The Blueshirts are expected to be very busy this offseason as they look to contend for a playoff spot next season. They started the offseason off in a very encouraging direction by announcing the hiring of Gerard Gallant as head coach. Gallant will replace David Quinn after three seasons with the team. Gallant’s job will be to get the Rangers in the playoffs and get them competing for the Stanley Cup ASAP. However, we all know the Rangers are still missing a few pieces and have areas in the game that need addressing. Most notably standing out were their performances against the Islanders with the season on the line and not having an immediate answer for Tom Wilson. Many believe the Rangers will be looking to “get tougher” this offseason and be looking to revamp the bottom six. Let’s take a look at players who are guaranteed to be on the opening night roster barring a major blockbuster trade.











               The Rangers are currently projected to have just under 24 million in cap space but they’ll likely buy out outcast Tony DeAngelo which will save the Rangers another 4.4 million this season according to Capfriendly. So, with about 28 million to work with, the Rangers will easily be able to afford to resign Pavel Buchnevich, Igor Shesterkin, and Filip Chytil which is almost a guaranteed lock.

               The Seattle Kraken expansion draft will happen prior to the start of free agency and they will be selecting one person from each team. The Rangers are expected to lose one of Brett Howden, Julien Gauthier, Colin Blackwell, or Kevin Rooney. Howden and Gauthier are Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) and will need new contracts if they remain on the Rangers roster following the draft whereas Blackwell and Rooney are currently under contract for next season.

               The Rangers aren’t expected to be in on any of the big free agents this season such as Taylor Hall or Dougie Hamilton. General Manager and Team President Chris Drury is expected to target players that fit the roles the Rangers so desperately crave. Those roles are: a top-six center if the opportunity presents itself, one or two bottom-six forwards, and a veteran defender who can provide depth.

               Second Line Center:

               Ryan Strome is the current second-line center and is under contract for next season. He has proven himself to be an important part of the Rangers lineup and he has shown his chemistry with star winger Artemi Panarin is at the highest of levels. Strome is the favorite to start on the second line and is more than serviceable but if an opportunity presented itself for an upgrade the Rangers would likely jump on it in a heartbeat.

               Nazem Kadri

               Is Nazem Kadri even available? Most likely not but has he left a bad taste in the mouths of the Avalanche organization after being suspended for most of their playoff run? Colorado also has young and upcoming centers that are breaking into the NHL such as Alex Newhook. Trading Kadri would open up ice time for them. While it is a long shot given that Colorado is looking to win right now, the 30-year-old fits all the checkmarks the Rangers are looking for. Kadri can put up points – similar point totals to Strome. Kadri is a physical player and makes them tougher to play against. Kadri is also responsible in the defensive zone and he has finished with a faceoff percentage of 52% or higher in each of the past three seasons. The Rangers as a team finished with a faceoff percentage of 44.5% this past season which was good for last in the NHL.

               Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

               Nugent-Hopkins is a free agent and would not cost anything to acquire besides cap space. But with cap space going to be at a premium in the upcoming seasons, the Rangers would be wise not to spend on Nugent-Hopkins unless they are sure he is the exact piece that they need. The 28-year-old is essentially a slightly better Strome but given Strome’s chemistry and that he will be cheaper once his contract is up – signing Nugent-Hopkins would be head-scratching.

               Ryan O’ Reilly

               Are the Blues in rebuild/retool mode yet? Maybe not quite but they do have an aging roster with many upcoming free agents in the next two seasons. Would they let go of their 30-year-old captain with two years left on his contract? Ryan O’Reilly isn’t expected to be on the market but he would be a very good candidate if somehow the Rangers could pry him from St. Louis. The package wouldn’t be cheap but the Canadian center would fit every checkbox. He is roughly a point per game player, responsible on defense, makes the Rangers tougher to play against, brings leadership to the young Rangers and he has a career faceoff win percentage over 55%. To acquire O’Reilly, the Rangers would be starting with sending Strome, the 15th overall pick, plus a crucial asset such as Zac Jones, Matthew Robertson, Filip Chytil, etc. And even that may not be enough to secure O’Reilly’s services. But unless the Blues were looking to get younger O’ Reilly won’t be available on the market and the Rangers won’t have to worry about putting a package together.

               Tomas Hertl

               The San Jose Sharks are currently rebuilding and trying to get younger. Tomas Hertl is their second-line center behind Logan Couture and he will be entering the final year of his contract before he is an unrestricted free agent in 2022. Hertl has averaged at least .75 points per game in each of the past three seasons and he has finished with at least a 50% faceoff win percentage in seven of eight seasons in the NHL. The 27-year-old could be acquired for a less package than some other players on this list or he could even be signed in the 2022 free agency period. The Czech Republican would a very good candidate for the second line if he could be had for the price.

               Aleksander Barkov 

               The exact player the Rangers could use is Aleksander Barkov. The Finnish forward is currently 25-years-old and he is entering the last year of his contract before he hits unrestricted free agency like Hertl. Barkov puts up a ton of points and he has won at least 53% of his faceoffs in each of the past four seasons. Barkov is a very reliable defender as demonstrated by his winning of the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the league during the 2020-2021 season. At 6’3, Barkov instantly makes the Rangers a tougher team to play against and gives them a new threat to worry about. There are a few problems that make this seem close to impossible. First off, Barkov would have to want to leave Florida. The Panthers finished second in the Central Division this season before being eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. If Barkov would want to leave Florida, the Rangers would have to come up with a package that would suit the Panthers’ needs. It wouldn’t be a “Jack Eichel package” given that Barkov is on the final year of his deal and Eichel is considered by many as a franchise player whereas Barkov is slightly below that. But it would still cost the Rangers a pretty penny to acquire the Finland native. The final hurdle would be the contract it takes to resign Barkov whether that would be acquiring him through a trade or signing him as a UFA. Barkov would get a max-length deal and command at least nine million. The Rangers couldn’t afford to do that without finding a way to trade Chris Kreider or Jacob Trouba who both have a full no-move clause. The other way would be to not resign Mika Zibanejad who is due for a big raise next offseason. The idea of getting a second-line center is to acquire someone who would be able to play a separate line and support Zibanejad not to have to cut ties with him. Barkov played under Gallant in Florida when he was first entering the league. The relationship between the pair could prove to be a key factor or a deal-breaker.

