The New York Rangers again amassed over 100 points and made the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year in 2015-16, going 46-27-9 and just edging out the Islanders for third in the Metropolitan division. What that won them was a matchup with the eventual Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. As they head into the summer, they have some big questions to answer all over their club, with only 14 players under contract at the moment.
Key Restricted Free Agents: There isn’t just a single RFA that the Rangers need to worry about, there is a trio of them. LW Chris Kreider, C Kevin Hayes and RW J.T. Miller are all arbitration eligible and due for substantial raises this summer, after scoring 57 goals between them. Miller led the pack with 22 including five game winners, and racked up 43 points (tied with Kreider).
The Rangers may have some trouble with the expansion draft next year, as these three will all need protection along with Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello which will put at risk some of their other young players like Jesper Fast or Oscar Lindberg, even if they leave Rick Nash unprotected. It will be even more strained if they decide to sign any big name free agent forward, most of which would demand a NMC to come to New York.
Other RFAs: Dylan McIlrath
Key Unrestricted Free Agent: D Keith Yandle – The top blueliner on the UFA market this summer, Yandle is going to command a huge salary and will have teams lining up to offer it. After coming over in a trade from the Arizona Coyotes in 2014-15, Yandle has been one of the better defencemen in the league, putting up 58 points in a Rangers uniform.
The 29-year old will head into free agency after completing a five-year $26.25MM dollar contract he signed with the Coyotes in 2011. That cap-hit of $5.25MM is sure to go up this summer when teams bang down his door looking for a #1 defenceman. Over the last five seasons, Yandle has the 5th most points of any defenceman in the league, only trailing Erik Karlsson, P.K. Subban, Dustin Byfuglien, and Shea Weber – all of whom are earning at least $7MM next year.
Projected Cap Space: $15.33MM, 14 players under contract.
Losing Yandle and Boyle from their blueline doesn’t look good for the Rangers, who won’t have much room for free agents after the deals for their RFAs. With Dan Girardi and Marc Staal both taking a lot of heat for their poor possession numbers, the team might be in trouble defensively next season. The Penguins exploited it in the playoffs, and with Henrik Lundqvist another year older he may not be able to bail them out as much in 2015-16.
The deal for Eric Staal ended up not working out very well for the club, as he scored just six points for the club down the stretch before being held scoreless in the playoffs. Carolina has already made good use of one of the picks, dealing it to Chicago as the main piece in the Teuvo Teravainen deal two days ago.
If the team is to get back to the playoffs they’ll have to rely on their speed and skill up front, unless they make a move to shore up that back end. Look for teams to start kicking the tires on those young forwards, trying to entice one or two of them out of the Big Apple, and into their system.