The 2023-24 NHL regular season is just one month away, much to the excitement of all hockey fans. However, there are still several notable free agents still without contracts even with the season being so near. Interestingly, many of these free agents are former Rangers. As a result, let’s take a look at each player now.
Patrick Kane is the most notable former Ranger still without a contract for the 2023-24 season. Yet, that is by choice, as the future Hall of Famer is focusing on his recovery from offseason hip surgery before choosing his next team. Even after a down year, several clubs will target him as we inch closer to the start of the campaign.
Kane, 34, appeared in 73 games last season split between the Chicago Blackhawks and Rangers, scoring 21 goals and recording 57 points. Although this was not necessarily bad production, it was much lower than what we’ve come to expect from the star winger. However, now that he will be healthy in 2023-24, perhaps a bounce back is in order – whether he joins a new club or works something out to return to the Rangers.
Jaroslav Halak is another Ranger from last season who remains a free agent. However, that is not by choice, as the 38-year-old netminder’s hope is to play this campaign. This is because he needs just five more wins before hitting the 300-win milestone.
Halak is no longer a starting goaltender at this point of his career, but he is still effective enough as a backup with limited appearances. In 25 games last season for the Rangers, he posted a 10-9-5 record, a .903 save percentage (SV%), and a 2.72 goals-against average (GAA).
Derick Brassard is another grizzled veteran and former Ranger who has yet to sign a deal for the 2023-24 season. However, after looking at his 2022-23 season with the Ottawa Senators, it seems possible that a team could be willing to sign him to a cheap one-year pact. In 62 games with Ottawa, he had 13 goals to go along with 23 points and 90 hits.
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Brassard may no longer be the top-six center he was during his prime years, but he still produces fairly well in a bottom-six role. Due to this, it seems quite possible that we will see him land at least a professional tryout (PTO) contract from a team in need of some forward depth.
After a quiet 2022-23 season with the Carolina Hurricanes, Derek Stepan is still a free agent in mid-September. In 73 games last season with the Hurricanes, he had just five goals and six assists. Yes, his offensive numbers have taken a notable nosedive in recent years, but he still could be worth taking a shot on if utilized as a fourth-liner or extra forward.
Stepan, 33, could also get some consideration around the NHL because of his leadership qualities and immense experience. Due to this, we should not rule out the prospect of him getting a PTO or one-year pact before the start of training camp.
Eric Staal is another former Ranger hoping to find a new home before the start of the season. The 38-year-old center had a bit of a bounce-back season with the Florida Panthers in 2022-23, posting 14 goals and 29 points in 72 games. When noting that he primarily played fourth-line minutes, this was pretty decent offensive production.
Teams looking for more center depth and overall experience could take a look at Staal on a PTO. When noting that he did well with the Panthers last year, they could consider taking another chance on him.
Other former Rangers looking for new homes at this point of the offseason include Libor Hajek, Nick Holden, and Anthony Bitetto. Out of this trio, Hajek is the only one who has scored a PTO (Pittsburgh Penguins). Holden, meanwhile, spent all of last season with the Senators and still is a serviceable bottom-pairing defenseman. As for Bitetto, he should secure a deal somewhere, likely playing in the American Hockey League (AHL) or overseas.
Alas, we will need to wait and see how many of these former Rangers end up signing new contracts before the start of the 2023-24 season from here.