Rangers’ 5 Best 2021-22 Contracts – Midseason Report

Evaluating an NHL team’s salary-cap situation going into a season is generally a study in what-ifs. Some contracts look like they’ll be steals, with a newly-signed free agent or shiny new extension sure to deliver full value. Some pacts look like they’ll be wastes of money, future albatrosses for a team’s salary cap. And some of the cheaper deals yield plenty of shoulder-shrugging, with those possibly amounting to little or having the potential to deliver huge bang for the buck.

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Not surprisingly, an in-season analysis is going to be significantly more accurate when it comes to how well a team has spent its available dollars. That’s certainly true for the New York Rangers, who are reaping unexpectedly bigger benefits from a group of contracts for 2021-22.

Without further ado, here are the Rangers’ five best contracts with half the season played:

Adam Fox

This one was predictable, and it was probably always going to be impossible for any Ranger to top. Adam Fox won the Norris Trophy in his second season, and he’s been even better in the final year of his entry-level contract: Seven goals, 38 assists, plus-14 rating, point man on one of the league’s most effective power plays, top-pair defender who’s averaging more than 24 minutes of ice time for the second straight season.

Adam Fox New York Rangers
Reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Fox has been one of the best defensemen in the league the last two seasons, and the ascending star more than earned the seven-year, $66.5 million extension that kicks in for 2022-23, but it would be difficult to find a better value in the NHL in 2021-22.

Salary-Cap Hit: $925,000

Chris Kreider

His detractors will still point to the fact that Chris Kreider’s seven-year, $45.5 million pact that will take him through his age-36 season has the potential to be an anchor on the team’s finances for the final few years, when his production is likely to drop. That’s a very possible outcome. Judging only by this season, though, the power winger’s compensation represents a serious underpay. Kreider has finally grown into the player the Rangers thought he could become when they drafted him 19th overall in 2009: His hat trick in Saturday’s 7-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes gave him a league high-tying 29 goals in 42 games – a league-best 14 on the power play – and he boasts a plus-10 rating, has been a factor at both ends of the ice and on special teams and is one of the clear leaders whose emotion helps provide fuel for a rising club.

Chris Kreider New York Rangers
Rangers Forward Chris Kreider (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The light seems to have gone on for the 30-year-old, who’s no longer beating himself up nightly about what he should have done and is instead just doing it.

Salary-Cap Hit: $6.5 million

Igor Shesterkin

The Rangers’ No. 1 goaltender signed a four-year deal last offseason that represented the highest average annual value for a second contract in NHL history. Now, it looks like general manager Chris Drury got a steal by locking in the third-year player long-term at such a low rate. Igor Shesterkin, who somehow didn’t make the Eastern Conference All-Star team, is 19-4-2 with an NHL-high .936 save percentage, a 2.07 goals-against average and three shutouts.

His numbers are comparable to those of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, generally accepted as the current standard for NHL goaltending, whose cap hit is $9.5 million. And again, the Rangers have cost certainty for three more seasons after this one with their new franchise goalie.

Salary-Cap Hit: $5.6 million

Ryan Reaves

He’s not here to provide scoring, even though he did so with two goals in the Blueshirts’ 6-3 comeback victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, but he’s not here just to fight, either. Ryan Reaves has played a major role in transforming the Rangers’ flawed culture of recent seasons, helping to imbue perhaps the softest team in the league in 2020-21 with toughness, grit and as he puts it, “a little swag.” The just-turned 35-year-old provides veteran leadership, and coach Gerard Gallant has hardly made him a bench-bound deterrent, sending Reaves out on a regular shift as part of an effective “Grind Line” with Kevin Rooney and others.

Ryan Reaves New York Rangers
Rangers enforcer Ryan Reaves (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The big guy’s booming hits – he’s delivering better than four per game, most of them of the bone-rattling variety – have given the Rangers a dangerous forecheck and have been seemingly infectious throughout the lineup. Of course his intimidation qualities are very real – the bullying the Blueshirts have been absorbing from rivals for years has abruptly disappeared. Reaves’ July acquisition from the Vegas Golden Knights for a third-round draft pick in 2022 was panned by a segment of the fan base, but his presence has been among the major reasons for the Rangers’ ascendance toward the top of the Metropolitan Division.

Salary-Cap Hit: $1.75 million

Kevin Rooney

Speaking of Reaves’ consistent running mate – this bargain-bin signing by former general manager Jeff Gorton on Oct. 9, 2020 was made more for expansion draft purposes than on-ice contributions (hence him being signed for two years in order to fulfill the Rangers’ exposure requirement for the Seattle Kraken’s selection of players last summer). Rooney, however, decided to grab the club’s fourth-line center job and never let go. He played 54 of 56 games last season, recording eight goals and six assists and emerging as one of the club’s most effective penalty killers. He’s been even better in 2021-22, scoring six goals in 39 contests while also bringing his edgy game on a regular basis in pairing with Reaves on a long-sought physical fourth line.

Kevin Rooney New York Rangers
Rangers fourth-line center Kevin Rooney (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Rooney’s often-unheralded contributions should nonetheless leave him in demand as an unrestricted free agent this summer, and he could double his salary after this final season of working at a below-market rate for the Blueshirts.

Salary-Cap Hit: $750,000

Rangers Getting Plenty of Value Out of Other Contracts

While these five players represent the Blueshirts’ most value-centric commitments this season, they’ve emerged as playoff contenders in 2021-22 because numerous others have delivered strong value for what they’re being paid. After a slow start, center Mika Zibanejad ($5.35 million cap hit) has heated up and has 42 points in 42 games. Artemi Panarin’s $11.6 million hit will probably never be considered a bargain, but in his third season in New York is again producing at a better-than point-per-game pace, with 43 in 37 contests.

Jacob Trouba’s $8 million hit is costly, but he’s finally performing like the player the Rangers thought they were acquiring from the Winnipeg Jets in June 2019, his nasty edge and body checks at the blue line making life difficult for opposing forwards. Ryan Lindgren, the tough young defenseman who’s proved to be the perfect partner for Fox, sports a $3 million hit on a bridge contract. Second-line center Ryan Strome is set to up his $4.5 million hit as a UFA this summer after teaming so effectively with Panarin for the past two-plus seasons.

Barclay Goodrow, New York Rangers
Barclay Goodrow has been a crucial addition for the Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

And where would the Blueshirts be without Barclay Goodrow, whose six-year, $21.8 million contract evoked outrage amongst some fans when he was signed as a free agent in July but whose grit, penalty killing, strong overall defensive play and leadership have been invaluable? Would anyone now choose to do away with Goodrow ($3.6 million cap hit), already a key glue guy who’s delivered seven goals, 10 assists and a plus-seven rating while playing up and down the lineup, if they could?

Related: Rangers Reaping Rewards of Reaves’ Deterrence

The Rangers’ cap number has continued to climb as their rebuild has progressed and prized young players have started to complete their ELCs. Their cap is certain to get even tighter next season, but Drury and the front office are hardly feeling regret over their financial decisions to this point – not to mention a number of shrewd financial decisions of the previous management regime.