Free agency is now less than a month away from opening up and there are quite a few prominent players set to hit the open market while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign. The Rangers have a lot of options when it comes to the upcoming free agency period, but don’t have as much to concern themselves with when it comes to their own free agents. New York does have a few restricted free agents they must worry about, but few players to concern themselves among unrestricted free agents.
Key Restricted Free Agents: F Pavel Buchnevich — The Rangers must be thrilled with the continued improvements of their 24-year-old forward, who has continually taken his game up a notch in all three years, scoring eight goals as a rookie, 14 goals last season and moving into a permanent top-six role in 2018-19 with a 21-goal campaign. That number was more impressive considering he only played 64 games due to a broken thumb and some issues with head coach David Quinn, although he eventually developed a solid relationship with the coach. His 15:10 ATOI was lower than a number of lesser forwards as he ranked ninth in that area among forwards, but should increase significantly next season. Now that his entry-level deal is up, New York must pay him significantly more than the $925K he was previously making. However, with his development, it’s more likely the team will seek a bridge deal in hopes that his progress continues to improve.
F Brendan Lemieux — The Rangers didn’t get a lot of time to evaluate Lemieux, who the team acquired at the trade deadline as part of the Kevin Hayes trade. While not a key piece to the deal, New York hoped that the 23-year-old would give them a key bottom-six winger for a number of years as he had proved to be an agitator in his 53 games played in Winnipeg. Lemieux started his tenure in New York off well as he provided that grit the team needed, but after averaging 7:25 of ATOI with the Jets, his minutes jumped to 12:50 with the Rangers, and he quickly wore down, suggesting he lacked conditioning. In 19 games, he accumulated six points, 64 penalty minutes and two misconducts, which is a lot of penalties. Regardless, it’s likely the Rangers will seek a short-term deal so that Lemieux can prove himself.
D Neal Pionk — After showing off impressive skills in a trial during the 2017-18 season, the 23-year-old blueliner didn’t fare as well in his first full season with the Rangers. Pionk finished the season with six goals and 26 points but also saw his plus/minus drop to minus-16, but found himself in Quinn’s doghouse quite often in the second half of the season and was often a healthy scratch as he tallied just one point and seven points in his final 37 games. With a number of young defenseman close to ready for a regular NHL role, general manager Jeff Gorton will have to decide whether Pionk should stay with the defense or whether the team should move on from him. Expect him to get a short-term or even more likely a one-year deal on a “prove it” contract.
Key Unrestricted Free Agents: D John Gilmour — Yes, Gilmour, who played a total of five games for the Rangers this past year, is the team’s top unrestricted free agent. The Group 6 free agent played 28 games during the 2017-18 season, but found himself playing a full season for the Hartford Wolf Pack in the AHL where he dominated, scoring 20 goals and 54 points and was named to the AHL All-Star team. However, he has been passed over on the prospect chart by Ryan Lindgren and Libor Hajek and doesn’t seem to be a major part of the team’s long-range plans although he could be a cheap 6/7th defensive option for the Rangers if they want a low-cost option.
Projected Cap Space: With a little less than $64MM in commitments for next season (per CapFriendly), the team has room to make changes, but it’s unlikely the team will make any long-term commitments in house this offseason. The team is far more likely to go with multiple short-term deals and focus on fast-tracking their rebuilding efforts as they will likely attempt to bring in a top free agent to supplement its young players.
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