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The NHL’s offseason may be shorter than usual, but the Rangers still have a lengthy to-do list to get through before the start of 2021-22.
After the Lightning hoisted the Stanley Cup for the second consecutive season Wednesday night in Tampa following their victory over the Canadiens, not only did the offseason officially begin, but — more importantly for the Rangers — it ignited the 24-hour countdown to the opening of the buyout window. This is where the Rangers’ offseason agenda likely begins.
The Rangers are expected to buy out the final year of Tony DeAngelo’s contract as soon as possible, rather than exposing the 25-year-old defenseman in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, which is set for July 21.
This is the most cost-effective route for the Rangers, especially since it is clear the Kraken wouldn’t take DeAngelo. Plus, considering DeAngelo is under 26, the buyout amounts to only one-third of his remaining salary instead of two-thirds.
DeAngelo, whose postgame physical altercation with goalie Alexandar Georgiev early in the season was the last straw for the Rangers, will leave the organization with a cap charge of $383,000 next season and $883,000 in 2022-23. He will become an unrestricted free agent.
With the addition of DeAngelo’s numbers, new team president and general manager Chris Drury will have nearly $4.5 million in dead money to manage along with the lingering buyouts of Henrik Lundqvist ($1.5 million), Kevin Shattenkirk ($1.4 million) and Dan Girardi ($1.1 million).
Once DeAngelo is dealt with, Drury will have to submit his final protection list for the expansion draft at 5 p.m. on July 17.
Having one of the youngest rosters in the NHL actually plays in the Rangers’ favor when it comes to this year’s expansion draft, which is guaranteed to take one Blueshirt. Key forwards like Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov and Morgan Barron are exempt, as are defensemen K’Andre Miller, Zac Jones, Nils Lundkvist and Norris Trophy-winner Adam Fox. Goalie Igor Shesterkin, who is coming off his rookie season, is also ineligible to be exposed.
As a result, it’s likely the Rangers will utilize the standard protection format of seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie. Assuming the Kraken is looking to poach a forward, the Rangers have Julien Gauthier, Brett Howden, Kevin Rooney and Colin Blackwell sitting on the outs of their core team.
Only one of those four forwards can be protected along with no-brainers like Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin (because of their no-movement clauses), Pavel Buchnevich, Ryan Strome and Filip Chytil.
Under the previous staff of David Quinn, Jeff Gorton and John Davidson, it was apparent the penalty-killing Howden was valued the most of those four. But Drury and new head coach Gerard Gallant could view things differently.
Players like Rooney and Blackwell could be enticing options for Seattle, but Kraken general manager Ron Francis is familiar with Gauthier after drafting the bulky winger 21st overall in 2016 when he was at the helm of the Hurricanes.
On the defensive end, the Rangers have just four defensemen under contract for next season who are not exempt from the expansion draft in DeAngelo, Jacob Trouba, Ryan Lindgren and Anthony Bitetto. With Trouba’s no-movement clause, DeAngelo’s impending buyout and Lindgren’s newly signed three-year extension, Bitetto is the only logical option to fulfil the requirement of exposing at least one defenseman under contract. Libor Hajek, who is a pending restricted free agent and has underwhelmed in his first 77 NHL games, likely would’ve been exposed if not for DeAngelo’s banishment from the team.
While Georgiev is expected to be protected, there’s a slim chance Seattle could target Keith Kinkaid after the 32-year-old netminder posted a solid 2020-21 campaign despite limited opportunities.
Drury will probably wait to see how the expansion draft unfolds before making any blockbuster deals he may be considering. With the entry draft scheduled to take place July 23-24 and free agency beginning on July 28, Drury has ample time to sort through the Rangers’ heap of assets.
The Rangers are overflowing with top-six talent and need to make room for players who can balance out the lines. And after stockpiling first-round picks since 2017, the Rangers can surely afford to use the 15th-overall selection in 2021 that they landed in this year’s lottery as trade bait.
Drury is tasked with fulfilling the teams’ need for a 1B center, rounding out a young back end with presumably a veteran presence or two and adding some meat-and-potatoes type players into the top nine who can give the lineup some snarl.
So much to do, so little time.
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