Day One of free agency is in the books. It went as expected if you’re a Ranger fan. They didn’t do much. Committed to a rebuild, it appears there will be no quick fixes or overpaid stars coming to Broadway.
Instead, it looks like GM Jeff Gorton is staying true to his word. Something he and Team President Glen Sather promised following a public letter to the fans before the trade deadline. They vowed to make changes for the foreseeable future. It was time to revamp a paper thin farm system minus any blue chip prospects, aside from Russian goalie Igor Shestyerkin. A player who’s a year away from coming to North America.
Hopefully, ninth overall pick Vitali Kravtsov works out sooner than later. Especially if you go on what he said during a promising rookie camp. That he wants to be a Ranger sooner rather than stay in the KHL. There’s much to like about defense prospect K’Andre Miller, who Gorton moved up four spots to grab at number 22, even parting with the 48th pick. Some classified it as overpayment. But the mature Miller has a good head on his shoulders, and might be worth it. He is passionate about giving back to the community and speaks very elegantly. Hopefully, the package he’ll bring down the line will make Garden Faithful happy. Nils Lundkvist is a smooth skating D with puck handling skills and offensive potential. So, that first round was pretty good even without Oliver Wahlstrom, who was outspoken about the Rangers making a ‘mistake.’ Even with John Tavares gone, the rivalry between the Islanders and Rangers should be exciting for both fanbases to debate in the future.
Gorton made a pair of moves on Canada Day. One was re-signing forward Vladislav Namestnikov to a multi-year deal worth $8 million. Four million seems a bit high for the still unproven 25-year old Russian the Rangers acquired as part of the blockbuster trade that sent Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller to the Lightning. We’ll see if he can do better than the underwhelming two goals and two assists he picked up in 19 games under ex-coach Alain Vigneault. We know he can skate and make plays. There’s untapped potential. Hopefully, he can figure it out for rookie coach David Quinn.
The second move was one of those depth signings to possibly address some toughness on the blueline. Gorton signed former Senator Fredrik Claesson to a one-year contract for only $700,000. It’s a low risk move. The left shooting defenseman isn’t flashy, but physical. He’s only totaled 113 NHL games over three years with Ottawa, going 4-16-20 with a minus-eight rating.
This past season, he played in a career high 64 contests, registering a goal and six helpers with 35 penalty minutes and a minus-seven rating. He had 158 Hits and recorded 84 blocked shots. The glaring negative is his 33 giveaways as compared with 15 takeaways. For his career, Claesson has totaled 62 giveaways with only 28 takeaways. Yikes. Hopefully, he’s better than those statistics indicate. He averaged a shade over 15 minutes of ice time in ’17-18.
The 25-year old Swede will compete for a job in camp. If Kevin Shattenkirk, Brady Skjei and Marc Staal are the incumbents with sure jobs as the established leaders of the back end, then Neal Pionk, Tony DeAngelo, Brendan Smith, John Gilmour and Steven Kampfer should all have the inside track to the remaining four spots. Four because I figure they’ll only keep seven D and go with two extra forwards. Something they’ll be able to do much easier with so much cap room.
The Rangers currently rank third from the bottom with over $48 million on the salary cap. That’s with a estimated $78 million max. Once Gorton gets Skjei and Kevin Hayes taken care of, that should comprise at least established eight million. If they keep Jimmy Vesey and I don’t see why not with a college coach in town who’s familiar with what he brings, pencil him in for approximately $2 million.
That would leave about $20 million for Ryan Spooner, Gilmour and Ryan Sproul, who would be in Hartford. Gorton could always try to find a couple of bargains in a weak free agent class. Anthony Duclair is still available. Calvin de Haan is fielding offers from the Islanders, Devils and Rangers. I’m not surprised. I thought they would have interest in the defensive defenseman. I doubt he’ll sign with them. I believe the Devils will land him. It’s a good fit.
There’s really not much more to say. It’s going to be fairly quiet on the Ranger front. I’m okay with it. I want the kids to get a chance to compete for roster spots. So, I’m looking forward to seeing how Libor Hajek, Ryan Lindgren, Sean Day, Brett Howden, Ty Ronning, Ville Meskanen, and Michael Lindgren all look.
It’ll be very different this Fall. Enjoy the World Cup.