Rangers add veteran free agents looking to end latest Cup drought
The New York Rangers were busy to open free agency and probably a lot busier than many expected. That’s likely because the market was flooded with over 100 new players due to buyouts and teams not tendering qualifying offers to many RFAs. Coupled with only a $1 million increase to the cap, it led to a number of one-year deals with low AAVs.
Since the opening bell on July 1, President and General Manager Chris Drury has added 10 contracts via UFA signing.
Forwards Blake Wheeler, Tyler Pitlick, Nick Bonino, Alex Belzile, and Riley Nash will compete for roster spots in training camp. On defense, Erik Gustafsson will battle with Zac Jones and Ben Harpur for the sixth and seventh spots. Meanwhile, Jonathan Quick is signed as Igor Shesterkin’s back up.
“Veteran leadership is a big thing on any team,” Drury said. “Any time you can add a player like Blake or Quickie or Bonino – those guys all have tons of experience, and lucky that we were able to get deals done.”
Additionally, the Rangers signed several defenders to bolster the Hartford Wolf Pack in Connor Mackey, Nikolas Brouillard, and Mac Hollowell.
Rangers going for it with veterans
The next big order of business for Drury will be new deals for restricted free agents Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller.
Utilizing CapFriendly’s Armchair GM tool, the Rangers have approximately $6.9 million to get them signed. That’s with giving roster spots to Wheeler, Pitlick, Bonino, Belzile, Gustafsson, Jones, and Quick.
Once that’s taken care, I expect the opening lineup to look something like this:
- Kreider – Zibanejad – Kakko
- Panarin – Trocheck – Wheeler
- Lafreniere – Chytil – Goodrow
- Vesey – Bonino – Pitlick
- Lindgren – Fox
- Miller – Trouba
- Gustaffson/Jones – Schneider
As for the 13th forward spot, that will be a training camp battle between Belzile and Nash.
What you will notice immediately is that there’s no room for two of the Rangers most promising prospects. Both forwards Brennan Othmann and Will Cuylle will make impressions in training camp, but I expect they’ll be spending the majority of the 2023-24 campaign in Hartford to develop.
To be fair, I base that off of comments Drury made on Saturday. He’s already envisioning many of these veterans to play key roles next season.
On Wheeler: “He certainly has experience, his leadership, his size – he does a lot of everything out there for a big veteran winger. We think he can move up and down our lineup.”
On Pitlick: “His experience, his age, his size, he’s a true right winger, and doesn’t mind throwing his body around and using his speed.”
On Bonino: “He does just about everything that you can ask your fourth-line center to do. He plays [penalty kill], he certainly has a winning pedigree and is an extremely smart player that I think will pass on a lot of good wisdom to all of our young players and players that haven’t won Cups yet.”
At the end of the day, there’s been a clear signal from ownership and management that this is Cup or bust team. It started with replacing Gerard Gallant with a more structured veteran coach in Peter Laviolette, and continued with these signings.
Honestly, they’ve been all-in since they made it to the Eastern Conference Final in 2021-22. Drury went for it last season by adding superstars Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane at the deadline. However, one former GM told me those additions were more of what they already had and not enough of what they lacked.
The Rangers are on a mission to end their latest Stanley Cup drought nearing 30 years, and they’re hoping these veterans will be the right mix this time.
Note: Drury quotes via New York Rangers website