Stay or Go? Rangers’ free agents pose interesting conundrum for 2023 offseason

Rangers stay or go offseason plans
New York Rangers’ Vladimir Tarasenko (91) celebrates with teammates after scoring the game-winning goal during overtime in an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Wednesday, March 1, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
AP Photos

Free Agency doesn’t begin for another month for the NHL but the New York Rangers have some serious decisions to make regarding the future of their franchise. 

Finding a head coach is definitely the top priority for general manager Chris Drury, but solidifying the young core behind their stars will be a focus for the top Rangers’ executive. Unfortunately for Drury, the team only has $12 million in cap space and several key free agents they’ll need to find a place for should they try and continue to be a contender in a loaded Eastern Conference. 

So as we get closer to the Rangers’ finding their coach, and the Stanley Cup Finals, let’s look at the pending free agents the team will need to decide if they should let go, or keep on long-term deals. 

K’Andre Miller – Stay

Miller enjoyed a career year in terms of points with the Blueshirts but definitely struggled at times with consistency. He had a poor playoff series vs. New Jersey and, along with Jacob Trouba, gave up 56 goals this year – second-most across the entire NHL this past regular season. That being said, Miller is still just 23 and it would be difficult to let a player clearly entering his prime walk for nothing in return. The Rangers are going to get a deal done, but it may be less than what Miller was expecting on the open market. If a deal is worth close to $4 million, the team could stay flexible with other players on the roster.

Alexis Lafreniere – Stay

Lafreniere is a very difficult player to judge. On one hand, the former first-overall pick had a career year in points and showed vast improvement at times with his Kid Line partners. On the other, he was benched, shut out during the playoff series against the Devils, and still has issues with his skating ability. At 21 years old, the Rangers would make a huge mistake by letting Laffy walk for nothing or try and trade him, but the RFA deal the top prospect will have is probably going to be significantly less than expected – a deal similar but less than Kaapo Kakko’s would make a lot of sense. 

Vladimir Tarasenko – Stay

If the Rangers lock up Miller and Lafreniere to deals that total four-five million dollars, that would leave roughly seven-eight million left over for a potential Tarasenko extension. Should the former Blue take a pay cut to stay with New York, this is an absolute no-brainer move. The Rangers looked really good following Tarasenko’s trade and he would be the kind of right-winger the team desperately needs to allow Kaapo Kakko to flourish on the top line. It’s going to be close, but the Rangers should try everything to keep the Russian forward here in New York. A trade of Barclay Goodrow could open enough cap space to do it though. 

Patrick Kane – Go

Patrick Kane is one of the best modern hockey players over the last decade but he has a hip issue that might require surgery, and there’s no guarantee he’s going to take less to stay around a team that isn’t a very good fit for his overall talents. With Chicago securing the rights to Connor Bedard, it’s probably more likely Kane goes back as opposed to staying in New York. 

Tyler Motte – Go

Tyler Motte is a fourth-line menace that could help the Rangers tremendously next season should they try and move Barclay Goodrow. That being said, top prospects like Will Cuylle and Brennan Othmann have deserved some looks with the major league club and it would be a mistake for any new coach to sit young prospects over a player like Motte. As a locker room presence, he’s important, but this is about the future viability of the Rangers. 

Niko Mikkola – Go

The Rangers and Drury specifically really like Mikkola and for good reason. The young defenseman played well when he was brought in as part of the Tarasenko deal and could offer more help for the team to solidify the final defensive pairing with Braden Schneider. That being said, New York has a very deep pipeline of strong and dependable defensive prospects like Zac Jones and Matthew Robertson that are expected to make a run at the starting roster this year. It just doesn’t make sense for Mikkola to stay based on that alone. 

Jaroslav Halak – Go

New York needs a backup to Igor Shesterkin, but there’s no guarantee that Halak stays another year. Might be worth it for the Rangers to find a backup goalie a little younger and cheaper. 

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