Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) celebrates with forward Mika Zibanejad after their win against the Carolina Hurricanes on March 31, 2018, at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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Hartnett: It Won't Be A Splashy Summer For Rangers

Blueshirts Expected To Stay Quiet In Free Agency

Sean Hartnett
June 29, 2018 - 10:11 am
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My, how times have changed for the Rangers. For over a decade, the Blueshirts have aggressively pursued expensive free agents and tied down many of the league’s most sought-after targets to long-term contracts.

Starting with the double signing of centermen Scott Gomez and Chris Drury in the 2007 summer, the philosophy was to surround the existing core and up-and-coming youngsters with the caliber of player that was capable of putting the Rangers over the top. Though some of that vision was achieved through blockbuster trades, high-priced signings were also part of the formula.

Gomez, Drury, Wade Redden, Markus Naslund, Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Dan Boyle were among the Rangers’ most expensive signings and achieved varying degrees of success. For a decade, this approach helped the Ranges become a consistent Eastern Conference contender. It resulted it three Eastern Conference Final appearances, a 2014 trip to the Stanley Cup Final and the 2014-15 Presidents’ Trophy.

What this approach failed to deliver was a first Stanley Cup championship since 1994 and a ticker-tape parade up the Canyon of Heroes. After years and years of being dialed in on win now, the philosophy shifted after general manager Jeff Gorton and team president Glen Sather wrote a letter to fans signaling plans to rebuild.

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Last summer, the Rangers made the NHL’s biggest free agent splash by signing defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to a four-year, $26.6 million contract. A left knee meniscus tear played havoc with Shattenkirk’s first season in New York. He eventually underwent season-ending surgery in late January.

There won’t be any splashy, rich deals being struck by the Rangers this summer when free agency begins Sunday. Expect the Rangers to take a more economical approach.

I’m sure a lot of fans would love to have James van Riemsdyk alongside Mika Zibanejad on the top line, but I don’t see the Rangers and JVR as a match. Nearly half of the league is interested in the 36-goal scorer. He’s going to have his pick of contending teams to choose from that can offer an immediate chance to win.

Also, scratch Rick Nash off the list. The former Ranger has suspended talks with interested teams because he is unsure whether he wants to play in the upcoming season. Nash missed three weeks late in the regular season due to a concussion before returning for the Boston Bruins’ playoff run. The 34-year-old wing has suffered multiple concussions in his career and needs time to evaluate his options.

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Devante Smith-Pelly re-signed with the Washington Capitals for one year at $1 million. The 26-year-old wing turned down more lucrative and longer-term offers to remain with the defending Stanley Cup champions. It’s unknown whether the Rangers were one of the teams that reached out to Smith-Pelly during the interview period.

Former Ranger Michael Grabner could be an option, but he’s going to draw a lot of interest due to his goal-scoring and penalty-killing prowess. The 30-year-old wing has recorded 27 goals in consecutive seasons.

The Rangers definitely have a need for a penalty-killing wing, and new coach David Quinn desires his team to play an in-your-face style. There’s quite a few free agents who fit that mold. Perhaps, Jay Beagle, Leo Komarov and Tommy Wingels could be attractive to the Blueshirts.

There isn’t any pressing need for the Rangers to add on defense.Shattenkirk, Marc Staal, Brendan Smith, Neal Pionk, Anthony DeAngelo and Steven Kampfer are under contract. Brady Skjei, John Gilmour and Rob O’Gara are restricted free agents.

Alexandar Georgiev played well in his 10 rookie games in net, posting a .918 save percentage. I think he performed strongly enough to compete for the backup goaltender role for next season, but keep in mind that the Rangers have acres of cap room. Spending $1.5 million on an experienced backup could be in their interest, especially as Henrik Lundqvist will turn 37 in March.

Carter Hutton, Anton Khudobin and Robin Lehner are among the top free-agent netminders.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey​