The Rangers, correctly, ‘gave up’ on this season. Also known as… not mortgaging the future for a shot at the playoffs this season, and instead selling expiring contracts for assets like picks and prospects in the hopes of improving faster. Sitting on an Amtrak train, bored out of my mind watching the Rangers lose another game, I see two paths for Rangers management to choose. In the end, both probably are the wrong choice!
Option 1 – Attempt to re-build very quickly to win next season (sell immediate picks & prospects)
- Sign John Tavares
This would be, without a doubt, the quickest way for the Rangers to rebuild. A bonafide #1 center. It will be extremely difficult to convince him to leave the Islanders for the rival team, and the latest rumors have teams like the Blues and Canadiens in the mix instead. End of the day, he’s the best player available on the market, and instantly extends the depth of the Rangers forward group.
- If no Tavares… trade for Jonathan Toews
There have been rumors coming out of Chicago that a big change is on the horizon, either from the coaching side of things (more on that in a bit) or from the player side of things. Toews contract is just about where Tavares would want to be paid, and while some are questioning his ability to be a great #1 center, he’d still be a huge acquisition not only in terms of center depth, but for mentoring Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson when they’re ready for the big leagues.
- Sign John Carlson
He’s the only intriguing UFA on defense leading into this off-season, and at 28 he’s one of the youngest options available. Bringing in another defenseman who can help quarterback the power play is a plus. The key to bringing in Carlson is to not overpay, though his (at time of writing) 41 assists coupled with the heavy minutes he’s currently logging for the Capitals may drive the price up higher than his current $3.96 million cap hit. Plus maybe he won’t get along with Shattenkirk after last season’s experiment didn’t pay off in Washington. Term can’t be much longer than 3-4 years.
- Trade for the RFA rights (and sign) for Jacob Trouba (WPG) and/or Darnell Nurse (EDM) using 1st round draft picks
Both are only in their early 20s (Trouba is 24, Nurse is 23), Nurse finds himself on a team that is soon to hit a salary crunch thanks to contracts like Milan Lucic’s, and Trouba has been rumored to possibly be out of the mix in Winnipeg. Term can be as long as 6-7 for either of these players, simply because of their age.
- Trade for Max Pacioretty
Montreal was (apparently) shopping Pacioretty pretty hard at the trade deadline. His cap hit could be an issue with the moves above (and some of the moves below) for the Rangers. But adding a strong left wing to a new environment after an off year, giving him a strong center in someone like Tavares or Toews, and a goalie better than Carey Price. Montreal would either need to lower their expectations on a return, or retain some salary in the deal to make it work.
- DON’T SIGN JACK JOHNSON
Do not sign Jack Johnson, please. He may be a free agent defenseman, but he’s made very clear in his dealings with the Blue Jackets that he wants a big chunk of money in exchange for his 3rd-pairing defensemen services.
- Let Ondrej Pavelec walk in free agency
In an ideal world, Henrik Lundqvist would see his total starts next season decrease; in no way is that happening with Pavelec on the bench. It’s the only surefire way to ensure Lundqvist can last through another Stanley Cup run. By letting Pavelec walk, this lets Alexander Georgiev step into a larger backup role or pave the way for Igor Shetsyorkin to come over from the KHL and play some meaningful minutes.
- Let Desharnais, McLeod, and Carey walk in free agency
Out of this group, Desharnais is the only one who I could see realistically contributing on a Stanley Cup contender next season. But if he comes back at anything higher than $1 million then it’s a mistake.
- Re-sign Ryan Spooner, Kevin Hayes, Brady Skjei
Out of the RFA’s on the current Rangers roster, these are the players I have pegged to keep no matter what. Spooner just came over from the Bruins, and while he may cost a chunk of change, would bring more young center depth. With the moves above, I’d look to move Hayes to a wing position. With one of Tavares/Toews, Zibanejad, Spooner, and potentially a young-gun up here… Hayes would be looking at a fourth line centering job. His talent is of greater value on the wing on one of those lines.
