Rangers defenseman options in 2024 NHL free agency

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Nashville Predators
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Much of the New York Rangers attention this offseason will be directed towards filling a hole on right wing, but there’s also at least one move general manager Chris Drury needs to make for the blue line.

In all likelihood, the Rangers defensive corps will look a tad different next season with Erik Gustafsson due to hit the open market on July 1 and Ryan Lindgren and Braden Schneider needing RFA deals. All signs point to Gustafsson signing elsewhere and Schneider getting a bridge deal. Lindgren is more up in the air, seeking a pay raise from his $3 million average annual value, plus long-term security since he can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2024-25 season.

Zac Jones impressed in an NHL career-high 31 games this past season and could slide in on the third pairing. But even then, the Rangers need to add a 6th/7th defenseman since Ben Harpur is the only other veteran option in the system, currently with the Hartford Wolf Pack.

The dynamics and free-agent targets change if Drury elects to buy out captain Jacob Trouba, a move that would shock the locker room but free up some cap space, and require the Rangers to seek an upgrade.

The Rangers enter this offseason with $12.45 million in projected cap space after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the salary cap is going up to $88 million next season. It’s by no means a lost of space, but there’s enough flexibility to make a valuable add or two on the backend.

That said, let’s examine the two tiers of defensemen the Rangers could consider signing this offseason.

Related: 2023-24 Rangers report cards: Grading the defensemen

Rangers could pursue these free agents to be 6th/7th defenseman

Here are some defensemen that could replace Gustafsson as a 6th/7th defenseman, listed in alphabetical order.

Sebastian Aho

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at New York Islanders
Thomas Salus-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Thomas Salus-USA TODAY Sports

The “other” Sebastian Aho is set to become a free agent at the conclusion of his second two-year UFA deal with the New York Islanders.

He’s spent the entirety of his five-year NHL career on Long Island, serving mostly as a bottom-pairing blue-liner and seventh defenseman.

It was not a pretty season for the 28-year-old, who posted nine points and a minus-7 mark in 58 games, all while grading out very poorly, ranking in the eighth percentile overall (per Evolving Hockey). However, he was very strong the season prior, putting up 23 points in 71 games and ranking in the 87th percentile defensively.

Aho hit the cap at an $825,000 average annual value the past two seasons, the highest mark of his career. Coming off a rough season, he can’t expect much of a raise.

He’s not someone you dream about in your top-six, but Aho’s NHL experience (190 games) and the hope of rekindling his performance from a very positive 2022-23 season would make him a decent seventh defenseman at a price that likely sits close to the League minimum.

Calvin De Haan

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Chicago Blackhawks
Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Calvin De Haan served a similar role to what the Rangers might be looking for with the Tampa Bay Lightning this past season.

As a depth defenseman, De Haan appeared in 59 games and had 10 points and a minus-9 rating on 16:38 ATOI. He found himself out of the rotation toward the end of the season, playing just one game in the Lightning’s five-game loss to the Florida Panthers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and logging just two regular-season games in April.

However, De Haan graded out fairly well in the Evolving Hockey charts, ranking in the 75th percentile defensively and eating up important minutes for a Lightning defense unit that lost Mikhail Sergachev for two-and-a-half months after a nasty lower-body injury.

De Haan is entering his age-33 season, and while no longer the same player he was in his prime when he averaged at least 18:30 per game from age 22 to age 30, he’s an experienced NHLer with 632 NHL games played and the ability to give a solid look on the bottom pairing.

Again, Jones is probably the more exciting option to play regularly, but someone like De Haan would provide an adequate safety blanket as a trustworthy defensive fill-in. He signed a one-year, $775,000 UFA deal with Tampa Bay last offseason and a similar contract would easily fit with the New York’s current cap situation.

Mark Giordano

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Toronto Maple Leafs
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The prospect of signing former NHL All-Star Mark Giordano, who will turn 41 next season, seems a bit out of left field. It’s not even a guarantee he will return to play another season.

However, there are parallels between this and the Rangers signing of Blake Wheeler last offseason to a League-minimum contract. Granted, Wheeler, a forwards was 37 at the time and coming off a solid 55-point season.

That aside, it’s clear Drury values experience and leadership in the locker room. Jonathan Quick ended up being a very savvy pickup, playing well above expectations. Both he and Wheeler were brought in as former top players in the League who could add elements of leadership and wisdom to the room.

Serving nine seasons as a captain, eight of which came with the Calgary Flames with whom he won the Mark Messier Leadership Award during the 2019-20 season, Giordano is widely respected throughout the League.

