Here is another reason, perhaps the most significant one, that the Rangers won’t be signing impending restricted free agent Tony DeAngelo to a multi-year contract and instead are seeking to trade the 24-year-old righty defenseman:
That is because a contract of longer than one year for DeAngelo would all but ensure losing 20-year-old righty defenseman Nils Lundkvist to unrestricted free agency on June 2, 2022, without ever getting the Swede to Broadway.
Teams hold exclusive rights to European-born draft picks through the fourth June 1 following their selection, per the CBA. Lundkvist was selected 28th overall in 2018 with the first-rounder obtained from Tampa Bay in the package for Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller. So, the Rangers hold his rights through June 1, 2022.
What do you think the odds would be of the highly regarded Swede signing in New York next summer, or the summer after that, knowing the Blueshirts have Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox and DeAngelo lined up long term on the right side of the blue line with free agency and a clearer path elsewhere to the NHL available on the open market?
Lundkvist chose to sign a contract to play in the SHL for 2020-21 rather than sign an entry-level deal with the Blueshirts that would have included a European assignment clause. The uniqueness and uncertainties surrounding next season and the state of COVID-19 in the U.S. may have been factors in the decision, but regardless, the Rangers have not yet gotten the offensively gifted athlete’s name on the dotted line.
The Rangers are going to need a steady flow of impact players on entry-level contracts over the next few years, at least, in order to support and counterbalance the pricey contracts at the top of the depth chart. Lundkvist would seem to fit that definition and fill that need.
DeAngelo had a dynamic 2019-20 with the puck. He flashed the ability to change games both at even-strength and on the power play. But the Rangers envision Fox taking command of the first unit. And, though DeAngelo’s deficiencies in his own end might be corrected playing within a tighter structure, No. 77 would still slot as the team’s third-pair righty.
In a no cap world, certainly not the flat one in which the NHL will live for the foreseeable future, can a team thrive by paying a third-pair defenseman the $5.5-to-$6 million to which DeAngelo would likely be entitled on a long-term deal. There seems no inclination to move DeAngelo to the left, where the Rangers do have an abundance of prospects beginning with K’Andre Miller, who has spent the summer in Connecticut training with the renowned Ben Prentiss.
No, the hierarchy will seek/is seeking to use DeAngelo in order to address a long-term solution to their second center spot. It is not as if the Rangers would be unable to live next season with Ryan Strome doing a reprise of his role, but the impending restricted free agent center with arbitration rights is just a year away from being eligible to hit the open market. A long-term arrangement is not likely. Hence, the Rangers are open for business.
Before identifying an individual target, management needs to identify the type of second-line center they’re seeking. Are they in the market for another high-end skill guy to fit among a passel of top-six options on the wing — including Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko, Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich and, presumably, Alexis Lafreniere? Or are they seeking a sturdier, physically imposing, two-way center in the mold of a Jordan Staal? This year’s postseason tournament has only reinforced the fact that you can’t prance down the yellow brick road and expect to make it all the way to Oz.
And, because of future considerations regarding the pending negotiations with Mika Zibanejad next offseason in advance of potential 2022 free agency, the Blueshirts will need to acquire a center who is either on his entry-level deal or early on a controllable second deal. That’s a fine needle to thread.
If they can’t do it, there should be no rush. Upper-echelon players will become unexpectedly available over the offseason (and into next season) because of the cash crunch every team will experience. It would make sense for the Rangers, who are going to be in a stress position because of the significant amount of dead space on the ledger, to be in position to pick them off.
They should use as much time as necessary. Because while a team literally will win the Stanley Cup in (this) September, no one is going to win the 2021 Cup in (this) November or December.
The Lightning are two victories from the Stanley Cup finals with a defense including Kevin Shattenkirk, Zach Bogosian, Luke Schenn and Braydon Coburn. Yes, of course, Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev and Ryan McDonagh, but the Rangers would be endlessly ridiculed for owning a blue line corps with the initial quartet that hardly fits the mobile mold.
That goes to structure, but structure with the puck every bit as much as without it. The hiring of Jacques Martin to replace Lindy Ruff as the assistant coach in charge of the defense was a slam dunk. But until the Rangers play more of a puck-possession game and at least limit the high-risk, high-reward style that has been in vogue on Broadway since John Tortorella’s departure following 2012-13, no assistant coach is going to be able to improve the team’s gap control and rush read defense.
If DeAngelo goes, the Rangers will need a righty for the third pair. There should be a multitude of veterans available on modest, one-year deals. Maybe Schenn, maybe Bogosian, maybe Michael Del Zotto, maybe Korbinian Holzer. There will be players flooding the market. The Blueshirts need to find only one of them.