With their sights set on a Stanley Cup, the New York Rangers found themselves active buyers at last year’s trade deadline. Though the team made a few additions, forward Andrew Copp, who the team acquired from the Winnipeg Jets, stole most of the attention. However, the team would have one of the more underrated deadline pickups, bringing in two-way energy forward Tyler Motte from the Vancouver Canucks. While it was the likes of Copp, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Artemi Panarin that drove the Rangers offense up front, Motte showed through his complete game just how valuable he was to a team that was able to make a deeper playoff run than many had anticipated.
At age 27, Motte is a veteran of six NHL seasons, spending time with the Rangers and Canucks, as well as the Columbus Blue Jackets and Chicago Blackhawks, who originally drafted him in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. He debuted in 2016-17 with Chicago, but was dealt that offseason alongside Panarin to the Blue Jackets. Columbus dealt him just a few months later in the trade that brought Thomas Vanek the other way from Vancouver. Motte spent parts of five seasons in Vancouver prior to this season’s trade to the Rangers, where he would interestingly be teammates with Panarin on the third different team in as many seasons played together.
Never known much for his offensive game, Motte has made a career for himself out of being a high-energy and defensively reliable forward who can play in all situations. This season represented arguably his best, putting up seven goals and eight assists in 58 games, all of those coming in the 49 games he played for Vancouver. His highest point total came in 2018-19, where he had 16, however that came over 74 games. Where Motte becomes increasingly valuable is his ability to contribute on the penalty kill and to play in his own zone, which most notably includes a career 71% defensive zone starts percentage versus 29% in the offensive zone. In other words, Motte is capable and trusted to play important shifts of defensive hockey for his teams.
This summer is Motte’s first on the open market, coming off a two-year, $2.45MM contract that featured a $1.225MM AAV, having previously been an RFA. Although news has been quiet in regards to his free agency, there was plenty of chatter surrounding the veteran ahead of the market opening up, having impressed with his overall game and his poise in the Rangers playoff run, where he contributed two goals in 15 games. Despite the lack of interest, Motte’s game, and presumably lower price tag, will be enticing to clubs looking to add a smart, veteran winger to their bottom-six with a playoff run in mind.
2021-22: 58 GP, 7-8-15, +2 rating, 22 PIMs, 101 shots, 39.9 CF%, 67.9% dZS%, 14:01 ATOI
Career: 269 GP, 35-27-62, -22 rating, 76 PIMs, 403 shots, 39.4 CF%, 71.0 dZS%, 12:56 ATOI
Motte’s game is one that could suit any one of the NHL’s 32 teams, from playoff teams and Cup-contenders looking to add a smart, hard-worker that knows what he’s doing, to young up-and-coming teams that could add a veteran to help their inexperienced talent take another step, to rebuilders who are looking to add a spark that will help the rest of the team play the right way. Still, while there is likely no shortage of good fits, many teams are facing a cap crunch or a roster crunch, and adding a player like Motte, who as good as he is in his own zone, doesn’t bring much offensively, is a tough sell.
Some had wondered if a reunion with the Rangers could be in the cards for Motte. The fit is right, especially after his stint with the club, but with just over $1MM in salary cap space, bringing the forward back could be tough. Speaking of reunions, the Blackhawks could be an interesting option, as the team has stripped down many of its key parts, looking to start over with a more extensive rebuild. The organization has brought in several veterans in free agency including Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou both on one-year deals and could look to do the same, perhaps retrieving an asset at this year’s deadline for what could be a popular rental.
The Minnesota Wild, who are actively looking for another forward could be an option, with ample cap space to accommodate Motte. However, it’s unclear what kind of player they would want, the team losing 85 points in the departure of Kevin Fiala and though there’s no option readily available to replace that production, there are other options out there that could provide more offensively than Motte can.
Motte came in 37th on PHR’s 2022 Top 50 UFAs list, predicting a landing spot with the Nashville Predators on a projected contract of four-years and $7MM, an AAV of $1.75MM. That contract would have represented a relatively significant raise for Motte and a doubling of term from his previous contract. At this point in free agency, with many teams spending all they had allotted on the free agent market, it’s unlikely Motte will be able to secure a contract of that length or salary. Still, Motte has proven he is worthy of a guaranteed one-way contract and there are more than a handful of teams remaining with salary cap space and a roster spot to offer. There is plenty of time until training camps open up and a couple of notable pieces remaining on the free agent market, chief among them being Nazem Kadri. As teams continue to gain clarity with additional signings and possibly miss out on a target they still have, Motte could see his own market gain some traction, even if it is not for the contract he might have hoped for or that we predicted for him.