Realistic Unrestricted Free Agents the Rangers could target
A couple months ago I wrote about three free agents the Rangers should target: Ilya Kovalchuk, Michael Grabner and Greg Pateryn. Though I still believe the Rangers should sign these three but here are a few more I believe should be on the Rangers radar to help the team progress in a positive direction. This means signing aging players for short term, low risk contracts to help younger players adjust to the new high paced play of the NHL.
Joe Thornton, C, 38
Big Jumbo Joe definitely has his better years behind him, there’s no doubt about that, but signing this almost 39 years old center might be a smart move for a rebuilding team. Thornton still puts up points, is a big body and most importantly, wins faceoffs. Though he only played in 47 games this year, he still accumulated 36 points and won about 52% of his faceoffs. He’s no longer the 1st overall pick player he used to be, but standing at 6-4, 220lbs, he can play some solid minutes. Another thing to consider is his experience, both regular season and playoff games. Teaching the younger players how to function in this higher level will be one main reason to sign Thornton, especially for Chytil and Andersson, the future centers of this franchise. One last thing to consider is Jeff Gorton, who was apart of the Boston Bruins organization when they drafted Joe up until his departure. Having some sort of previous relationship can help sign Jumbo Joe in the first place and may even drive the signing price down a bit. Personally, there’s no way I would sign Joe Thornton to anything close to the 8 million he stole from the Sharks last year but a 1 year deal would be just what the doctor ordered for this new, young team of Rangers.
Tyler Bozak, C, 32
Tyler Bozak has been apart of one team for his whole career, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Since the 2009/10 season Bozak has been a consistent player to say the least. Averaging about 0.61 points per game, his game boils down to his faceoff ability. His career average is about 53.6 percent, which isn’t bad at all. Though the real problem has been decreased playing time over the past three years is the arrival of new, younger players. Have you heard of Auston Matthews? William Nylander? Mitch Marner? These young, dynamic players have taken Toronto by storm and will eventually need new, big contracts to go with their big play. This leaves Bozak out in the cold without a place to stay. Though Bozak isn’t the game-changing player you would want to sign, he’s a player to consider for a small multi-year deal as the Rangers rebuild for the future. Consistency goes a long way and if Bozak can be consistent, he’ll earn that contract.
Ian Cole, D, 29
Defense was an unusual weak spot for the Rangers this past season. With the departures of Ryan McDonagh (and it pains for me to say Nick Holden, I GUESS), the injury of Kevin Shattenkirk, the demotion of Brendan Smith and the usual play of Marc Staal, the Rangers had to rely on rookies to get the job done. Enter Ian Cole. Veteran man with some veteran experience, especially with winning in the playoffs. Though the top two pairs are essentially set with Skeji, Pionk, and Shattenkirk there’s plenty of room to fight for 3 position spots. Adding Cole will relieve some pressure off the top pairing and he can be a factor when it comes to scoring. Though his contract demands might be a little high, the Rangers can afford to give up some of their cap space to have a solid d-man. Hopefully this doesn’t end up like another Brendan Smith situation all over again.
Alexi Emelin, D, 31
Again, though I’m hesitant about defense thanks to Brendan Smtih, Alexi Emelin could solve two problems at once. Another “problem” the Rangers had was no physical toughness. Gorton said they potentially might target some gritty players to round out the bottom of the lineup. With my fellow writers addressing Milan Lucic and Leo Komarov for potential signings and myself addressing Greg Pateryn in a previous post, I’ll go for Alexi Emelin. Though he doesn’t have that scoring touch that everyone wants, a shut-down defenseman who can hit, block shots and kill penalties could be the answer to the question of why the Rangers were so bad last year. Emelin is coming off a decreased role with his new team (Nashville) with only averaging barely 17 minutes on the ice verses over 21 minutes in the 2016/17 season (Montreal). Though surprisingly that didn’t slow him down as he still accumulated 181 hits and 109 blocked shots. This type of gritty, stay at home defense is the type of play the Rangers need to get back on track and to open the ice for their goal scorers. I still believe Pateryn would be more of a steal and more of a smart signing but there’s nothing wrong with having Emelin on your team.
Thomas Vanek, LW, 34
Okay this one is a stretch but hear me out. Does anyone really expect the Rangers to make the playoffs next year? Unless they dazzle with some unique free agent signings and some how have stolen three franchise players in this upcoming draft that score at will, the reality is that they will be rocking the bottom of the standings. So why not sign Vanek? He can still produce a solid amount of points (56 this past season) and he’s no stranger to the powerplay. The reason you sign him is to give your centers some confidence by just shoveling the puck to him for some goals here or there. Mentoring players can be a big part of the reason you sign him, and his contract can probably be minimal when it comes to term. Remember, the Rangers are rebuilding for the first time in years, this usually means not being good for a short period.