Just in time for training camp, the New York Rangers have re-signed forward Brendan Lemieux to a one-year contract extension, the team announced. TVA’s Renaud Lavoie adds that it is a $925K AAV for Lemieux, only a slight raise from his recently-expired entry-level deal. Lemieux will be a restricted free agent again next summer, but this time with arbitration rights.
Lemieux, 23, is betting on himself after finally carving out a regular role in the NHL last season. Lemieux spent the majority of his first two pro seasons in the AHL, only playing in nine games with the Winnipeg Jets in 2017-18. However, after a very productive campaign with the Manitoba Moose, the Jets handed Lemieux a fourth-line spot last season and he made the most of the opportunity. The big winger notched nine goals and was a dominant physical presence on the ice through the first half of the season. However, Winnipeg traded him to the Rangers at the trade deadline as part of the package that landed Kevin Hayes. Lemieux saw significantly more ice time down the stretch in New York and continued to add points and even more so penalty minutes. He finished the year with 12 goals and 17 points in 63 total games, as well as 108 penalty minutes, which ranked fifth in the league.
While some may find it strange that a checking forward like Lemieux would settle for a short-term deal when offense can often be hard to come by with limited minutes and opportunity, Lemieux has an incredible opportunity to prove his value this coming season to a Rangers team than needs someone to neutralize threats to new star forwards Artemi Panarin and Kaapo Kakko, among others. Lemieux’s production may not change at all, but he could nevertheless prove himself to be an invaluable member of the team by coming to the defense of his teammates. On the other hand, Lemieux also scored 12 goals last season while spending most of the year in Winnipeg, playing about seven minutes per night on a team with great forward depth. He may find that in New York he has the opportunity to push for a 20-goal season if afforded consistent ice time over 82 games. Such a feat would certainly make his decision to take a one-year deal look like a smart move.
With Lemieux signed, the Rangers are left with just over $1MM in projected cap space. It’s a better situation than expected given Lemieux’s surprisingly affordable price tag after all this time, but New York will still need to get creative with their roster. RFA defenseman Anthony DeAngelo remains unsigned and we recently hypothesized that it would cost upwards of $3.75MM to re-sign him. Even if DeAngelo opts for a one-year deal like Lemieux, he would still be asking for at least $3MM. The team will likely have to make a move to free up the space to sign yet another young player coming off a breakout season who shows signs of only just beginning to reach his full potential.