               Bottom Six Forwards

               Casey Cizikas

               Would Casey Cizikas be willing to join the Islanders off rivals this offseason as a UFA? That would be quite the story and it wouldn’t be the first time it has happened. If Cizikas wanted to stay in the New York area it would likely be with the Rangers. Cizikas is almost certain to fall victim to the salary cap the Islanders will no longer be able to afford the luxury of having Cizikas on the fourth line. Cizikas has a three million cap hit and while he doesn’t score a ton of points, he is exactly what you want in a hockey player. Someone who plays the game hard brings some grit, kills penalties, etc.  The problem for signing Cizikas would be that he is a luxury on the bottom six. Cizikas’s salary this season was more than the entire Rangers fourth line combined. They could afford Cizikas this season but after that, it could affect the ability to sign core players. Cizikas has earned himself a multi-year deal that will likely see him get paid about 3.5 million a season over the course of two or three years.

               Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman

               A duo of players from the Tampa Bay Lightning that the Rangers should target is Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman. Both have proven to be excellent role players on a Stanley Cup winning team and one or both could be acquired during free agency. Both are almost guaranteed to be on their way out of Tampa Bay due to them already being 17 million dollars over the salary cap. The one disadvantage of both Goodrow and Coleman is that like Cizikas, they are luxury wingers for the bottom six that will each command at least 2.5 million a season with term.

               Tomas Nosek

               Tomas Nosek is a versatile player who can play both left-wing and center. Nosek took just shy of 400 faceoffs during the 2020-2021 season and he won over 51% of them. The Czech Republican native makes a lot of sense for the Rangers to target given the circumstances. Nosek will likely be a victim of the Vegas salary cap situation and hit free agency as a UFA. He fits what the Rangers need as a role player who can make the Rangers tougher to play against. More importantly, Nosek played under Gallant for 2.5 seasons in Vegas and knows exactly what can be expected from him. Lastly, Nosek will come in at a cheaper price tag if the Rangers are giving the bottom six players some term on the contracts.

               Getting “Tougher”

               Matthew Tkatchuk

               According to Sportsnet Analyst Shane O’ Brien, Matthew Tkachuk may want out of Calgary. If that is true, Tkachuk would be someone who the Blueshirts should be highly interested in. And best of all, the price tag to acquire Tkachuk wouldn’t be nearly as high as it would for someone like Eichel or Barkov. Tkachuk finished this past season with 43 points in 56 games. He is a skilled player who also likes to get under the skin of the opposition – a similar pest skilled-pest style to Wilson or Brad Marchand. To acquire the 23-year-old a contract would have to go back the other way and the likely man would be Buchnevich. At 26-years-old Buchnevich is likely to be looking for some term on his next contract after taking a bridge contract which would make it tough to have both Buchnevich and Tkachuk. But given Buchnevich’s break-out season with 48 points in 54 games along with adding penalty killing to his game, the Rangers would likely be able to save elsewhere in a trade. Could something like Buchnevich, a B+ prospect, and pick 15 be enough? This is just pure speculation and the report of Tkachuk wanting to leave Calgary may not even be true. The Rangers may have big plans for Buchnevich and rightfully so given his stellar play last season. The other issue is that Tkachuk makes seven million already and is due for a contract next season where his cap hit would likely be north of eight million with a lot of term.

               Depth Defenders

               The Rangers are in need of one or two depth defenders who can come in and play some top-six minutes in case of an injury. The top four of the Rangers is expected to remain the same to start the season with the bottom pair being up for grabs. Nils Lundkvist and Zac Jones are the early favorites to start on the third defensive pairing. But should Gallant deem one of them not being “NHL ready” the Rangers do need some contingency plans. Anthony Bitteto is signed and will be one of the depth defenders.

               Brendan Smith

               Brendan Smith’s contract is up after making over four million a season. While he didn’t quite live up to the contract, he is still a leader in the locker room and did a fairly good job when slotted into the lineup. He is versatile and can play either the left or right side – or he could play on the fourth forward line if things get desperate. Smith’s versatility and willingness to step up and defender a teammate is worth a one-year extension.

               Libor Hajek

               Once the main piece of the Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller trade to Tampa – Hajek hasn’t been what the Rangers had hoped he would be. At 23-years-old Hajek has been in and out of the lineup and has had some consistency issues. Hajek is currently an RFA and will be protected from Seattle due to the Rangers having that extra slot available. Hajek can be had for cheap and makes sense to resign to at least play in Hartford if he is not traded.

               Jared Tinordi

               Jarred Tinordi was claimed off waivers by the Bruins and did a very nice job filling in given the circumstances. Tinordi is not a point scorer and is strictly a stay-at-home defenseman. At 29-years-old Tinordi could be had for cheap and help lead kids in Hartford and play in the NHL. If some of the kids need a break or don’t quite live up to the hype, Tinordi would be some much-needed insurance. In addition, Tinordi is 6’6 and would provide some much-needed height and toughness to the lineup.