On the eve of the opening of training camp, the Rangers, who have had a busy summer, completed one last bit of business before players report for physicals when the team announced late Wednesday night via Twitter that it had signed restricted free agent forward Brendan Lemieux to a one-year contract.
The signing leaves the Rangers with one last unsigned RFA, defenseman Tony DeAngelo.
Unsigned RFAs have been the big news this summer with the entire league paying attention to the drama surrounding Toronto’s Mitch Marner and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine, among others, who remain unsigned as training camps open.
DeAngelo and Lemieux aren’t in the class of Marner and Laine, but both are considered important parts of the Rangers’ roster for 2019-20, and by bringing in Lemieux, 23, the Rangers have brought back a player who provided them with grit at the end of last season, after he arrived from Winnipeg in the trade that sent Kevin Hayes to the Jets. Lemieux had three goals, three assists and 44 penalty minutes in 19 games with the Rangers last season, and had 12 goals, five assists and 108 PIMs in 63 games overall for Winnipeg and the Rangers.
The numbers on Lemieux’s contract were not immediately available. The left wing, whose father, Claude, is his agent, had previously balked at signing his one-year, qualifying offer of $874,125. But the Rangers had held firm, and, the reality was, after having shelled out big money to sign free agent forward Artemi Panarin and defenseman Jacob Trouba (an RFA with arbitration rights) this summer, the Rangers didn’t have much room under the salary cap to pay Lemieux and DeAngelo much more than their qualifying offers of $874,125.
According to CapFriendly, prior to signing Lemieux, the Rangers were about $2.1 million under the $81.5 million salary cap, with a projected roster that featured 12 forwards, five defensemen and two goalies, not including DeAngelo and Lemieux. Presuming Lemieux accepted his qualifying offer, they now would have little more than $1.2 million left without DeAngelo in the fold. (CapFriendly’s projected roster also doesn’t include 2018 first round pick Vitali Kravtsov and his $925,000 cap hit. It seems unlikely Kravtsov would fail to make the team, but there are other players who might not make it if he does.)
Forward Matt Beleskey won’t be coming to training camp, and will report directly to AHL Hartford, which will save $1.1 million in cap space, and if defenseman Brendan Smith is assigned to Hartford, that would save money as well. It’s also possible GM Jeff Gorton could make a trade in camp to open some space and create room for Lemieux and DeAngelo.
Having chosen to buy out the contract of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, the 23-year-old DeAngelo, would be one of three NHL-ready righthanded-shooting, offensive-minded defensemen on the roster. Trouba was acquired in June from Winnipeg in a deal that returned the first-round pick the Rangers got in the Hayes deal and sent defenseman Neal Pionk to the Jets. Rookie Adam Fox, the Jericho native who was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award last season with Harvard, is the other righty defensemen.
As far as the other players who are certain to be in camp, the additions of Panarin, Trouba, No. 2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko, Fox and Kravtsov should improve the talent on the roster enough so the Rangers would figure to be in the hunt all season for a possible playoff spot. It will be interesting, in training camp to see how the new pieces fit in with the rest of the returning members of the team. Presumably Panarin will play on the first line with center Mika Zibanejad. Could Kakko, 18, be the third member of that line?