The New York Rangers are in a position that many other franchises are envious of. They have their No. 1 goaltender, superstar forwards, and possess a plethora of young talent on both sides of the puck that will enable them to compete for a long time.
With the first overall selection in the 2020 draft under their control as well, the Rangers are in a phenomenal position to improve the roster for the present and future. A roster shake-up is likely due to the salary cap implications of COVID-19, and the Rangers need affordable talent to fill gaps in the lineup.
The criteria for determining this list were simple – which players would be the most affordable while fixing the biggest holes on the Rangers? The two main holes that would be plugged by the players listed are face-off percentage, which the Rangers finished 30th in, and defensive stability.
Unlike the 2019 offseason, New York will be reluctant to give out lucrative deals and put their squad in a financial pickle. Luckily, there are several hidden gems on the unrestricted free agent market that provide cost-efficient options to bolster roster depth.
Joel Edmundson, Defenseman
2019-20 Team: Carolina Hurricanes
2019-20 Cap Hit: $3.1 Million
Joel Edmundson will not wow you with his statistics, but he will provide the stability in the defensive zone that the Rangers have desperately needed over the years. He produced the highest offensive output of his career in 2019-20 with 20 points (7 goals, 13 assists), and finished the year with a plus-seven rating.
Edmundson is the most expensive option on this list, and for that reason alone he becomes a long shot to land on the Blueshirts’ roster. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Edmundson was on the ice for Carolina this season there was an xGA (Expected Goals Allowed) of 67.7. However, Edmundson was only on the ice for 61 goals allowed, proving he is an above-average defender.
He started 260 shifts in the defensive zone, second on the Hurricanes to only Jaccob Slavin, and that trust that the Canes had in him would benefit a Rangers blue line which is subpar defensively.
Derick Brassard, Center
2019-20 Team: New York Islanders
2019-20 Cap Hit: $1.2 Million
Rangers fans are, of course, familiar with Derick Brassard, as the center spent four seasons on Broadway before being traded to Ottawa in exchange for Mika Zibanjead. Brassard is 32 years old and would provide the Rangers with much-needed center depth for their bottom-six forwards.
With the Islanders in 2019-20, Brassard managed just 32 points in 66 games but won a solid 55.18 percent of his face-offs. He has a career 48.4 winning percentage on draws in his career but showed a drastic improvement this season in that area. His comfort in New York is a bonus, as he totaled 174 points over his 254 games donning the Blueshirt.
Brassard will not force the Rangers to dig deep into their pockets to sign him, stabilizing the third-line center position and allowing for Filip Chytil to move up to the second line if New York is unable to keep Ryan Strome.
Zach Bogosian, Defenseman
2019-20 Teams: Buffalo Sabres, Tampa Bay Lightning
2019-20 Cap Hit: $1.3 Million
Zach Bogosian missed the better part of 2017-18 and this past season due to injury problems, but the Tampa Bay Lightning still went out and acquired him at the trade deadline. Bogosian is a formidable presence on the ice at 6-foot-3 and 226 pounds and would be a good third-pair option for the Blueshirts.
The defenseman has appeared in six games for the Lightning this postseason and has only been on the ice for one goal against. Although his numbers do not depict the physicality and defensive awareness that he brings to the table, his veteran leadership could surely help the young defensive core of the Rangers.
Despite signing a seven-year, $36 million contract with Buffalo in 2013, Tampa only had to fork out $1.3 million of the $5.14 million owed to him after the acquisition. With a pay decrease expected for the right-handed defenseman, he is a low-risk, high-reward option on the blue line.
Nate Thompson, Center
2019-20 Teams: Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers
2019-20 Cap Hit: $1 Million
Nate Thompson may be 35 years old, but the wily veteran is one of the premier faceoff men in the NHL. (from ‘Flyers center Nate Thompson is valuable fourth-liner, penalty killer — and informant,’ Philadelphia Inquirer, 08/10/2020) He owns a career 52.9 faceoff percentage and was 54.1 percent in 2019-20 combined for Montreal and Philadelphia.
Thompson has carried that prowess into the bubble, leading all centers with a 66.1 win percentage on draws this postseason. Although he won’t often contribute offensively, he is a responsible forward who knows his role and could be integral to the Rangers’ fourth line, similar to how Dominic Moore impacted New York during his tenure.
The Rangers have yet to find a center who could consistently win important draws, especially in the defensive zone, and Thompson fits that mold perfectly. With a cheap price tag of just $1 million, he could serve as a solid depth piece for David Quinn’s team.
Brad Richardson, Center
2019-20 Team: Arizona Coyotes
2019-20 Cap Hit: $1.25 Million
Over the past 30 seasons, every Stanley Cup winner has had at least one player on their roster that has previously won the Stanley Cup. Brad Richardson could be that missing piece for the Rangers, filling in the fourth-line center spot and providing a veteran presence to the forward group.
The 35-year-old has three points in eight playoff games in 2020, after posting just 11 points during the regular season. Richardson is a valuable penalty killer, totaling 151 short-handed minutes in 2019-20. But the biggest aspect of Richardson’s game is his face-off ability.
The veteran won nearly 54 percent of his draws this year and has a career win percentage of 51.8. He is as reliable as they come at the dot, winning over 50 percent of his faceoffs in each of the past five campaigns. With an affordable price tag, Richardson could be a crucial addition to New York’s roster in 2020-21.
Big Decisions Lie Ahead
The New York Rangers’ primary goal of this offseason is adding Alexis Lafreniere with the first overall selection. (from ‘Alexis Lafreniere draws rave reviews as likely Rangers pick,’ New York Post, 08/15/2020) What John Davidson and Jeff Gorton have in store after that remains a mystery.
Ryan Strome, Jesper Fast, and Tony DeAngelo all need new contracts, but if the Rangers choose to let a couple of them leave, these aforementioned depth pieces could be added to bolster the roster.
They may not be the shiny additions that Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba were, but adding one of the five players from that list may be just what the doctor ordered come the 2021 postseason.
Brendan Azoff is a THW contributor and podcast host dedicated to covering the New York Rangers. His passion for hockey started when he first laced up the skates at three, growing into his love for writing and talking about the greatest sport in the world. His podcast, The Backcheck, breaks down the Rangers, Islanders, and NHL news and can be found on The Hockey Writers Podcast Network and Belly Up Sports. Brendan has been writing about the Rangers and the NHL for over two years, with his content also found on Puck Prose, Blue Line Station, and E2G Sports. If you want to connect with Brendan and stay up-to-date on his posts, follow him on Twitter. He is always available for content ideas and interviews, don’t be afraid to ask!