NEW YORK, NY – The New York Rangers training camp opened yesterday as the new NHL season approaches. The Blueshirts signaled their intentions to rebuild a year and a half ago. This summer they made it clear that the (current) rebuild is over by signing marquis free agent Artemi Panarin and defenseman Jacob Trouba, shelling out just under $20 million per season for the pair. That amounts to about a quarter of the salary cap for the pair.
With the big name free agent signings and some savvy draft picks over the last couple of seasons, the Rangers look primed to make a push for the playoffs this season. After this season, though, they may look very different. Chris Kreider will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and will most certainly not re-sign. They won’t have the money.
On top of the money tied up in Panarin and Trouba, the Rangers will have a $6 million cap hit for buying out Kevin Shattenkirk next year. The Shattenkirk buyout didn’t make a lot of sense. It would have been much better to buy out Brendan Smith who had less years left on his contract and a lower cap hit. Spending $6 million for a player that isn’t on the team next year makes no sense to me.
Maybe the Rangers know something about Henrik Lundqvist that we don’t. Hank will have one year left on his contract heading into next summer. If he decides to retire then the Rangers would get some cap relief from having that $8.5 million cap hit off the books. I don’t think he’ll retire, though. And I don’t think the Rangers would buy him out. So that cap hit will still be there next season.
One thing the Broadway Blues have going for them is that they have a host of players on entry level contracts. Guys like Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, and 2nd overall pick Kaapo Kakko will cost the Blueshirts less than $1 million each. Kakko has been lighting it up at the Traverse City tournament. On Monday he assisted three goals and scored the winner in overtime with a double wrap-around goal.
Kakko has NHL size and strength as an 18-year old and he’s got plenty in the skills department. He should stay with the big club for the entire season and all signs point to the young Finn being a finalist for the Calder Trophy by the end of the season.
So… There is a lot to look forward to for the NY Rangers this season. They should be a really fun team to watch with a mix of big money superstars and young talent. This isn’t a Cup-ready team by any means, but they very well could be a playoff team. They will have to trade Kreider during the season, since they have no chance at signing the unrestricted free agent. They could keep him around and let him walk for free next summer, but if they can strengthen the team long-term with prospects by trading him, they will.
The money situation leads me to believe that the Rangers will be competitive this season but will probably be back in a bit of a rebuild next season. But maybe John Davidson and Jeff Gorton have a few tricks up their sleeves. Time will tell.