After being rushed out of the NHL bubble due to a three-game series sweep from the Carolina Hurricanes, the New York Rangers will look to pick up the pieces and reset for the 2020-21 season. The Rangers were in the playoff picture during the regular season before the campaign was cut short, but were badly outplayed in the postseason. While it is clear that year two of the rebuild can be deemed a success, general manager Jeff Gorton will need to get a lot of work done this offseason.
From free agents to salary cap decisions, Gorton and the rest of New York’s front office will attempt to try and piece the puzzle together with this Rangers roster. Let’s take a look at the most prominent storylines on Broadway as we head into the month of September.
Who Will Stay? Who Will Go?
One of the most important storylines for New York this offseason will be the contract situations with restricted free agents Tony DeAngelo and Ryan Strome. Without a doubt, it’ll be very difficult to fit both players on the roster next season as both skaters are due for a significant raise. The Rangers will end up with approximately $13 million in salary cap space this offseason and both of these players could potentially chew into that amount fairly quickly.
DeAngelo, who finished tied for fourth in the NHL for points from a defenseman with 53, has a very solid case to easily make over $5 million on his next contract. Looking at Strome, you have a very similar case. The 27-year-old center managed to finish third on the team with 59 points in 70 games, which could allow Strome to bargain for over $5 million a year as well. The Rangers have other offseason needs, such as re-signing unrestricted free agents Jesper Fast and Brendan Lemieux. Clearly, the money is going to be difficult to spare to both DeAngelo and Strome.
The decision will most likely come down to dealing both players or keeping one of Strome or DeAngelo, not both. DeAngelo might be the likely player to go, considering the Rangers already have Jacob Trouba locked up long term and a young, talented Adam Fox on the right side as well. This ultimately might be the largest looming decision for New York this offseason, and it’ll be very interesting to see which path Gorton chooses.
The Three-Goalie Dilemma
This past season, the Blueshirts rolled with a three-goalie situation that is clearly a very unsustainable system heading into next year. So much so, that the president of the Rangers, John Davidson, admitted the team will be going with two goalies next season. The odd man out will most likely be tenured goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who carries an $8.5 million hit against the salary cap. The Rangers could look to buy-out the rest of his contract, or even see the iconic goalie retire after a disappointing end to his season.
But, what if Lundqvist decides to not retire and the team gives him another season to be the backup to Igor Shesterkin? Can that mean that Alexander Georgiev could be on the move? That’s certainly a realistic possibility, as the Rangers seemed inclined to trade Georgiev around the 2020 Trade Deadline, and spoke to teams such as the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Georgiev could easily be used as a valuable trade chip for Gorton, as he could look to package the netminder with other assets to make an impactful trade. However, until the front office knows the intentions of Lundqvist, it may be difficult to get any kind of read on what New York will do with their three-headed monster in goal.
Free Agent Help
If the quick three-game sweep from the Carolina Hurricanes made anything clear, the Rangers need to add depth this offseason. The two most glaring needs for the roster are left-defense and the center position, especially if Strome is on the way out of New York.
Starting with the left side of defense, the Rangers do not have a sustainable plan with Marc Staal, Ryan Lindgren and Brendan Smith. Lindgren showed promise this year partnered with Fox and he might be the only positive on the current roster for the left side. Smith and Staal, on the other hand, are slowly but surely seeing their time on the roster come to a close. New York does have promising prospect K’Andre Miller vying for a spot on the team next season, but Gorton should look into cheap, veteran left-defensemen to help fill some holes.
Now, onto the center position. The Rangers have Mika Zibanejad manning the first-line, but there are plenty of question marks after the him. Strome, Filip Chytil and Brett Howden make up the rest of the center positions for New York. Howden has struggled, Chytil isn’t a sure thing to step into a consistent second-line center next season and Strome needs a new deal. What does that mean for the Rangers?
The likely decision will be to sign somewhat cost-friendly free agents. The second option is to let prospects such as Morgan Barron battle it out during training camp. Nonetheless, the Rangers might have to dive into the free agent market to address the team’s needs at center.
Gorton and the Rangers have a very important offseason ahead. The team is entering the third year of the rebuild and expectations for next season will be the highest they have been for some time. The phones will undoubtedly be busy heading into September and October, and the Rangers will need to figure out which pieces will ultimately fit the puzzle.
Sophomore journalism major at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. Business director and play-by-play broadcaster for WMUC Sports. Former intern for the Anton Media Group.