Taking A Look At What The Rangers Should Do With Their Young RFAs

Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Jeff Gorton and the New York Rangers brass are going to have their hands full when it comes to making key decisions about the team heading into the February trade deadline.

The obvious candidates are Kevin Hayes, who’s is in limbo amongst Rangers fans whether to re-sign him or to trade him and Mats Zuccarello, who will more likely than not be moved around the deadline. The not so obvious candidates are the three restricted free-agents due for contracts in the summer of 2019; Neal Pionk, Tony DeAngelo, and Pavel Buchnevich. Three players at just 23 years-of-age due for contracts, and players who can be an integral part of this rebuild. So the question is what is Gorton going to do about these guys, and what is their plan for free agency come July 1, 2019?

With the cap projected to reach around $83 million next season, the Rangers are looking at just above $23 million in cap next summer with 15 players under contract, excluding all of those mentioned above. For the sake of the argument, let us assume Hayes and Zuccarello are moved before the deadline. This leaves the $23 million in cap free to spend. It is going to be interesting to see what Gorton does with it. Based on comparative stats, and AAV’s amongst players in the league, my guess would be that if they keep all three, each player wouldn’t receive a very long-term deal. While they are players who can be a big part of this rebuild, they are players who have not necessarily proven they will be mainstays and roster players when this team, hopefully, is competing again in 2020. Here is what I think the numbers will look like:

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Pavel Buchnevich

2 years, $3.2 million AAV

Jimmy Vesey, who finished last season with 28 points, was given a bridge deal of 2 years carrying an AAV of $2.275 million. Buchnevich finished last year with 43 points, and even though he is currently injured, he averages .64 points per game. I still do not think he has done enough to earn a long-term deal; and with the Rangers potentially still crunching money for the next 2-3 years, I think he will be given a deal very close to this.

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Tony DeAngelo

2 years, $3 million AAV

DeAngelo has made a complete 180° turn for this team so far this season. He averages just over 19 minutes of ice-time per game when he isn’t a healthy scratch, which includes his noticeable presence on the power play. DeAngelo has displayed his high skill level, fluid skating, and overall offensive abilities wonderfully thus far. Unfortunately, he still has lapses in his defensive game from time to time, making ill-advised passes coming out of his own zone, and giving up on gap control. I personally think that with a talent like him, defensive zone structure can be fixed and he can still turn into something special.

DeAngelo is currently on pace for around 36 points this year. Just to give you an idea, Colton Parayko finished last season with 35 points for the St. Louis Blues. Parayko currently carries an AAV of $5.5 million over the following three years, not including this year. Now let me be clear: I am NOT saying DeAngelo is anywhere near the same player as Parayko; I am just using his contract as an example is that he is someone who scored 35 points a season ago. Parayko is a FAR better defenseman than DeAngelo is. Like Buchnevich, DeAngelo has not done enough to receive a long-term deal, so I think he will be given a deal similar to this.

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Neal Pionk

4 years, $4 million AAV.

Pionk has been one of, if not the, biggest surprise so far this season for the Rangers. His coast-to-coast speed, power play ability, and offensive instinct have been superb. Like DeAngelo though, Pionk struggles in his own zone from time to time making similar mistakes to number 77. Pionk has played major minutes, averaging over 22 a night for the Blueshirts. He plays in all situations and has been nothing short of brilliant on the power play. Pionk does struggle to put up points at 5-on-5 but leads all Rangers defensemen in that category with 16 points on the season. Number 44 is currently on pace to have a 50-point season. Here are some defensemen that finished with around 50 points last year: Matt Dumba (50), Ryan Suter (51), Kris Letang (51), and Morgan Reilly (52).

Like the comparison I did with DeAngelo, I am not saying that Pionk is on the same level as any of these guys. But, in an offensive driven league, a 40-50 point defenseman is extremely rare to come by. All four of those names mentioned above are players that make well over $5 million AAV. They are far more seasoned players and have had far more success than Pionk. When it comes time to talk business, I think that Gorton, Pionk, and Pionk’s agent know the capability the former UMD Bulldog has, yet they all know there is not enough evidence to get Pionk a five or six-year deal in the $5 million AAV range. While a four-year deal is not a bridge deal, it is actually closer to a long-term deal, it is still a very good deal for both Pionk and the Rangers, in my opinion. Pionk will have a chance to continue to be a staple on Quinn’s back-end while the young Rangers continue going through their rebuild. Having a defenseman who produces at or above 35/40 points, which Pionk will do each of the next 4 years, at a $4 million dollar cap hit, is a very good bargain.

If Gorton gets deals like those done, it will cost the Rangers $10.2 million next summer against their books. That leaves them with just under $13 million to spend on an 80-point forward currently playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets…

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