In a summer where John Tavares is the headliner in NHL free agency, which starts Sunday at noon, the Rangers will be searching the free-agent pool several levels below Tavares’ level, scouring the bottom half of the market in an effort to bring in some footnotes — veteran guys who GM Jeff Gorton hopes will be able to teach his young roster how to play the game the right way.
For Gorton, though, the free-agent signing period won’t be just about signing free agents. Gorton is looking to build the right kind of roster by all the means he has at his disposal. Last weekend, the Rangers picked 10 young players in the NHL draft, and while Gorton certainly will be looking to sign some free agents, he’ll also be looking to make some trades, and that market figures to open up once some bigger-name free agents begin coming off the board.
When guys like Tavares, James Van Riemsdyk, Paul Stastny sign their big money contracts, that could end up forcing teams to trade away significant players to create salary cap space. Former Ranger J.T. Miller, for instance, recently re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning, which, according to CapFriendly.com, has about $5 million available under the $79 million salary cap. So, if the Lightning were to win the Tavares Derby, for example, they’d need to ship out some salary in order to fit Tavares’ megadeal under the cap.
“There are some good players out there that could be traded, and I think that a lot of teams set their sights on those guys, and then when they don’t get them, that may change what you’re doing,’’ Gorton said at the draft.
The Rangers, committed to their rebuilding plan, may be able to take advantage if someone becomes available because a team has to move salary. Gorton’s team has cap room — about $29 million, according to CapFriendly. And they have players, like perhaps Mats Zuccarello and some of their restricted free agents — Kevin Hayes, maybe, or Ryan Spooner, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jimmy Vesey, Brady Skjei, et al — to use as trade chips.
But as for free agency itself, and what the Rangers may be looking for, they may want a veteran goalie, if they don’t want to go with 22-year-old Aleksandar Georgiev or 26-year-old Marek Mazanec as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup. With enforcer Cody McLeod unlikely to return as an unrestricted free agent, they could use some toughness, if the guy can play a little. And, of course, if a veteran top-nine forward who can score goals is out there and willing to play for a reasonable number.