going to be the number two center. Are they willing to re-sign Strome or do they believe Filip Chytil is close to moving up to the second-line center position to play with Artemi Panarin?
Somewhere down the line, Chytil, along with Alexis Lafreniére and Kaapo Kakko should be top-six forwards. So the team needs to ask the question, is down the line starting September 2022? Gerard Gallant said at his media session on Monday he believes these kids all can be in the top six, but changes would need to be made in the lineup for that to happen.
Strome gave every indication that he wanted to return to the Blueshirts next season.
“Most of my 20’s have been here, it’s like I’m an adopted New Yorker,” Strome choked up discussing his pending UFA status. “Obviously my heart’s here. The last four years I’ve tried to pour everything into this thing on and off the ice. I can’t predict the future but all I know is I love these guys and this team is destined for great things. It’s a little emotional. Honestly, it’s a great group of guys and I hope there’s more.”
Is Andrew Copp the better choice
The second player that Drury needs to address is Andrew Copp. He was acquired before the trade deadline and has fit in well with the mixture of young and veteran talent.
Copp intends to speak with both Gallant and Drury to see what his role would be if he re-signed with the Blueshirts. He had 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 20 playoff games.
“My first thoughts are how I can get better as a player,” he said on breakup day. “Over the next couple of weeks I’ll evaluate. Basically hear from [Gallant] and [Drury] where they see me longterm. Not just next year but hopefully four or five years. A lot to take in to make the best decision.”
Of course, the decision between Strome or Copp could come down to term and money. The former sounds more willing to take a discount to stay. So we will see how that shakes out.
Kaapo Kakko bridge deal and more questions
Questions at the RFA level are plentiful. Should the team give Kaapo Kakko a bridge deal or sign him long-term? While there are concerns about an offer sheet, Gallant hinted that he would be back next season despite being scratched in the Rangers final playoff game.
“I like to play here,” Kakko said. “I think [the scratch] gives me more motivation. I want to show I’m better than that. You should put me in the lineup because I’m a good player.”
Sammy Blais is another RFA that never had the opportunity to show his full potential due to a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for most of the season. A one-year deal for the 25 year-old seems to make sense.
The Rangers have other areas that need to be filled. A defense partner for Braden Schneider is on the agenda, but Zac Jones may get the chance to fill that role. Center depth is another area, which they can take care by re-signing UFA Tyler Motte or Kevin Rooney. And a cheaper backup goaltender is a must.
Training camp begins in September. Having gone all the way to the Eastern Conference Final this will be a shorter offseason than what these players are used to.
Chris Drury had a great trade deadline for the team, now he will be tested again to mold this team to not only be a playoff team but to be a Stanley Cup Contender next season.
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