Barring a trade to shed significant salary, don’t expect any fireworks from the Rangers when the free-agent market opens Friday at noon. At this point, they don’t have the salary-cap space to add a lucrative long-term contract from the list of top players available.
The Blueshirts have $57.7 million committed to 15 players; that’s not counting the $925,000 for prospect Pavel Buchnevich, who is expected to make the roster. The salary cap is $73 million, which leaves about $14 million to spend on restricted free agents Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes (who together could receive about $9 million) and players to fill out the roster.
The going rate for the top-tier forwards (Kyle Okposo, Loui Eriksson, Milan Lucic, Andrew Ladd, David Backes) appears to be about $6 million per season. Like last year, many hockey executives believe there will be a flurry of signings early and then dead calm for a while.
Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton has been listening to trade offers but hadn’t found anything to his liking. Among the unconfirmed whispers has been the possibility of shipping Rick Nash ($7.8 million) west, possibly to Anaheim, which would open some cap room. And Colorado center Matt Duchene might be available for the right price.
Avoiding the first few days of free agency can lead to bargains. The cost of former Islanders fourth-liner Matt Martin, 26, who led the NHL in hits, likely will be prohibitive. Instead, Gorton might turn to options to add secondary scoring and speed.
Left wing Thomas Vanek, bought out by the Minnesota Wild, could be worth the risk on a low-cost one-year deal. Vanek, 32, had 18 goals and 41 points in 74 games. Jamie McGinn, 27, also a left wing, had 22 goals and 39 points with the Sabres and Ducks last season. Darren Helm, 28, the speedy Red Wings center, was 13-13-26 in 77 games last season. Former Islander Michael Grabner, a right wing with speed, had nine goals and 18 points in a limited role in Toronto.
Then there’s Joe Colborne and Brandon Pirri, who were not offered contracts by Calgary and Anaheim. The Rangers liked Pirri when he was with the Blackhawks. The center is 25 and has 49 goals and 78 points in 159 games. Colborne, 26, is a big center (6-5, 221 pounds) who was 19-25-44 in 73 games with the Flames.
The Rangers also will be in the hunt for Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey, but that won’t be resolved until Aug. 15, when he becomes a free agent. The 6-3 winger, who had 24 goals and 46 points in 33 games in his senior year and won the Hobey Baker Award, declined to sign with Nashville, which drafted him in 2012.
Possible free-agent targets for the Rangers:
Thomas Vanek. Bought out by Minnesota, the 32-year-old left wing could be worth the risk on a low cost, one-year deal, based on his power play production.
Jamie McGinn. The 27-year-old left wing scored a career-high 22 goals and 39 points with the Sabres and Ducks last season.
Joe Colborne. Big center did not receive a qualifying offer from Calgary. The 26-year-old was 19-25-44 in 73 games.
Brandon Pirri. Rangers had an eye on him with Blackhawks and Panthers before a trade to Ducks, who did not offer him a contract. He’s 25, a center, and has 49 goals and 78 points in 159 games.
Darren Helm. Speedy center, 28, has played entire career with Red Wings; 13-13-26 in 77 games last season.