Rangers top offseason priority remains improving center position; best bets to upgrade

By Forever Blueshirts
new york rangers centers
Apr 18, 2021; Newark, New Jersey, USA; New York Rangers center Ryan Strome (16) celebrates his goal with center Mika Zibanejad (93) in front of New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban (76) during the third period at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers top priority remains improving themselves at center. This has been the case since last season when they made an offer to acquire Jack Eichel. What needs to be understood is that Chris Drury is not acting out of desperation with Ryan Strome safely in the fold and signed for next season.

However, if there is an opportunity to upgrade and also have a backup plan should Mike Zibanejad want to test the free agency in 2022, the Rangers have to look into it.

The Blueshirts aren’t just looking for another elite center; they are looking to improve on the third and fourth line center slots as well.

Rangers best options to land a top center

Top Option: Trade for Jack Eichel

Depending on their comfortability with Jack Eichel’s neck issue, Drury will likely pull the trigger on a blockbuster deal involving the #15 pick in the lottery and possibly two prized prospects in Vitali Kravtsov and Zac Jones. Is that enough? The Sabres have lowered their astronomical price in recent weeks, but it’s still hefty.

new york rangers centers
Rangers continue to struggle (Photo by Sara Schmidle/NHLI via Getty Images)

“I heard the price on Eichel is high,” Elliotte Friedman noted on his latest podcast . “It’s not as high as it was before but it’s still high. And it’s young. Your best prospects and picks.”

Eichel checks all the boxes when healthy. He’s an elite center, and is insurance if the Rangers and Mika Zibanejad fail to come to an extension before the NHL trade deadline next season. He’s the perfect age at 24 to grow with this young ensemble cast. And while the Rangers interest had cooled in May it has heated back up.

Fall Back Options: Trade for Sean Monahan or Evgeny Kuznetsov

Monahan has two years remaining on a deal that has a $6.375 AAV and is coming off a down season. Some believe that it would lower the cost of acquisition, but I doubt it. However, he had hip surgery and is expected to be ready for next season. That could be a factor to drive the cost down, not one bad season.

For his career, Monahan has 439 points in 591 games. That is a points per game average of .74 since he broke into the NHL at 19 and played 75 games. It will likely take two key young pieces in Filip Chytil and Zac Jones to acquire him, maybe more. The question here is simple; is he really a big upgrade over Ryan Strome? I’m not sure.

The Capitals are rumored to be willing to move Kuznetsov and his $7.8 million cap hit for the next four years. He has a 15 team no move clause, and comes with a buyer beware sign. It’s been reported that they have run out of patience with his antics. Kuznetsov was disciplined several times this season by the organization, and that needs to be taken into consideration.

The cost will be less for Kuznetsov than Eichel but a major red flag must be raised here.

Free Agency for the third line

rangers free agent targets
May 29, 2021; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens left wing Phillip Danault (24) during the warm-up session before the game six against Toronto Maple Leafs of the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Third Line Gamble: Phillip Danault

News broke last night that Philip Danault is going to hit the free agent market. Last season he rejected a six year deal worth $5 million per season. Montreal will not be improving on that offer, but is a defensive shut down center worth almost $6 million? That’s a tough question because it’s obvious being deep in the middle is a recipe for success in the NHL.

The 28 year-old pivot is coming off a deal that paid $3 million per season. During the regular season, he put up a respectable 24 points in 53 games. His face-off percentage of 52.5 shows his consistency and effectiveness in the dots. For his career, he wins 53.8% of the draws he takes. This is an area of weakness for the Blueshirts and one they need to address this offseason.

Taking a chance: Casey Cizikas

The general thought is that Cizikas will hit the market. He’s coming off a deal that paid him $3.35 million and in line for a raise. The question is simple, is a fourth line center worth that much money? What if he could play third line?

At 30 years-old he isn’t a kid and the Rangers need to balance their neophyte lineup better. Cizikas finished the season with 14 points in 56 games and face-off win percentage of 53.2. Can he score more with better offensive line mates not named Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck? It’s a risk that could work out, regardless he’s too expensive for the 4th line.

Must get a top 4th line center

Best Option: Barclay Goodrow

This is the one free agent I am now leaning towards as a must get for the Rangers. The 28 year-old is big and strong. He can skate and produce on the bottom six with 20 points in 55 games. Goodrow is also considered one of the best penalty killers in the game and is solid in the face-off circle.

Chris Drury needs to make this Stanley Cup Champion a priority to sign on July 28th. Goodrow made $925K this past season and is worth more, but still very affordable.

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