Since late September, the makeup of the Rangers’ team has changed tremendously.
It started with the trade of Marc Staal to Detroit; the Blueshirts were able to get rid of his large $5.7 million contract in the hardest hit year of the Kevin Shattenkirk buyout.
Following that was the Henrik Lundqvist buyout, a good decision considering the Rangers’ salary cap situation, but a bittersweet one for sure. Lundqvist went on to sign a one-year contract with the Washington Capitals, where he’ll try to win a cup in the latter stages of his NHL career.
The Rangers have completed their easiest task: getting Alexis Lafreniere on his entry-level contract. But they’ve made some other moves that have certainly had some people scratching their heads.
On July 1st, the Rangers broke social media after signing Jack Johnson to a 1-year, $1.15 million contract. Johnson registered 3 goals and 8 points in 67 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2019-20 season and had a plus/minus of -4 during the Penguins brief playoff stint.
It makes sense that the Rangers want to add a veteran defenseman on the back end to help mentor the younger guys after the Staal trade. Brendan Smith, the oldest rostered Blueshirts defenseman (who made a lengthy appearance on the 4th line in 2019-20) is 31 on the last year of his deal. The second-oldest D-Man on the Rangers is now Jacob Trouba, who is only 26 years old. The Rangers had good intentions with Johnson, signing him for just one year while we await the possible debuts of prospects Nils Lundkvist and K’Andre Miller, but is he really the right guy to do it? Other possibilities at the time of the Johnson signing were recent Stanley Cup Champion Zach Bogosian, who signed a 1-year contract at $1 million with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Other options included Jon Merrill (Detroit Red Wings) and Trevor Van Riemsdyk (Washington Capitals).
Johnson will probably only take on a minor role next year, but it’s still a bit puzzling. The Staal contract was dumped to make room for talent coming in, and although Johnson is a cheap, temporary solution, you are adding on a statistically worse player to your back end.
Then, on October 10th, the Rangers officially let Jesper Fast walk as he signed with the Carolina Hurricanes: a 3-year deal with an AAV of $2 million. There had been some doubt on whether or not Fast would be resigned – even if it was just temporary – but this sealed the deal. Fast was a member of the team since 2014 and a 5-time recipient of the Players’ Player Award.
No doubt, it would’ve been a stretch to keep Fast, with the cap crunch the Rangers are facing and the arbitration dates of Tony DeAngelo and Ryan Strome looming in the near future. However, it wouldn’t have been impossible. And wouldn’t you try to keep a natural-born leader in the locker room during a time where a young team is trying to find their identity?
It seems that Fast wasn’t a priority for the Rangers when he should have been. It was rumored that the Rangers offered him as much as $3 million, which would’ve been a bit over Jeff Gorton’s comfort zone considering where the team stands in relation to the salary cap maximum.
What’s perplexing is how Fast left money on the table to sign with Carolina and not the team he had been a part of for 6 years where teammates admired his leadership.
— Ryan Strome (@strome18) October 11, 2020
Maybe there was something on Fast’s side that kept him from negotiating a deal with the Rangers. Or maybe it was the extremely tight cap crunch the Rangers are in, between player bonuses and past buyouts and RFAs needing new contracts.
There’s nothing too alarming about anything the Rangers have done so far, but there have been enough eyebrow-raising decisions that have Rangers fans skeptical about the upcoming season.
The fact that needs to be faced is that the Rangers will look a bit different next year without the familiar faces Rangers fans have been watching for the past 5-10 years, but that’s the purpose of a rebuild: to build and re-tool your team around youthful talent that will lead the team for years to come, and to eventually open up a championship window. That’s what the Rangers are working towards.
There may be some ugly moves, but that is the goal all the same.
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