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Blueshirts set for busy offseason filled with major storylines

This offseason has the potential to be a franchise-altering one for the New York Rangers, with plenty of talented young prospects, high draft picks and cap space to potentially land one or two marquee free agents.BARI D | Flickr

With the regular season and the NHL Draft Lottery in the books, the New York Rangers now shift their focus toward the offseason. This summer marks a crucial step for the Blueshirts, as the front office will look to accelerate the team’s rebuild. 

While it should be an exciting next few months, general manager Jeff Gorton and company will have some extremely difficult decisions to make. 

Making the Rangers Great Again

As a result of Glen Sather’s decision to step down from his role as team president, the Blueshirts are in search of a replacement. Sather and team owner James Dolan will lead the search for New York’s new headman. Gorton’s job is not at risk, as he will remain the franchise’s general manager.

When it comes to finding the man who will work alongside Gorton to bring the Rangers back to relevancy, New York has not casted its net wide nor far. The Blueshirts’ brass currently has a particular candidate in mind: John Davidson.

Davidson, a former Rangers goaltender turned broadcaster, has spent the last number of years as the president of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Davidson would be an excellent hire for the Blueshirts. The only setback in prying him away from Columbus would be the success they had this postseason.

The Luck of the Draw

Thanks to the fortunate bounces of ping pong balls, the Rangers were able to take a major step forward in their rebuild, landing the coveted second-overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. 

This was the ideal landing spot for Gorton, as either Kaapo Kakko or Jack Hughes will fall into his lap. The Blueshirts will add a franchise-altering talent with this pick, marking Broadway’s first true superstar since the days of Marian Gaborik and Jaromir Jagr.

Hughes and Kakko both play very different styles, but they are equally effective. Kakko is a big Finnish sniper, who relies on his size, strength and blistering shot. Hughes is an American playmaker, whose specialty is his quickness, speed and vision. Both are quality options and with the second pick in the draft, the Rangers will receive quite the consolation prize.

The Russian Five and the heir to the King

This is not referring to the Detroit Red Wings of the late 1980s, rather about New York’s five Russians. Vladislav Namestnikov, Pavel Buchnevich and Alexandar Georgiev had all already made the voyage over to the NHL, and now Vitali Kravtsov and Igor Shesterkin will be joining the Rangers next season. These two new young Russians are potential game-changers.

Kravtsov, the ninth overall pick from the 2018 draft, has seen his stock rise dramatically after a solid year in the KHL. 

At only 19 years old, he is being regarded as one of the league’s top prospects, after recording one of the best seasons for an under-20 player in the KHL. He should provide a boost to the Blueshirts’ inconsistent and sometimes anemic offense.

Shesterkin will finally make his long-awaited arrival next season. He joins New York’s crowded goal crease that is already occupied by aging stud Henrik Lundqvist and up-and-comer Alexandar Georgiev. 

First thing’s first, Lundqvist is not going anywhere anytime soon. This leaves the Rangers with a bit of a dilemma. Georgiev has shown flashes of great potential, and he put together a solid 2018-2019 campaign. 

On the other hand, Shesterkin comes over as the NHL’s top goalie prospect and the man who was regarded as the expected heir to King Henrik prior to the unexpected rise of Georgiev. 

Shesterkin had a ridiculously incredible season with SKA Saint Petersburg in the KHL, posting a 24-3-1 record with a 1.11 goals-against-average and a .953 save percentage. He also has the best goals-against-average in KHL history for goaltenders with at least 50 starts. The addition of Shesterkin will only make things more complicated.

The two Russian netminders could battle it out to see who gets to back up Lundqvist and eventually take over the reins as the Blueshirts’ goaltender. The problem is that the loser of this battle is likely going to become expendable. 

There’s no point in having Georgiev or Shesterkin sit in Hartford for the next couple of years so a trade seems necessary. 

Either Georgiev or Shesterkin will likely be dealt, yet as crazy as it sounds, the Rangers would probably be better off saying goodbye to Lundqvist and investing in the Russians.

Big-Name Hunting

The Rangers will definitely be looking to bolster their roster via trades and free agency. Columbus sniper Artemi Panarin will be Gorton’s top target when he likely hits unrestricted free agency on July 1.

In order to make the Panarin acquisition a reality, Gorton is probably going to have to pony up and hand Panarin a blank check. The proposition of playing in Florida, where there is no state tax, and having the chance to reunite with former coach Joel Quenneville will definitely be attractive to the Russian superstar. The Rangers are going to have to give Panarin an offer he cannot refuse.

Luckily, there are plenty of other high-end players that could become available, who will serve as backup plans. Matt Duchene, Erik Karlsson and Anders Lee could all become unrestricted free agents, and others such as Mitch Marner and Brayden Point will be restricted free agents. Offering either Marner or Point — or both — an offer sheet would be enticing and not surprising at all.

Karlsson has long been linked to the Blueshirts. They have the cap space and they need help on the back-end. His injury history could be the only concerning factor. Karlsson would not be opposed to joining the Rangers and taking a run at the Stanley Cup alongside Lundqvist.

If things do not work out in free agency, the Rangers could also address their blue line needs through the trade market. The combination of a disappointing first round exit and a salary-cap-crunch could cause the Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators to try and shake things up. This could result in the departures of Jacob Trouba and P.K. Subban, respectively. The Blueshirts would most likely take a swing at acquiring either one of these two stud defensemen. 

The only problem is that Gorton would have to offer up a significant package that would likely include forward Chris Kreider.

Contract Conundrums

Lastly, Gorton is going to have to make some interesting decisions on his youngsters this summer. Buchnevich, Tony DeAngelo, Neal Pionk and Brendan Lemieux are all set to become restricted free agents, and all four of them will likely be returning to the Big Apple. The question is what their next contracts will look like. All of these guys have shown flashes of promise, but they have also all disappeared at times, or been a liability as in Pionk’s case. 

Signing all of the aforementioned players to bridge deals would be a colossal mistake that would put the Rangers in salary cap hell for years to come. On the other hand, it would be too much of a risk being locked into six years of Pionk, especially if he continues to play the way he did this past year. It is all about minimizing risk and maximizing rewards.

With the addition of young defensive star prospect Adam Fox, there is no place for Pionk on New York’s blue line, meaning the Rangers should trade him for whatever they can get.

This offseason could be a defining one, where the Rangers could put themselves in a prime position for sustainable future success.

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