- Re-sign or trade RFA rights for Jimmy Vesey, Vlad Namestnikov
Both could potentially be looking for big $$, and in arbitration they’d probably get it. Unless they’re willing to re-sign for something in the $3-4.5 million range, then they should be shipped out of here. Maybe as a piece in one of the trades mentioned above. Namestnikov walking away would make trading JT Miller hurt a ton, Miller would receive less in arbitration, but in no scenario do I see the Rangers paying Namestnikov big money work for the team long term.
- Out of the remaining RFAs, only make a deal if the cap hit is low
I’m being purposefully vague here. I’m not sure what Rob O’Gara’s true value is, same for a bunch of AHL guys that are going to be up come July. If bringing them back is good for Hartford, or makes sense depth wise… then sure! But don’t break the bank. All the space available should go towards acquiring the assets above.
- Look to re-sign Rick Nash, Michael Grabner in free agency
Talking purely as a depth player, it makes a lot of sense. On the cheap though, preferably. Somewhere in the $2 million range for each?
- Sign UFA LW Antoine Rouse
Adding another forward on the left hand side helps the depth chart. As of writing, he only has 14 points on the season so he shouldn’t be looking for much of a raise from his current $2 million cap hit.
- Fire Alain Vigneault, and his assistants
Should be a no-brainer. Alain can go work for Montreal or something, he just needs to go. I don’t have another coach that’s on the market to take his place (though of Joe Quenneville is available, choose him) – just please, not another season of Vigneault.
The main goal of this path is to get Henrik Lundqvist a Stanley Cup, in what surely has to be the last season he’s capable of playing a large amount of the Rangers games (and playing those games well). By adding center depth in one of Tavares or Toews, the team’s center depth is drastically improved. The next step is to improve the defense. Adding John Carlson, and one of Trouba or Nurse, brings two more second-pairing defensemen to the team. Outside of trying to trade for Erik Karlsson, who will most likely cost more than he’s worth, there’s no franchise-changing home run move. The rest of the moves look to improve the team’s forward depth, and to make sure players who won’t realistically be contributing to the team next season move on. Firing Alain is a big priority.
Option 2 – aim for 2-3 seasons until success
- Prepare for riots, buy-out Henrik
I know that this would instantly cause rioting at Rangers home games, but for Lundqvist’s sanity it’s the right choice. A trade that agrees with both his contract ($8.5 million cap hit through 2021) and that works with his no-move clause is going to be extremely difficult. Playing the best goaltender the Rangers have had since Richter through a season (or more) of awful play would be a greater dishonor to his legacy than letting him have the chance to win the Stanley Cup elsewhere.
- Sign one of Eddie Lack, Jonathan Bernier, or Kari Lehtonen & let Pavelec walk during free agency
If the team is going to be bad next season, you don’t want to give the majority of starts to Georgiev or Shetsyorkin. They’re younger, and you want them to feel successful even if the team isn’t having a strong season – so they receive sheltered starts.
- Fire Alain Vigneault, and his assistants
Again, no-brainer. The thought with letting go of Ruff here is a throwback to his days in Buffalo. While in Buffalo, he was infamously hesitant to dress or utilize young players efficiently. That’s not what Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, and anyone either already in the Rangers prospect pool, or who will be after the draft, need. I’m fine with Andersson and Chytil being given limited playing time or sheltered starts, I’d encourage it for their development. But I have no faith in Vigneault or Ruff to pull that off.
- Focus on acquiring picks and prospects with any deal
Selling the RFA rights to Namestnikov? Skjei? Vesey? Spooner? Make sure the return is big, and is based on something that’ll help the team in the future.
- Buying anything? Buy more scouts
A few of the UFA, RFA, and trade moves mentioned in option 1 make sense for a re-building team. I have a hard time believing that a John Tavares would sign with the Rangers knowing full well that they’re in re-build mode. Someone like a Max Pacioretty or a Jonathan Toews are guys who, around young impressionable players, will (seemingly) make a positive mark. But moves like that aren’t necessary now, especially since both players are going to require trades in order to acquire.