His play has been equally respectable, even as he continues to age. A broken finger and concussion limited him to 46 games this season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he managed nine points and a plus-10 rating. He averaged 16:37 minutes in ice time per game, and Evolving Hockey graded him above average defensively in the 63rd percentile.

He’s no longer the offensive threat who scored 79 points and won the Norris Trophy in 2018-19, but he’s still a serviceable defenseman who could play a similar locker room role to what Wheeler and Quick did this past season.

Giordano’s hit the cap at an $800,000 AAV on his most recent two-year deal, so if he does indeed return for his 19th NHL season, it would likely be at a similar salary.

Kevin Shattenkirk

NHL: New York Rangers at Calgary Flames
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Shattenkirk spent two disappointing seasons with the rebuilding Blueshirts from 2017 to 2019, but has largely been a solid offensive defenseman in the NHL. He most recently landed with the Boston Bruins, joining his seventh different franchise, on a one-year, $1.05 million deal.

Shattenkirk’s set to be a UFA again after scoring six goals and 24 points in 61 games. Of the four names listed here as bottom-pairing options, he has by far the most offensive upside, as he’s posted 20-plus points in 13 of his 14 NHL seasons.

He’s not super impressive on the defensive end, but his 80th-percentile offensive ranking is well above average for a blue-liner.

Shattenkirk is a bit more expensive than the previous defensemen mentioned in this tier, and the only one who’s a right-shot, who’d likely be asked to play the left side more often than not. That coupled with some subpar defensive play doesn’t make him the most appealing option for a sixth/seventh defenseman, but it would provide the Rangers with another offensive option and candidate for power-play quarterback, not unlike the role Gustafsson served this past season.

Rangers options in free agency if Jacob Trouba’s contract is bought out

The options get a bit more exciting if the Rangers buy out Trouba. Keep in mind, a buyout doesn’t take all of Trouba’s $8 million AAV off the books. There would be $4 million in dead cap over the next two seasons and $2 million for the two after.

Still, that’s an extra $4 million to play with on top of the $12.45 in projected cap space, which would allow Drury to search for someone capable of playing in the top four with a maximum of $4-5 million AAV.

Given the benefit of that extra cushion, there are a few enticing names Drury could pursue, listed in alphabetical order.

Alexandre Carrier

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Nashville Predators at Vancouver Canucks
Bob Frid-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

Alexandre Carrier re-upped with the Nashville Predators last offseason on a one-year, $2.5 million UFA deal. After another very solid season and helping the Predators reach the postseason, he’s due for another deal and probably a bit of a pay raise.

Carrier and Jeremy Lauzon played the most minutes (78.2) of any D-pairing during Nashville’s first-round loss to the Vancouver Canucks in six games. Carrier himself posted the third-highest ATOI of the blue-liners, behind Roman Josi and Ryan McDonagh.

Carrier had 20 points and was plus-7, averaging 18:38 TOI while ranking 87th in defensive percentile during the regular season. He’s also right-shot D which would allow him to replace Trouba’s spot in the defensive corp. Carrier is also three years younger than Trouba, and like the Rangers captain, is more than willing to block shots in front of his goalie (137 this season).

While he’s due for a bump up in salary, it should still be something in the Rangers range if Trouba is bought out.

Shayne Gostisbehere

NHL: Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Shayne Gostisbehere is a prolific offensive defenseman who will once again be looking for a UFA deal after settling for a one-year, $4.1 million contract with the Detroit Red Wings last offseason.

A left-shot defenseman who can play the right side, something he did for nearly 100 minutes with the Red Wings this season, Gostisbehere is a player that’s been linked to the Rangers previously.

With such little cap space last offseason, the idea of signing him was barely a thought. Now with more flexibility this offseason and help from a hypothetical Trouba buyout, Drury could potentially fit this dynamic blue-liner under the cap.

Gostisbehere scored 10 goals and 56 points, his second 50-plus point season in the past three, and the second-highest point total of his career behind a 65-point output with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2017-2018.

Similar to the Shattenkirk conversation, Gostisbehere’s defensive metrics leave something to be desired, ranking below average in the 34th percentile over the past three-year span. With Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller already on the backend, it doesn’t feel like there’s as much of a need for a player like Gostisbehere as there once was, but he’d certainly add juice to the Blueshirts attack.

Lou Orlando has spent the past two seasons as a New York Rangers beat reporter for WFUV Sports. The... More about Lou Orlando

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