The New York Rangers finally ended their five-game losing streak on Saturday. They played close games against the Vegas Golden Knights and rival New York Islanders this week, but found themselves making critical errors at bad times. The Rangers pummeled Robin Lehner of the Islanders with shots in the third period on Thursday night while holding the opposition to zero.
When the Islanders finally put a shot on net, it happened to be off Josh Bailey’s stick to beat Henrik Lundqvist and give the Islanders the lead with under two minutes to play. But the bigger issue of late has not been the Rangers’ inability to prevent late goals and play late-game defense, but rather their inability to obtain and maintain leads. They have the fewest number of wins in regulation and overtime play. Furthermore, they are near last place in goals for and goals against.
Simply put, the Rangers have trouble scoring and trouble defending. The team remains hopeful that they will make a run towards the end of the season, but they are far behind the pack. The win Saturday afternoon versus their cross-town rivals helped the cause, but they still have work to do.
Rangers Must Set Sights on New Weapons
This past week brings to light a new approach and a new way to view this year’s objectives. It is clear that this rebuilding club has many more important decisions to make, one of which must be taking a good, hard look at Columbus Blue Jackets unrestricted free agent Artemi Panarin this offseason.
The Blue Jackets would like to keep the elite scoring forward, but may not be able to afford him. Panarin was fully willing to begin negotiating a contract extension prior to the start of this season, but made it clear he would not do so once training camp began.
No contract was ever negotiated, which may mean that the two sides are at odds with each other over the term and salary of the contract extension. Panarin currently has a cap hit of $6 million, but with his point production steadily in the 80’s and projected to rise, his new contract could pay him upwards of $9 million per year.
That price may be difficult for the Blue Jackets to comply with. They are already set to pay Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones and Brandon Dubinsky over $5 million each. And below that, Alexander Wennberg and David Savard each make over $4 million.
Columbus could save some money by not signing defenseman Ryan Murray, whose almost $3 million contract is ending. But at the same time, Zach Werenski’s entry-level contract is concluding and he has earned a raise. On top of all this, Sergei Bobrovsky will also be an unrestricted free agent. It looks as though it may be difficult for the Blue Jackets to retain both Panarin and Bobrovsky.
Panarin has been rumored to have a desire to join the Rangers, but they would have to do quite a bit of cap restructuring to propose a reasonable contract. They would need to trade Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes and Adam McQuaid. Each of these players would be solid acquisitions for Stanley Cup contending teams.
Hayes has proven he is worthy of a raise, something the Rangers likely won’t give him. Trading the three aforementioned players would free up about $12.5 million in cap space. This would surely be enough to sign Panarin, and perhaps even a cheap replacement for one of the players traded away.
Panarin Would Dynamically Change Organization
Panarin alone won’t make or break the team. It is the combination of his skillset with those of other Rangers that would make him a powerful force in New York. The Rangers are still acclimating Filip Chytil to the NHL style of play, but his play and effort this season is promising for a 19-year-old. They will also be working with their top pick in the 2018 Entry Draft, Vitali Kravtsov.
Kravtsov has impressed in the KHL, and is beginning to prove that he may be an elite player in America. Placing Panarin on a team with Chytil and Kravtsov, not to mention who they may take in this year’s draft, would create a core of elite scorers. If the Rangers should fall enough to land a lottery draft pick and come away with either Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko, their top two lines would be even more dangerous.
Not only would Panarin have a dramatic effect on the Rangers in regards to skill level, but he would also play a huge part in mentoring younger players. He would be especially important in helping Kravtsov, a fellow Russian, find his game. Panarin is currently on-pace for 93 points this season with Columbus, a mark that hasn’t been reached by a Ranger in years.
Panarin signing with the Rangers would instantly fast-forward their rebuild. The dominance that would arise out of a combination of Panarin, Kravtsov, Chytil, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and perhaps a top-five pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft is extremely dangerous. The Rangers should be doing anything and everything in their power to prepare for a run at Panarin this summer, especially if they can easily free up the cap space to do so.
All statistics from NHL.com and CapFriendly.com