Rangers’ Free Agent Targets This Offseason

The New York Rangers’ management team has made it pretty clear over the past few months that this is going to be a critical offseason. In addition to their multiple first-round picks in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Rangers plan to spend significant money when the free agency period begins.

For much of this season, rumors have connected pending Columbus Blue Jackets unrestricted free agent, Artemi Panarin to the Rangers. Although, the Florida Panthers now seem like a strong candidate after hiring former Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville, who coached Panarin.

That said, the Rangers could have a negotiation advantage if they hire current Blue Jackets president and former Rangers player and broadcaster John Davidson, who’s departure for the Rangers seems inevitable.

But, as is always the case, top-tier free agents like Panarin and Erik Karlsson are in high demand. The Rangers may not be able to secure an elite or borderline elite player. But that does not mean the Rangers are going to sit back for the rest of the offseason. There are several other free agents they could pursue who are not quite at that level of stardom.

Matt Duchene

Matt Duchene would be an interesting player for the Rangers. He hasn’t been the most consistent player throughout his career, but has never scored below 40 points in a full season. He scored over 55 points in seven seasons, including one 67-point season and two 70-point seasons.

Columbus Blue Jackets' Matt Duchene
Columbus Blue Jackets’ Matt Duchene. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Despite a change of scenery after being traded at last season’s trade deadline, Duchene still managed to tie his season high in points. In addition, he was a major part of the Blue Jackets’ playoff run, scoring 10 points in 10 games.

Duchene’s contract is worth $6 million per year over five years. The only concern is that he has scored over 60 points just once since signing that contract.

At age 28, and likely to receive a contract that takes him into his early 30s, I have a hard time believing he will get much more than what he is making now. It depends on which teams have the most cap space and how badly they want him.

Jeff Skinner

Jeff Skinner is a species of player that the Rangers haven’t had in a while, a pure goal-scorer. While Rick Nash was that when he arrived in New York, he was quickly converted into a two-way player. Prior to that, Marian Gaborik or Jaromir Jagr are the names that come to mind.

Just as consistency is a concern for Duchene, it is also a concern for Skinner. Skinner has never scored more than 63 points, accomplished three times in his career. His low point total for a full season is 31, which he scored in 77 games four seasons ago. That is a large differential.

Sabres center Jeff Skinner
Sabres center Jeff Skinner. (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

The good news is that Skinner is only 26. He has spent considerable time in the NHL already, but is just now entering his prime. Therefore, I expect him to finally eclipse the 63-point mark at some point in the next few seasons.

Skinner is making $5.725 million per year. I expect he will ask for at least a raise of one or two million dollars given that he is in his prime and one of the league’s best goal scorers.

Gustav Nyquist

This is the least exciting of the options. Gustav Nyquist will turn 30 before the start of next season and took a while to get going in his career and is mainly a 40-50-point scorer. Last season was his best, scoring 60 points for the first time in his career.

His contract is worth $4.750 million per year. I don’t expect that to increase, making him an affordable option for many teams. The Rangers would likely go for one of the other two on this list before Nyquist.

Gustav Nyquist Red Wings
Gustav Nyquist, Detroit Red Wings, December 20, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Now, the Rangers need to make some moves before attempting to sign free agents. Several players, like Vladislav Namestnikov and Jimmy Vesey, should be traded since they’re making too much money compared to their production. Doing this would open the door for the Rangers to be active in free agency.

This is going to be an exciting summer for the Rangers. There is a lot of change coming and it looks as though the team is almost done setting up for the future.