There is so much that we love about the summer, but the lack of on ice NHL action is a massive drawback. The cup has been hoisted, the entry draft is complete, and free agent frenzy is about to enter full swing, but we can all agree we already miss seeing our favorite teams battling it out after a long day of work or school. The anticipation is rapidly mounting to see what those teams will look like come October, especially so for New York Rangers fans, after watching a run to the Eastern Conference Finals that ended in a six game defeat to the back to back defending series champions in Tampa Bay. We’ll get caught up again after the dust settles from free agency, but for now let’s get a grasp on the off-season action so far.
The move that essentially signaled the beginning of Chris Drury’s off-season agenda came back in June, when 26 year old winger Sammy Blais was awarded a one year, $1.525m extension coming off a season that showed great promise early on, but ended far too soon as a result of an ACL tear courtesy of P.K. Slewban. Blais is a swiss army knife that can play anywhere up and down the lineup, is a wrecking ball on the forecheck, and is a proven playoff type of player, boasting a Stanley Cup ring from 2019 in St. Louis. He also thinks his sister is sexy. I can’t say that’s not super weird, but he is French Canadian so… Whatever, I’m over it.
Kaapo Kakko’s ELC has expired and is now a restricted free agent. The 2019 second overall pick is still struggling to meet expectations and he was benched in the game 6 loss to the Lighting in a controversial decision that, in reality, likely had little to no bearing on the outcome of the game that ended the Rangers season. There’s plenty of speculation surrounding the 21 year old winger suggesting he might be traded, (perhaps for Patrick Kane,) but the most likely scenario in my mind is a bridge extension somewhere in the $3m range that brings him to his last restricted free agent year. I understand the frustration with his lack of production, but I believe there is a good foundation there and I’d hate to see him become the player we thought he would be somewhere else.
Backup goaltender Alex Georgiev has been dealt to the cup champion Colorado Avalanche in exchange for a third round pick and a fifth round pick in the draft that just happened, and a third round pick the following year. I think we all knew Georgiev’s time in New York was up. He had some great moments this year, at the front of my mind is his shut out against the hurricanes, but the positives didn’t come close to cancelling out the negatives. A lot of his wins this year came in games he had a sub .900 save percentage. He often let in goals at pivotal moments of games that left you say “Igor would have had that…” That’s not to discredit his talent level though. I think this drop off in level of play goes back to the departure of Henrik Lundqvist. When Georgiev was in the mindset that the starting job was up for grabs and he had just as much of an opportunity as Shesterkin to grab it, he played up to his potential, most notably when he went on a heater against the Islanders when Shesterkin was seemingly always struggling against them. Shesterkin’s play against every other team got him the starting job though, and since then Georgiev hasn’t been the same. In Colorado, he will be the clear cut number one goalie, and that is what’s best for him mentally. The psyche of a goalie is very fickle and this is the opportunity he needs to get his straightened out.
As far as the unrestricted free agents, not much has been taken care of to this point besides Blais. Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp are testing the market. Frank Vatrano, Tyler Motte and Kevin Rooney appear to be set to do the same. I would be very cautious trying to retain these players. If Copp’s reported ask of $5.5m for six years is any indication of what the rest of the players are expecting, we’re better off without them. Now is not the time to hand out long term deals to players that are in their late twenties. I could see Ryan Strome eventually taking a team friendly deal, he really seems to enjoy being a part of this team, but his agent may convince him otherwise. If that’s the case, so be it. Strome is a decent offensive play driver, but his inability to finish plays at key moments has cost the Rangers countless times, and he simply isn’t the answer to the second line center position.
Julien Gauthier has requested a trade. I don’t really think anyone cares. There was a time I envisioned him becoming the next Chris Kreider. That was a long time ago. He has a limited arsenal and is even worse at finishing plays than our buddy Strome. I wish him the best, but I don’t think he’ll ever be an NHL regular.
Training camp has kicked off and the 2022 draft class is getting their first reps in Rangers colors. I don’t think anyone will be a regular on the NHL roster out of camp, but keep an eye on Bobby Trivigno on the Wolf Pack this year. A decorated player from UMass in the NCAA, he played the last third of the year with Hartford last season and was noticeably adjusting to pro hockey as the year winded down. He also graduated my high school a year before me, so I’m really hoping to see him with the big squad some day soon.
Next stop is free agency, and the pre season will be here before we know it. Hope everyone is doing rockstar shit all Summer long, we’ll catch up again soon.