Stay or Go? 2022 New York Rangers free agents pose interesting questions for Front Office

Rangers have decisions to make on pending free agents
New York Rangers right wing Kaapo Kakko (24) skates the puck up the ice in the second period of Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup second-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes, Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The New York Rangers shocked the NHL world with their 2021-22 season. After missing the playoffs for three of the last four years, the Blue Shirts got all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals before bowing out to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games. 

While a surprise season like this year is sure to get fans excited, being able to win consistently is what separates good teams from the mediocre. 

The good news for New York is that most of their core is locked up for the foreseeable future. According to CapFriendly, the Blue Shirts have just $12 million in cap space and plenty of free agents to decide on. 

So who will stay and who will go? Let’s get to it. 

Kaapo Kakko

A few months ago this decision was a no-brainer. The former second overall pick had finally seemed to find his niche within the “Kid Line” and the Rangers used that young fire to get all the way to the conference finals. But then, in a move that could be seen as a “panic-move” head coach Gerard Gallant benched Kakko in Game 6 against Tampa. While the Rangers have been open about making sure Kakko is still a part of the team’s future plans, you don’t bench one of your better younger players in a playoff series. The playoff experience is extremely important for young guys and to bench him only opened up unnecessary questions. 

Still, Kakko is a restricted free agent this year and the Rangers have all the leverage in this negotiation. It’s hard to see a team offer Kakko a massive extension, and the Rangers don’t necessarily have to bite either. 

Rangers Decision: Stay

Alexandar Georgiev

New York has their top goalie locked into a contract until 2025. After the playoffs that Shesterkin had, the need to pay top dollar for a backup just isn’t as important anymore. Georgiev had a cap hit of over $2 million. There are cheaper and potentially more efficient options out there in the open market as well. Georgiev is only 26 and may get more money on the open market despite saving only 89% of shots. 

This one is a rather easy decision for Drury.

Rangers Decision: Go

Andrew Copp

Arguably the biggest decision the Rangers will have to make, and one that will ultimately decide the outcome of others on this list. New York traded a first round pick to Winnipeg for Copp and he rewarded them in the postseason. Copp was fifth on the team in points and second in goals during the playoffs. At only 27 (turning 28), Copp could command a hefty price tag after his run with the Blue Shirts.

If Copp is looking for over $5 million AAV, the Rangers would need to decide on two things. 1. If Copp is worth the loss of multiple other pending free agents, and 2. If they were to let Copp walk, are there cheaper options in free agency that could match Copp’s impact? 

Personally, you don’t trade a first round pick for a rental, only to have said rental walk in free agency months later. Copp is the type of player the Rangers need, and they don’t really have much of a choice. 

Rangers Decision: Stay

Frank Vatrano

Another rental that New York was able to trade for, Vatrano heads to the open market as well with the hopes of securing a pay raise. Vatrano makes $2.5 million now and could ask for a higher AAV, just like Copp. While maybe not as valuable as Copp, Vatrano played an important role on the top line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. 

While Vatrano has made it a point to mention he loved his time in New York and could potential be looking to stay, Copp’s contract could very well determine whether Vatrano stays or not. I think it’s likely the Blue Shirts find common ground with the winger, and get him on a team friendly deal after some cap maneuvering.

Rangers Decision: Stay

Ryan Strome

A tough decision, and a tough player. Strome tallied just nine points in the Rangers playoff run, but has notched over 50 points in two of the last three years. At only 28 years old, Strome still is in the prime of his career and wants to stay with the Rangers. 

The issue? Copp and even Vatrano are probably bigger priorities for the Rangers because of the investments they have made recently on both. Any time you trade draft picks for rental players, there is an added pressure to find common ground on a deal. If Copp re-signs, Strome will walk. 

Rangers Decision: Go

Tyler Motte

Another midseason trade that added value to the bottom lines of New York, Motte’s high energy was a key factor in getting the Rangers to the playoffs. New York only gave up a fourth round pick for the fourth liner and is only making just over $1 million. His future will likely be decided in negotiations but I can see them letting Motte walk with deals to Vatrano and Copp. 

Rangers Decision: Go

Justin Braun 

The Rangers were busy at the trade deadline this year and that leads them with the difficult task of trying to decide what to do with a lot of these expiring contracts. Braun is another one of these cases as a defenseman formerly of the Flyers. The Rangers gave up a third round pick which is no cake-walk, however, the team does have a lot of options on the defensive end with young players waiting for their opportunity. It’s easy to see why they’d let Braun walk. 

Rangers Decision: Go

Kevin Rooney

Cap restraints and deals with Copp and Vatrano will ultimately have New York letting Rooney walk. 

Rangers Decision: Go

Gregg McKregg

Another player where the Cap just doesn’t make sense to keep him. New York will let the role player walk. 

Rangers Decision: Go

Julien Gauthier

Gauthier played in 49 games this season for the Blue Shirts, and is a restricted free agent. The issue? While being a former first round pick that’s been traded, Gauthier hasn’t been able to put it all together. It’s easy to see the Rangers letting him go. 

Rangers Decision: Go

Final Tally

Stay: Kakko, Copp, Vatrano

Go: Georgiev, Strome, Motte, Braun, McKregg, Rooney, Gauthier

For more New York Rangers coverage, turn to AMNY.com

More from around NYC