NHL Rumor Mill – May 2, 2023
A look at what the offseason could hold for the Rangers plus the latest on Marc-Andre Fleury in today’s NHL Rumor Mill.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE RANGERS?
Pending unrestricted free agent rentals Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane seem unlikely to be back. Shilton believes the Rangers’ forward group needs retooling by providing more edge to go with their firepower. Meanwhile, restricted free agent defenseman K’Andre Miller’s new deal could affect how the rest of the blueline is shaped.
NEW YORK POST: Larry Brooks believes there will be consequences for the Rangers after failing to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs.
Brooks wondered if Gerard Gallant will return as head coach. He pointed out that most of the Rangers’ best players – Kane and Tarasenko along with Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox, as well as their Kid Line of Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere – didn’t play well during the series against the Devils.
Brooks colleague Mollie Walker wondered if the Rangers should’ve focused on adding grit instead of skill at the trade deadline. She doesn’t expect Miller’s contract negotiations will be easy and wondered if the Rangers will want to retain Lafreniere after another mediocre season. Walker pointed out the Blueshirts will be back this summer to where they were before the trade deadline: Without two top-six right wings.
THE ATHLETIC: On Apr. 28 after the Rangers lost Game 5, Arthur Staple speculated changes could be coming if they lost that series.
Staple was critical of Gallant’s coaching. “He is not a master tactician; The Rangers coaching staff makes its plan and sticks to it, with the biggest tweaks coming on a couple guys swapping lines when things are going poorly.” He believes the Blueshirts would be interested in former NHL coach Joel Quenneville if he’s reinstated by the league this summer.
Like Walker, Staple thinks Rangers management must consider whether Lafreniere is worth re-signing or whether his salary and roster slot could be used to get deeper on the wing. He also wondered if Barclay Goodrow ($3.6 million annually for four more years) might become a cost-cutting trade candidate.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I don’t see Tarasenko or Kane coming back even if they want to. With $10 million in projected cap space for 2023-24 (as per Cap Friendly) and 17 active roster players under contract, they don’t have enough room for those two.
Miller’s next contract will take a significant bite out of that cap room. Lafreniere could be an affordable bridge signing if they decide to keep him but they’ll need cap space for a reliable backup for Igor Shesterkin and to address that ongoing need at right wing.
Lafreniere was the first-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft and was projected to become a star. He’s had his moments but has yet to fully flourish as hoped. The 21-year-old winger had 19 goals and 31 points in 79 games last season but managed 39 points in 81 games this season and was held scoreless in the Devils series.
It’s hard to believe the Rangers will give up on Lafreniere and risk him reaching his full potential elsewhere. Nevertheless, this is a club that’s still in “go-for-it”. They could use Lafreniere as a trade chip if he can fetch a reliable right winger for their first or second line.
LATEST ON MARC-ANDRE FLEURY
PITTSBURGH HOCKEY NOW: Dan Kingerski wondered if the Minnesota Wild’s Marc-Andre Fleury might be on the Penguins’ list of options to improve their goaltending. He noted that the former Penguins starter turns 39 in November and will likely be relegated to backup duty next season with the Wild.
Fleury has a year left on his contract with an average annual value of $3.5 million. Kingerski wondered if Wild GM Bill Guerin might be more interested in having promising Jesper Wallstadt fill the backup role. The Wild need to free up salary cap space so their asking price for Fleury would be modest.
Kingerski considers it unlikely that there will be a Pittsburgh homecoming for Fleury at this stage of his career. Still, he isn’t fully dismissing the notion.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fleury yesterday shut down any notion that he might seek a trade rather than accept backing up Filip Gustavsson in Minnesota next season. “I’m tired of moving,” he said “I’m not going anywhere”. He also has a full no-movement clause.