The Rangers have a glut of NHL talent at the wings. So much so that they have some extremely talented players on their fourth line. It’s a problem that Jeff Gorton and John Davidson must address this offseason because it’s one issue that most definitely isn’t going away.
With the surplus of wingers that the club has it does give them some options to improve elsewhere throughout the lineup. Whether that be adding some more defensive depth or trying to address the center position, Jeff Gorton has a chance to add by dealing from a position of strength.
One of the biggest things the team will have to look at this offseason will be what will they do with Pavel Buchnevich? Buchnevich has taken his game to another level this season with 40 points through 43 games so far. He’s also become a well rounded two way forward who’s been trusted by this coaching staff to play in every single situation. He has built on his chemistry with Mika Zibanejad to have a nice 1-2 punch on the Rangers top line. He’s also slated to be an RFA this summer after taking a bridge deal two years ago. Currently sitting at 3.25M a year cap hit he will certainly command a bump in pay on his next deal. At worst Buch should be looking at 5.75M a year in his next deal which is more than fair for a player producing at his level because in a full season his point production would be over 70 points and 30 goals.
Problem for the Rangers is can they afford paying Buchnevich nearly 6 million or potentially 6 million or more a year during a time of a flat cap and with the amount of young players they’ll have to pay in the future? The answer is almost definitely no because the one thing the Rangers should not do is bridge players like Igor Shesterkin, Adam Fox, Kaapo Kakko, K’Andre Miller, Alexei Lafreniere, or Vitaly Kravtsov moving forward. While the Rangers have a bevy of cap space coming off the books to free up significant money starting next season, they still have the players above (minus Miller and Lafreniere or newly signed Zachary Jones) as well as Filip Chytil, Ryan Lindgren all due new contracts by the end of the 2022-23 season. That’s also not including decisions they’ll need to make on Zibanajed or Ryan Strome.
This is where the Chris Kreider extension last season made no sense then and now it makes even less because of how it complicates what the Rangers can do. Even though nobody knew the Rangers would be able to add Lafreniere in the draft last year, the franchise still knew that they were crowded on the wings and there would be an inevitable logjam. The Rangers getting lucky enough to draft Lafreniere only further complicated their issues at the wing on top of the Kreider extension. To further complicate matters is that after going on an extremely impressive two week heater with Artemi Panarin out of the lineup and the Rangers season hanging in the balance, Chris Kreider has returned to his disappearing form that many fans have grown frustrated with. So much so that David Quinn has been dropping Kreider to the fourth periodically over the last week to give Kravtsov time with Zibanejad and Buchnevich because Kravy and many others have simply outplayed Kreider.
It’s truly difficult to justify having a 6.5M a year bottom 6 winger no matter how important he might be to the room. Buchnevich has outperformed Kreider all year and is younger than Kreider and extending Buch long term makes more sense to keep a better all around player than an underperforming frustrating player. Gorton is going to need work some magic in order to try and convince Kreider waive his NMC to free up money that can help keep this team’s core together long term.Embed from Getty Images