Apr 21, 2022; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Rangers center Andrew Copp (18) celebrates his goal against the New York Islanders with New York Rangers center Ryan Strome (16) during the first period at UBS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Rangers were a pleasant surprise this season after going on a great run to the Eastern Conference Final. Despite falling in 6 games to the Tampa Bay Lightning, this season was a smashing success and have them well ahead of schedule.
Now that their Stanley Cup window is open, they need to find a way to bring back as much of the roster as possible. Unfortunately they only have $11.93M in cap space per CapFriendly.
With that understood, let’s dive into the biggest offseason storylines heading into the draft (7/7) and free agency (7/13).
New York Rangers storylines: Strome or Copp
The biggest decision the Rangers have will be which of these two pending unrestricted free agents they can sign: Andrew Copp or Ryan Strome?
The preference for GM Chris Drury during the season and playoffs was to retain the versatile Copp. A 27 year-old forward that can play either center or wing, plus both special teams.
TSN’s Darren Dreger said in April the Rangers have been working hard on a contract extension for Andrew Copp. According to Jeff Marek on HNIC, he’s in line for a new contract in the neighborhood of $5.5M AAV.
Make no mistake, on the open market he’s getting paid. This season, he posted 53 points in 72 games with 18 of those coming with the Blueshirts. In the playoffs, Copp added 6 goals and 14 points in 20 contests.
Arthur Staple of The Athletic reports that a source claims Copp and his agent are going to maximize this contract. That means not budgeting off that $5.5M for at least 5 years.
If that’s the case, I’d say do it. However, no one is privy to the negotiation or what else Drury may want to accomplish with the roster this offseason. Plus, what if Copp thinks he can get more on the open market?
Should Ryan Strome, who has chemistry with Artemi Panarin, be willing to take less that’s a solid Plan-B.
Re-signing Kaapo Kakko and avoid an offer sheet
Talk of a possible trade or offer sheet regarding Kaapo Kakko took off after he was scratched in Game 6 of the ECF, but Chris Drury shut that down at the end of the season.
“Kakko is an all-world player who’s still developing,” Drury said by USA Today’s Vince Mercogliano. “He and I had a real good discussion before he left [Tuesday]. There’s obviously a lot of belief from me and the staff of what his future holds. I know he’s excited for a good offseason and to come back next year and be ready.”
Without salary arbitration rights, the Rangers have all the leverage over Kakko. A 2-year bridge deal around $2M AAV would be a fair outcome for both parties.
Kakko, 21, posted 18 points in just 43 games due to being on the injured list three separate times. For his three-year career, he’s managed just 58 points in 157 matches. However, his size, skill, and high potential does make him a very interesting player this summer.
Per Mollie Walker of the NY Post, she estimates that number to force the Rangers into not matching an offer sheet for Kakko would be between $4.2 and $6.3 million. However, the former #2 overall pick from the 2019 draft sounds like he wants to stay.
“I don’t think so, I like to play here,” Kakko said. “I think [the scratch] gives me more motivation. I want to show I’m better than that. You should put me in the lineup because I’m a good player.”
Finding cap space, and a new backup goalie
The Rangers will definitely need to find a way to get more cap space. They can do that by either trading or buying out Patrik Nemeth’s two remaining years on his contract, which comes with an 8-team no trade list and a $2.5M AAV.
A buyout would put back $1.5M to the books which the Rangers could use on a new backup goalie.
Alexandar Georgiev is expected to move on via a trade of his rights at the draft or becoming an unrestricted free agent once Drury opts not to qualify him at $2.65M.
While the Rangers have a very small budget for a new backup goalie, they also want someone that can handle playing 1 game every 7 to days. That usually means a veteran as the best option.
At the top of many lists for an affordable backup is Thomas Greiss, who played with the Detroit Red Wings last season. Jaro Halak is another option, posting solid numbers with the Vancouver Canucks. Both will be UFA’s this summer.