Rangers GM doesn’t say much about plans but must address these 3 areas this offseason

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at New York Rangers
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Like many of his front office brethren in the NHL, New York Rangers general manager Chris Drury is adept at not providing direct answers to questions from the media. So, when Drury met with reporters Friday, six days after the Rangers were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Florida Panthers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, it was no surprise he kept his thoughts and plans close to the vest.

That’s his prerogative. And, perhaps, it’s simply good business. He’s not the only general manager in the NHL, nor in any other sport, that’s not an open book.

What Drury is, though, is a smart executive. So, you can be rest assured he knows what the issues are and is — and has been — devising a strategy to find a way where the Rangers can get over the hump, reach the Stanley Cup Final and find a way to win their first championship in 30+ years.

But he reportedly did provide a few nuggets Friday, including “nothing is off the table” when it comes to making moves this summer, possibly involcing core pieces on the roster.

To that end, he also said this:

“Now it’s the part of the job to figure out whether this group collectively can get us to where we want to be.”

That’s not nothing from the Rangers general manager. And that’s certainly not a full-on endorsement of some of the core players, either.

So, take what you will from that comment. In the end, actions will speak louder than words this offseason. Drury is walking a fine line with a very good team. Will he make some tweaks, as he did ahead of the NHL trade deadline this season? Or will he take the riskier route and swing a big deal or two, like the Panthers did in 2022 when they traded Jonathan Huberdeau to the Calgary Flames in a massive franchise-altering move to acquire Matthew Tkachuk?

Time will tell. But there are three areas that Drury must find and provide answers to this offseason.

Related: Filip Chytil ‘could have major impact’ with Rangers next season

1. Who will play right wing for Rangers alongside Mika Zibanejad & Chris Kreider? Or …. ?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Florida Panthers at New York Rangers
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Drury indicated the Rangers will consider all options, internal and external, to play right wing on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider next season. Since Pavel Buchnevich’s exit before the 2021-22 season, no forward has jelled with the BFFs, outside of Frank Vatrano’s three-month run there after the deadline in 2022. Why this is the case is an even bigger question. But finding a fit to play with these two 5v5 is critical for the Blueshirts, really priority No. 1.

Most of the internal options have been exhausted, no? Unless, Drury sees Brennan Othmann or Will Cuylle as the right fit, but that’d be a risky play heading into next season. Kaapo Kakko admitted earlier this week that the line doesn’t score nearly enough when he’s on it. Filip Chytil played there some in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but coach Peter Laviolette said Tuesday that he views Chytil as a center, not a wing. Jimmy Vesey is not a permanent answer. And it wouldn’t appear the Rangers have the appetite to bust apart the Artemi Panarin-Vincent Trocheck-Alexis Lafreniere line just to put Lafreniere with Zibanejad and Kreider.

And don’t expect Jack Roslovic, an unrestricted free agent, to be re-signed to try again to fill that void.

That could lead to spending significant money on a free agent — Sam Reinhart or Jake Guentzel anyone? — or a good old fashioned hockey trade like what the Panthers did two offseasons ago.

Or …. would Drury trade Kreider to shake up the mix? The career-Ranger is 33 now, still a productive wing but his no-move contract now shifts to a 15-team no-trade contract. So, you’d at least have to consider this option, no? Zibanejad isn’t going anywhere, still with a full no-move clause.

2. Will Jacob Trouba, Kaapo Kakko be back with Rangers next season?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Carolina Hurricanes at New York Rangers
Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Reportedly Drury made it sound like the Rangers are committed to making it work with Kakko, just as they did with Lafreniere when there were screams to trade him last summer. Kakko took responsibility this week for his lack of production (13 goals in 61 regular-season games) and for failing to make the most of his chance playing on the top line. He didn’t seem thrilled with being scratched during the conference final, making it a tie between goals he scored in the playoffs and times scratched this postseason (1-1).

Kakko is an absolute enigma, not to mention a restricted free agent July 1. The Rangers could sign him to another bridge deal or a prove-it one-year contract, or trade him. If Kakko raises questions internally about his ice time, the trade option could be a decent bet. But for now, taking Drury at his word, it appears Kakko will be back.

Drury had great things to say about Trouba’s leadership but he can’t be thrilled to pay the captain $8 million each of the next two seasons when he’ll be playing on the third pair. He still has value to the Rangers, on and off the ice, but the salary could make Trouba a trade or buyout candidate. Either of those moves would cost the Rangers some money, either in salary retention now or dead money down the road. Not to mention they’d have to get another third-pair defenseman.

Neither of these decisions, about Kakko or Trouba, are clear cut and bear watching this summer.

3. How much will it cost the Rangers to re-sign Igor Shesterkin?

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-New York Rangers at Los Angeles Kings
Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Igor Shesterkin is the single most important New York Ranger. And if you don’t believe that, then rewatch all six games of the conference final and find any other reason why the Rangers were in each and every game when they had no right to be.

Shesterkin is eligible for a contract extension starting July 1. If the star goalie doesn’t sign a new deal, he could become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season. Can’t see that happening. And to cut down on distractions, it’d appear this summer is the sweet spot to hammer out a new agreement.

But it’s going to cost the Rangers. They’ve got Shesterkin on a crazy affordable $5.67 million average annual value now. That could easily double with his next contract, when many predict he’ll surpass Carey Price ($10.5 million AAV) and Sergei Bobrovsky ($10 million AAV) as the highest-paid goalie in the NHL.

Even with the salary cap increasing, an $11 – or $12-million dollar AAV for Shesterkin would wreak some havoc with the Rangers salary structure.

Some might argue that the Vegas Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup with Adin Hill between the pipes last spring and the Edmonton Oilers are in the Final now with Stuart Skinner as their goalie. So, maybe you don’t shower a star goalie with so much green. But unless and until they sing a vastly different tune, it’s hard to imagine that the Rangers will do anything other than re-sign Shesterkin to a massive contract extension.

The questions now really are when will it happen and how much will it cost?

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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