The NHL free agent frenzy kicked off at noon Friday and the New York Rangers were expected to make a big move. That hasn’t materialized and it might be the best thing to happen for the Rangers in years.
Before the season was even over the rumors that the Rangers were interested in Steven Stamkos began making their rounds. Any hope of adding Stamkos were dashed when he re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Then came the David Backes rumors and several credible sources thought the Rangers would make an offer to the St. Louis Blues’ center. Instead, Backes inked a deal with the Boston Bruins for five years and $30 million. Then there were the Kevin Shattenkirk rumors which were more of a manifestation of a Rangers’ beat writer than anything of substance.
The Rangers, and their limited cap space, have been mostly bystanders so far in free agency. Defenseman Adam Clendening and Michael Grabner are the team’s only acquisitions in free agency so far and that might be a great thing for the Rangers. Big contracts and free agency haven’t been kind to the Rangers in recent years. They do need to retool their roster but they will have to do that through trades and not free agency.
GM Jeff Gorton has talked about retooling the roster several times. He reportedly was close to a large deal on the night of the NHL Draft but nothing materialized. He knows he needs to change the structure of his roster. Dan Girardi and Marc Staal are both making a lot of money and their games have been falling off in recent years. Rick Nash has been rumored to be available but his cap hit of $7.8 million per year is prohibitive for many teams and he has a limited no-trade clause.
Gorton’s job wasn’t going to be easy this offseason. He must focus on getting Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, and J.T. Miller locked up to long-term deals. There is also Dylan McIlrath who needs a new contract. The hiring of Jeff Buekeboom to replace Ulf Samuelsson should benefit McIlrath the most since it was Buekeboom who turned McIlrath’s career around at Hartford.
The Rangers believe they are getting a top-six forward in Pavel Buchnevich. They believe Miller, Hayes, and Kreider will get better. They have loved what they have seen from Niklas Jensen in international play recently.
Rangers’ fans would love for the team to move Staal and Girardi but getting them to waive their no-movement clauses isn’t going to be easy. If Gorton can deal one of the two it would be a major coup. It probably won’t happen this offseason but the Rangers’ inability to free up cap space might actually benefit them at the moment. It forced them to sit on the sidelines for free agency and that might be the best move the Rangers have made in years.