When NHL free agency opened on Wednesday at noon, it was expected that, under this new leadership, the Rangers would make some moves to strengthen their roster to be playoff-caliber.
There were plenty of targets, whether it be via trade or from the market – from Phillip Danault to Jack Eichel.

The Rangers certainly made some moves – albeit some questionable ones.

I took a handful of the decisions Rangers’ GM and President Chris Drury have made over the past few days and broke them down, and analyze what they mean for the team going forward.

Pavel Buchnevich Traded to the St. Louis Blues

This trade raised numerous eyebrows. It actually came 5 days before free agency began, with Buchnevich an RFA and expecting a contract extension. The return for the Rangers was underwhelming – Buchnevich fetched forward Sammy Blais and a 2022 second-rounder.

Drury justified the trade as one in respect of the salary cap – “It gives us some flexibility moving forward for the rest of this off-season.  As I said, there’s only so much (cap space) to go around whether it’s this year or next year, and certainly ice time is a factor.” Buchnevich went on to be extended by St. Louis, carrying a $5.8 million cap hit over the next 4 seasons.

Photo: Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers

In the heat of the moment, not knowing Buchnevich’s asking price along with the iffy return, the trade seemed unnecessary. Many Rangers fans spoke out in opposition to it, calling the trade a “steal” for St. Louis and claiming that Drury had “no plan” in mind for the future of the Rangers.

Drury’s claims are valid – the flat cap for the foreseeable future is an important factor in new contracts and acquisitions. When you weigh all of the Rangers’ needs – including a bonafide 1C or 2C – and what it takes to address those needs, you can see how Buchnevich’s nearly $6 million ask was just too much for the Rangers to handle. With the Eichel situation still being very fluid – and not completely off the table – as well as decisions with Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox coming soon, this trade as a salary dump does make sense. However, the return is still incredibly underwhelming, and I do agree with some Rangers in saying that Drury could have asked for more (especially when Rasmus Ristolainen had fetched a first-rounder earlier that day).

Multiple Depth Players (Nemeth, Goodrow) Signed

Along with the acquisition of Blais, the Rangers went to lengths to add to their depth: they signed defensemen Jarred Tinordi and Patrik Nemeth, as well as forwards Barclay Goodrow, Dryden Hunt, and Greg McKegg (!!!).

If there’s one adjective to characterize these signings – as well as the Rangers’ offseason as a whole thus far – it’s ‘grit.’ It can be assumed that, based on how the final week of the 2021 season unfolded, ownership has made grit and strength a priority for management to address. Certainly, the reemergence of old-timer Glen Sather beside a rookie GM in Drury has influenced these decisions.

The Nemeth signing – three years, $2.5 million AAV – makes a ton of sense for the Rangers. In letting a depth defenseman like Brendan Smith walk, there are some shoes to fill. Especially when you consider young defensemen like Zac Jones and Nils Lundkvist making strides – having a veteran guy to teach and mentor the youth is extremely valuable, and either rookie d-men paired with a veteran will certainly take some of the initial pressure off.

The offensive acquisitions, aligning well with the idea of ‘grit,’ have additionally raised eyebrows. It’s clear that the Rangers’ bottom six has been a priority and will be completely revamped come October. The most notable addition is Goodrow, a back-to-back Cup winner with Tampa Bay, known for his feisty style of play and numerous penalty minutes. Goodrow is not known for his point-scoring. Regardless, he will make $3.6 million per year for the next 6 seasons.

Photo: Paul Vernon/AP Photo

Goodrow will positively impact the Rangers’ bottom six when it comes to experience – he knows what it takes. He has scored a big goal. The thing with players like Goodrow, those gritty players on championship teams, is that those championship teams don’t pay nearly $4 million for them. Instead, they look for a ‘new’ Barclay Goodrow – one that will cost them south of $1 million. The Rangers making this decisive commitment to Goodrow is one I am still iffy about but does have some upside.

Only time will tell.

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