The New York Rangers’ main offseason problem comes in the form of filling the two roster gaps that could be left behind by Ryan Strome and Tony DeAngelo. Just like all 31 general managers in the NHL, general manager Jeff Gorton will be cap-strapped this offseason, which could lead to some intriguing moves come season’s end.
As it stands right now, the Rangers’ two most significant needs are a second-line center and fourth defenseman, the roles previously held by Strome and DeAngelo. Odds are the Rangers will try to keep one or both players, but there are other ways for New York to fill those voids.
As previously mentioned, the retention of Strome and DeAngelo is a route that can work if the contracts are reasonable. A second option is to bring in a second-line center and defenseman from the open market, whether that is via trade or free agency. The third and final option for the Rangers is to promote from within and bring in-depth players through free agency.
What’s important to understand here from a fan’s perspective is that despite the Rangers’ desire to be competitive again, the rebuild is not complete. The moves they will make this offseason are to prep the team for annual Cup runs starting in the next couple of seasons. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the three options in front of the Blueshirts.
Option One: Re-Signing Their Own
After both Strome and DeAngelo tallied over 50 points in 2019-20, the two are due for significant upgrades to their current salaries, a tricky predicament for the Rangers. Strome’s 2019-20 cap hit was a mere $3.1 million, a number that will likely move between $5-6 million next year.
As for DeAngelo, he made just $925,000 this past season after signing a one-year bridge deal. The defenseman is due for an upgrade with both term and monetary value, and with a flat salary cap, it’s unclear if the Rangers can afford him.
Strome is coming off career marks in assists (41) and points (59) while also matching his career best of 18 goals. Similarly, DeAngelo set career highs in goals (15), assists (38), and points (53), good enough for the fourth-highest point total by a defenseman in 2019-20.
In regards to the flat cap presenting the Rangers with an issue, Gorton told Vincent Z. Mercogliano of Lohud Sports this:
It’ll make it difficult, but I think we’ll figure that out as we go. Of course, it’s presenting a little bit of a different look, because we haven’t seen it be flat. But I still think there’s opportunities for us to get better and not have it affect us too much.
One of those ways to get better without being affected by the flat cap is via option two, the trade route.
Option Two: Making a Trade
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs swung a trade that left Rangers’ brass and fans alike salivating ferociously. Kasperi Kapanen, the centerpiece of the deal, registered just 13 goals and 36 points in 2019-20, yet he netted a first-round selection, an NHL winger in Evan Rodrigues, and a top prospect of Pittsburgh’s.
With that return, the question emerges; what could the Rangers get for a center who just scored 59 points and a 24-year-old defenseman who just finished behind John Carlson, Victor Hedman, and Roman Josi in points?
That question is precisely what Gorton is referring to when he mentions getting better despite the flat cap. If the Rangers can find a way to add more prospects, draft picks, and even an NHL-ready center by moving one or both of their restricted free agents, that may be the best route to take.
There are several options the Rangers could consider via the trade market, two of which would have an immediate impact. The Montreal Canadiens may be looking to shuffle things around this offseason, and like the Rangers, they possess a plethora of draft picks. Phillip Danault is an intriguing center option for the Rangers, and the two sides could look to swing a deal.
The defensive side is where Gorton and Davidson’s ingenuity will come into play. The apparent trade candidate is Vince Dunn of the St. Louis Blues. The Blues are in a cap crunch, and Dunn fills the Rangers’ left defenseman void.
A not-so-obvious candidate is Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes are in desperate need of draft picks and could be entertaining offers for their captain. The Rangers possess draft capital and could give them Strome or a former Coyote in DeAngelo as well. Of course, Ekman-Larsson is not cheap, so likely other moves will have to occur, such as a Lundqvist retirement, for this to pan out.
Gorton will undoubtedly be a busy man this offseason and at the draft as well. With the Rangers already slated to select twice in the first round, we can see Gorton maneuvering picks and players for incredulous returns. He has managed to win several trades during his tenure with New York, and now he has two incredible assets in Strome and DeAngelo with whom he can manipulate the market.
Option Three: Utilizing the Youth
The third option is the most cost-efficient of the bunch and will allow the Rangers to assess their young talent honestly. New York has been tough on Filip Chytil, starting him in Hartford last season, but now it could be his time to claim the second center spot.
To do so, he will have to drastically improve on his face-off percentage, which came in at an abysmal 38.4% in 2019-20. Bumping Chytil up and giving him more minutes could be the perfect recipe for a breakout campaign from the 20-year-old from the Czech Republic.
He has shown glimpses of brilliance throughout his Rangers tenure, but consistency has continuously eluded him. Now, with a potential Strome departure, the Rangers could choose to allow Chytil the opportunity to run with his new top-six role and improve upon the 23-point total he has tallied in each of the last two seasons.
On the defensive front, K’Andre Miller seems poised to take a top-four role, as he and Jacob Trouba could become a formidable combination on the backend. Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren established themselves as the Rangers’ top pair of the future, and putting the defensively stable Miller with Trouba could open up the ice for the veteran defenseman.
Miller, who was a beast at Wisconsin, opened eyes at the Rangers training camp before the Qualifying Round. At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Miller has the size, strength, and skating ability to be an impact defender immediately in the NHL.
He was reliable for Team USA over the past two World Junior Championships, with his only moments of mediocrity coming while defending his soon-to-be teammate, Alexis Lafreniere. The Rangers have high hopes for the young defenseman, and next year he could be thrust into an essential role for the Blueshirts.
I believe that the Rangers will look to move both Strome and DeAngelo. If the right deal emerges, Gorton will find comfort pulling the trigger, knowing that Chytil and Miller are ready to fill the vacancies that will be left behind.
Everything is guesswork until the Rangers’ front office takes action, and despite looking to move both players, Gorton would be content with keeping one of the players as mentioned earlier on his roster. Hockey is a business, and like so many businesses, difficult decisions get made for financial reasons.
For the Rangers, their youth is the key to their success, and we can very well see that youth be forced into more prominent roles as soon as next season, as the Rangers maneuver their way through the offseason ahead.
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!