The Runner Sports

New York Rangers Have Been Busy, Is Another Trade On The Way?

The New York Rangers have been one of the more active teams in the NHL so far this offseason. A huge trade, two first-round draft picks, buyout, big free agent signing, re-signing players from last year, and now arbitration. It has surely been a whirlwind for GM Jeff Gorton, who is wheeling and dealing, trying to get his team younger and in better shape to succeed in the postseason.

Free Agent Signings:

The Rangers have been the real winner of free agency so far. They landed the best player available and got him on a great contract. Kevin Shattenkirk gave the Rangers a hometown discount, taking only four years at $6.6 million. Whereas he could have gotten as much as seven years from other teams such as the New Jersey Devils, the New Rochelle, NY native and a lifelong Ranger fan left money on the table to fulfill his dream of playing for the Blueshirts. Still, a lot of money to dish out but the Rangers are happy to have him. In Shattenkirk, the Rangers now have a formidable pairing for Ryan McDonagh, which has been an issue for some time.

The Rangers also signed to a few veterans to low-risk one-year deals. Former Winnipeg Jet, Ondrej Pavelec will serve as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup goalie for next season. Pavelec had a miserable past season but has been around a long time so maybe a reduced role, change of scenery, and some time with The King can help him rebound. They then inked David Desharnais to a one-year, $1 million contract. Not a splashy signing, to say the least, but it fits a need. With Oscar Lindberg off to Vegas, Desharnais is a depth center who can play on the fourth line. Desharnais, who played with Montreal and Edmonton last year, could be another depth player to flourish for the Rangers. He tallied only 14 points in 49 regular season games but did have 4 points including a big OT winner for the Oilers in the playoffs.

Restricted Free Agents:

The Rangers had two restricted free agents who were imperative to re-sign, Jesper Fast and Mika Zibanejad. Both had eventful Wednesdays.

Jesper Fast agreed to a three-year, $5.5 million contract to rejoin the Rangers. Fast has been an integral part of the Rangers’ depth resilience. He is a jack-of-all-trades and a tremendous penalty killer. He will likely miss the start of the season after offseason hip surgery, but at age 25, should be good to go.

The other RFA, Mika Zibanejad, has filed for salary arbitration. What is an arbitration hearing you may ask? Essentially it is a hearing where the team and player will have a hearing before an arbitrator who will then decide the player’s value and present a worthy contract. The team can either accept the contract or decline and the player will become an unrestricted free agent. The Rangers certainly are not letting Zibanejad, who is their #1 center going into the season, walk away for nothing. The two parties can also continue to negotiate and agree to a deal before the arbitration takes place. The Rangers have not had such a hearing in quite a long time. The last one was with Nikolai Zherdev (remember him?) in 2009.

All this means is that keeping Zibanejad may cost the Rangers a little more than they initially hoped. Zibanejad will likely be rewarded with a contract between $4.5-5.5 million but still nothing absurd for a player as good as he is.

What lies ahead?

The Rangers’ endless cap space is suddenly running dry. The Rangers only have $8.4 million in cap space remaining. And, that is assuming Kevin Klein and his $2.9 million cap hit will in fact retire. They then have to set aside a nice amount for Mika Zibanejad. Let’s say he signs for $5M, which leaves them with less than $3.5M of cap space.

This leads to an essential issue. The Rangers are still very thin at center. If the season started today, they would have Zibanejad-Kevin Hayes-Desharnais-J.T. Miller. Miller is expected to move back to center¬†if no other center is acquired before the season. He is a natural center, but did have a career year after being moved to the wing, so making him change positions again is less than ideal. The problem is $3.5M can’t buy you a top six center.

So what are the options? Either stick with what they have and hope that a prospect can impress in camp, or they can try to make a trade. The obvious candidate here is Nick Holden. The Rangers now have so much depth at defense, it has become too much. Holden’s cap hit is minimal at $1.65M for this year only. He had a really impressive first half of last season before falling off. He has shown he can contribute offensively and is good with the puck. Maybe Gorton can package Holden with a prospect of his choice to land a center. That would help twofold, opening up a spot for an emerging prospect on the blue line and improving the forwards.