Following the New York Rangers’ run to the Eastern Conference Final, there will be plenty of interest in general manager Chris Drury’s pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs). Few predicted that the New Yorkers would advance to the final four this early in their rebuild, adding intrigue to their plans this summer.
By contrast, the Washington Capitals are in the hunt for fresh reinforcements, with general manager Brian MacLellan on the lookout for value free agent signings. There’s a chance multiple players could swap Madison Square Garden for Capital One Arena this offseason as a result.
With that, here are two pending UFAs on the Rangers that the Capitals could pursue this summer – plus a look at the restricted free agent (RFA) landscape for each club. It’s shaping up to be a busy couple of months in Washington and New York.
Andrew Copp, Centre, UFA
Versatile forward Andrew Copp impressed in New York after joining the Rangers from the Winnipeg Jets in a midseason trade. He registered 53 points (21 goals, 32 assists) in 72 regular-season appearances in 2021-22, playing an important role on Galant’s second power-play unit.
Copp’s expiring one-year contract was worth $3.64 million, setting the 27-year-old up to earn a sizeable raise on his next deal. Considering his offensive production this term, he’s likely to earn around $5 million against the cap going forwards.
However, general managers across the league will need to be careful about handing Copp a lengthy deal. He turns 28 before the start of next season, with his value expected to dip over the course of his next contract.
Even so, plenty of teams will be in the hunt for Copp this offseason: he can play any offensive position, possesses a high hockey IQ, and excels in the faceoff circle. He’s the ultimate Swiss Army knife forward, and with the Capitals’ current injury concerns, would be a solid fit in D.C.
Frank Vatrano, Right Wing, UFA
Name a better duo than the Rangers’ trade deadline acquisitions and unrestricted free agency. I’ll wait… until pointing out that Frank Vatrano is another Ranger that MacLellan should be keeping tabs on.
The 28-year-old, who says he has “unfinished business” in New York, was one of the Rangers’ stars of the playoffs, chipping in with 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 20 postseason appearances. He also made key contributions that didn’t make it onto the scoresheet, including a smart defensive play in Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning that resulted in him lighting the lamp.
The former Florida Panther earned $2.53 million per season on his expiring three-year deal and is set to earn a small raise next season. For a player capable of making an impact up and down the line-up, that’s the kind of value the Capitals should be looking for – though they aren’t the only potential suitor for Vatrano.
Could the Capitals and Rangers Trade RFAs?
There are a handful of interesting RFA storylines for the Capitals and Rangers to navigate this summer. Washington has a pair of netminders waiting for new contracts, while Drury could have a situation on his hands with a former second-overall pick.
Let’s start with Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov. One, if not both, is likely to depart D.C. in the coming weeks as MacLellan attempts to reshape his wobbly tandem. That could open the door for a trade to the Rangers if Drury wants a new backup to superstar goalie Igor Shesterkin.
Vanecek and Samsonov each have their strengths and weaknesses – the former is slightly more consistent, while the latter has a higher ceiling – and have shown enough quality in the NHL to retain trade value.
Now, if the Rangers take a liking to Vanecek or Samsonov, it could pave the way for Alexandar Georgiev to move in the opposite direction. The 26-year-old, a pending RFA, upheld a .898 save percentage through 33 appearances this term and could benefit from a change of scenery.
Aside from a game of backup goalie musical chairs, Kaapo Kakko’s situation is extremely interesting. He was scratched in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, with Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant refusing to explain why the Finn was dropped from the lineup after New York’s elimination.
The 58-year-old later clarified that it was a coaching decision to leave Kakko out of his squad for what turned out to be the series-decider. It’s a story that could run and run, with Galant’s decision leaving many analysts across the league wondering whether the 6-foot-3 winger is still in the Rangers’ plans.
Still only 21, Kakko has made a steady start to his NHL career, registering 58 points in 157 appearances. However, he made progress this term, potting 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in 43 regular-season games before adding another five points to his name in the post-season.
The 21-year-old would be a perfect fit in D.C. if he becomes available. MacLellan is looking for ways to make his team younger and Kakko’s potential is clear for all to see. However, he’d be an expensive pick-up, even in the event of a post-scratch storm.
Capitals Face Make-or-Break 2022 Offseason
In the aftermath of another early exit from the playoffs, MacLellan is under pressure to pull a rabbit out of the hat this summer. Washington’s core is ageing, increasingly injury-prone, and approaching the end of their Stanley Cup window. For the Capitals to be competitive in the Metropolitan Division next season, they must add quality to their forward group. Copp and Vatrano, both UFAs with the Rangers, are interesting options and worth keeping an eye on this summer.
Luke is an award-winning sports journalist from London, England. In addition to his work on the Washington Capitals beat for THW, he covers the Elite Ice Hockey League for British Ice Hockey and world soccer for numerous publications, including on Substack. To stay up to date with his content, follow @LukeJames_32 on Twitter.