As general manager Chris Drury gets ready to reconstruct his roster after a disappointing 2023 postseason, the New York Rangers will have a busy summer. Several key players are without contracts, some unrestricted free agents (UFAs) and others restricted free agents (RFAs). Among them is Patrick Kane, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Chicago Blackhawks.
Kane’s career is full of highlights and championships, which surely attracted Drury and the Rangers. They valued those attributes so highly that (now former) head coach Gerard Gallant was forced to play with a short bench to open up enough cap space to acquire the forward.
But the cloud over him after he arrived was not about his talent but the hip injury that had ailed him all season. Kane reassured everyone he could play through it, and he did, showing flashes of his old self. But it was clear that his hip limited his burst and tight stickhandling ability.
After the season, the team announced that Kane had undergone hip resurfacing surgery with a 4-6-month recovery timeline (from ‘Patrick Kane has hip surgery, may not be ready for the start of next season,’ NY Post, 6/1/23). As a pending UFA, Kane will have to watch the first couple of months of 2023-24 from the sidelines.
With Kane’s injury now altering how teams approach him this offseason, the Rangers must weigh their options. Do they let the potentially cheaper price tag lure them in, or will they realize the fit is not there and pursue other alternatives?
Patrick Kane’s Cap Hit
Kane is coming off an eight-year deal that paid him $10.5 million annually. Now 34 years old, he will not receive an offer close to that, both in salary and length. He is likely looking at one or two-year deals from this point forward, as is the case with most veterans coming off a long-term contract.
Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff projected that Kane would get a three-year contract worth $5.75 million annually. However, even though that essentially cuts his salary in half, it was made before the announcement that the Buffalo native had undergone surgery. With health questions still surrounding him, his price tag will likely be lower than anyone thought, which should open the door for a cap-strapped team like the Rangers to work something out.
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However, the Rangers have $11.7 million in cap space for seven free agents, which is simply not enough. They will be up against the wall to field a full roster, let alone give Kane the $5.75 million he might command. Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller need new deals. Vladimir Tarasenko and Niko Mikkola, trade deadline acquisitions in their own right, are UFAs, and, of course, Tyler Motte, the unsung defensive-minded forward, joins Jaroslav Halak as the two remaining players on expiring contracts.
Without the cap space or the trades that could just as quickly happen as well as not, Kane staying a Ranger doesn’t make financial sense. It also doesn’t make sense from a team perspective.
Kane Doesn’t Fit Rangers Championship Team
If the Rangers want to win the Stanley Cup, Kane does not move the needle in their favor. He has always been a scoring winger with an offensive-minded approach. When you are winning Hart Trophies and scoring 100-plus points, that is acceptable. But at this stage of his career, his defensive miscues outweigh his highlight-reel moments and are detrimental to a contending team.
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Maybe his 200-foot game was limited due to his hip, which is possible, but the Rangers need to construct a well-rounded roster with limited financial flexibility, and there are other players worthy of a top-six role. Keeping Kane would mean he either takes a spot from a young forward or plays out of position on the third line.
However, his two-way game is not reliable enough for a spot on that line and would reduce the roster’s pedigree from Cup contenders to pretenders. Drury should go after players who are defensively responsible and good at five-on-five for a reasonable price, giving the Rangers their best chance at competing next season while also allowing them some financial flexibility when the cap increases in the coming years.
Players like Jesper Fast, who has a lower price tag and immense value, should be the Rangers’ offseason target. He is a defensive-minded forward who will give 100% effort nightly. The Blueshirts have seen this firsthand during his time with the franchise.
Fast would be a better fit for what the Rangers are trying to build. With big money tied up in Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Vincent Trocheck, the Rangers must entrust them to put up offense. They get paid handsomely, therefore, they must carry the load.
Bringing in forwards on the wrong side of 30 who have decreased production would only hurt the organization. Kane is arguably the greatest American player of all time, but that doesn’t mean he is right for the Rangers, and Drury would be wise to spend that money elsewhere.