8:32 AM: On 32 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman said “I think the number one thing is where are we going with Kakko, here? When he was scratched my phone blew up with ‘teams are going to be going after this guy.’ They are going to be asking about him, I had people throwing offer sheet scenarios at me, I had people saying ‘this team liked him, that team liked him and they’ll be calling about him.’ I think his future immediately leaps to near the top of the list. Are the Rangers still committed to him? Is he still committed to them? That is going to be a big question.”
He adds, “The other thing is, can they find a deal for Copp? You talked about Copp’s availability and what you think he could draw. Are the Rangers going to be able to find any way of doing that? The thing with Strome, they’ve been talking on and off with Strome and he loves it there.” (32 Thoughts)
He continued, “I think it’s going to come down to how they prioritize all of this. Look at the extensions that are coming. You know you have a Miller extension that is coming in a year, a Lafreniere extension coming in a year, a Chytil extension coming in a year. You’ve got Kakko’s situation, Copp and Strome. How does Chris Drury prioritize all of this and I think the Kakko thing could be key to it. What does game six mean, because I definitely think they are going to be asked that. Do you still see this guy as one of your guys? (32 Thoughts)
7:39 AM: The Rangers enter the offseason with $13.4 million in cap space and the following players not under contract:
- Andrew Copp
- Greg McKegg
- Tyler Motte
- Kevin Rooney
- Ryan Strome
- Frank Vatrano
- Justin Braun
- Kaapo Kakko
- Sammy Blais
- Julien Gauthier (Arbitration Eligible)
- Alex Georgiev (Arbitration Eligible)
- Libor Hajek (Arbitration Eligible)
Vitali Kravtsov signed a one-year deal and the Rangers also signed 27-year old Swedish forward Gustav Rydahl.
The Rangers will have a second-round pick, Winnipeg’s fourth-round pick, and fifth and sixth-round picks. Winnipeg owns the Rangers first-round pick as a result of the Andrew Copp trade.
A buyout of Patrik Nemeth would save the Rangers $1.5 million in cap space for next season but carry a cap hit of $1 million. The buyout would not have a cap charge in 2023-24, but it would cost the Rangers $1 million per season in both the 2024-25 and 25-26 season.
Adam Rotter: There are a lot of questions that the Rangers need to answer this season. Will the Rangers trade or not qualify Alex Georgiev and then who will be Igor Shesterkin’s back up? What didn’t seem like a question before Saturday, and may not end up being a question depending on how things play out, but is Kaapo Kakko going to be part of things moving forward? Will the Rangers task Alexis Lafreniere with moving to the right side, the middle, switch Chris Kreider to the right side, or be content to let him play third line LW minutes? Which of the pending UFAs will return? Which of the prospects or young players are going to get moved?
Last summer we saw Chris Drury strike quickly after the season ended and sign pending RFA Ryan Lindgren to a three-year deal. Will he do that again? The Rangers could answer any questions about Kakko’s future by hammering out a bridge deal in short order. The issue with Kakko comes with him being an RFA and what Carolina did last year in offer-sheeting and then signing Jesperi Kotkaniemi from Montreal in exchange for a first and a third. If Kakko hasn’t signed by the draft or is indicating that he is interested in testing the RFA waters, a trade would seem likely. The Rangers could always match any offer-sheet for Kakko, but that could have big ramifications to the cap down the line, especially as it pertains to the next contracts of K’Andre Miller and Alexis Lafreniere. Kakko’s ultimate upside may be lower than when he was drafted, but he’s still so skilled and so young. Any potential deal with Kakko would need to be for a player or an immediate flip up the draft pick compensation from an offer sheet for a player. Prospects and picks are still important, but their best use at the moment would be in getting players that can play now.
With Georgiev, I think that it has just run its course. He has wanted a chance at being a number one and he will get that chance from someone, but will it be through a trade or as a free agent because the Rangers don’t qualify him. I guess the Rangers could qualify him anyway, just to retain his rights, but then they risk the chance that he accepts his qualifying offer and the Rangers, unless they trade him, would be on the hook for somewhere around $2.6 million. I think a trade seems likely, but I don’t think the Rangers will get more than a mid-round pick. Who replaces him? I have no idea. I doubt it’s Keith Kinkaid or Adam Huska, but it will likely be someone at between $1 million and $2 million. It’s an important role, but one that the Rangers can’t afford to allocate much of the cap to.
With the pending UFAs, I think that the top two targets are Tyler Motte and Andrew Copp. Motte brings speed, defense, and a lot of energy to the bottom-six and PK. He’s a noticeable player every shift and would fit great. Copp was just a terrific fit and his versatility and two-way game makes him a valuable player moving forward. He’s also not afraid to be a little physical and the Rangers still need some more jam up front. The Rangers targeted him at the deadline for a reason and I think he’ll be their top target to re-sign. Frank Vatrano would be nice to keep, but he’ll likely get a bigger contract somewhere else and the Rangers have some younger players on the wing, like Brennan Othman and Will Cuylle, that may find their way into the lineup. If the Rangers buyout Patrik Nemeth then I wouldn’t be opposed to Braun coming back as a veteran 6/7 guy, but there are usually a number of defensemen like him that can be had.
Then there is Ryan Strome. Strome being unsigned at this point likely means that his time with the Rangers will end with him banged up. Strome has his flaws, but he has had terrific chemistry with Artemi Panarin and was one of Jeff Gorton’s shrewdest trades. It’s not quite the Zibanejad trade, but Strome for Ryan Spooner was a steal and a half. He went from being an inconsistent scorer with potential in his last few years with the Isles and with the Oilers, but he started to realize a big part of his offensive potential since coming to the Rangers. Do I think it’s a lock that he is gone? No, and if he was open to a short-term deal then the Rangers might be go for that, but he has no reason to go for a short-term deal when centers, especially centers that can score, are always in demand. He’s been a really good Ranger the last few years, but it’s more likely than not that he is centering someone other than Artemi Panarin next season.
It’s going to be an interesting offseason for the Rangers. They have no reason not to swing for the fences in the trade market to try and add some new elements and improve. They still have the prospects and young players to make a big deal and if they can make some moves, keep them under the cap and not totally hamstring the cap before it starts to increase, they could and should do it.