New York Rangers Mailbag: What Now?

Bruce Bennett. Getty Images.

It was a lackluster finish to an otherwise excellent season, and while the Florida Panthers may very well be the league's best team it still doesn't excuse another year of every Rangers big-ticket player disappearing when the stakes were raised. So as they watch another Stanley Cup Final they were two wins away from participating in, let's go through a few fan questions looking ahead to re-shaping a squad that can finally get over the hump.

Somehow Brady Tkachuk's name has been kicked around in the trade rumor mill for a while, to the point where Ottawa GM Steve Staios had to release a statement saying it's "complete BS" - and it should be. You simply don't trade young, team-controlled players like Brady unless he's holding your team hostage like his brother Matthew did in Calgary. They took him 4th overall, named him captain at 22 and he's averaged just under a point-per-game his past two seasons while playing the patented Tkachuk in-your-face physical style that's turned into an extremely rare combo these days. He bangs. He fights. He thrives in the dirty areas. He pours pucks on net. He scores. There's just zero reason to think the Sens want to part ways with a unicorn like him right as he enters his prime & right when the salary cap is about to jump up the next couple years turning the four years left of his $8.2M cap hit into a bargain.

Let's just say though, for argument's sake, he was available. EVERY team in the league would be lining up blockbuster offers to get him, especially with Florida proving how important those sandpaper & skill types are over the past couple postseasons. For the Rangers to compete in a Brady Tkachuk bidding war it'd start with Alexis Lafreniere. Ottawa's not gonna move him for just picks/prospects nor are they gonna swing a deal to get older. The Blueshirts aren't gonna be interested in moving their former #1 overall who just started playing to his potential, as it's not far-fetched to envision the 22 year-old Lafreniere matching Brady's offensive numbers if he finds himself on PP1 next year. Without Laffy at the forefront of a Rangers offer in this fairytale world where the Senators are shopping their captain, they simply don't have the pieces to outbid 30 other organizations.

Like I said above, there's not many. Let's not forget the guys who make up Florida's core are all top draft picks. Ekblad was a first overall. Barkov & Reinhart were #2's. Bennett was a #4. Matthew Tkachuk was a #6. There's no shortage of skill despite some of their careers not starting off like the teams who drafted them had hoped. But no one really gave a shit about Sam Bennett when his time in Calgary was coming to an end. Florida got him for a 2nd round pick at the 2021 deadline before he turned 25 and he instantly became a key cog. They paid a bigger price (Devon Levi & a first) to pry the rights to an underwhelming Sam Reinhart out of Buffalo that summer and, not only has he had his three highest goal-scoring seasons since, he's gotten Selke votes too. They took chances and bought low on younger talent that still had room to grow while being virtually gifted Tkachuk, then - most importantly - had everyone buy into Paul Maurice's hard-nosed system while following the lead of the game's premiere two-way center. They personify the perfect storm.

My point is, it's not always easy to identify that type of player & some don't blossom until they're in an environment that fosters it. It's not as simple as "get these guys and we'll be Florida". UFA names like Bertuzzi & DeBrusk could raise their games to become similar stylistically but there's no slam-dunk "gotta have him" name on my radar. In terms of current Rangers it kinda starts and ends with Will Cuylle. He's a big-bodied banger who could end up a 20-25 goal guy. After that though it's undersized guys like Trocheck or Othmann in the system who have some rat in their games but simply aren't big enough to play that heavy, wear-you-down hockey. So yeah adding another piece or two who could emulate how the Panthers stifled us might help, but it's not gonna revamp the entire team. It's not gonna make Mika mean, turn the Breadman into the Bulldozer or Filthy Fil into Ferocious Fil. It's hard to build a capable roster then have them all collectively buy in like that…which is why only one of those teams exists.


The most asked question by a landslide. What happens with Jacob Trouba?

Let's go back for a little Rangers history lesson first. A bonafide top-pair right-shot defenseman was something they lacked for a while. They fought through Dan Girardi's downfall before finally buying him out in June of 2017. The next month they thought they had their answer in Kevin Shattenkirk. Instead, he was an ultimate bust who would only don a Rangers sweater for half of the four-year deal he signed before getting bought out himself. They were left with Pionk & DeAngelo on the roster along with first-round pick Nils Lundkvist and a recently-acquired Adam Fox who both had yet to play an NHL game. All inexperienced, diminutive players with similar offensively-heavy skillsets. So after two straight seasons of missing the playoffs and a massive hole on the backend yet again, the Blueshirts wanted to do something different. They weren't gonna try plugging that hole with another aged vet. Not when there was a 25 year-old big-bodied, all-situations stud in Jacob Trouba fresh off a career-high 50-point campaign clamoring to get out of Winnipeg. All it cost was Pionk and sending back the first-rounder the Rangers picked up in an earlier Kevin Hayes deal. It all made perfect sense.


Trouba was an RFA without a contract though so the Rangers still had to sign him, and since they clearly traded for him with 1D expectations they paid him as such - 7 years, $8M/per. There were high hopes. Right-shot blueliners have always been a commodity in the NHL and the Blueshirts just inked one entering his prime. At the time I loved it, but there were definitely some groans of uncertainty among the fanbase as to whether or not he was a true top-pair player. Turns out those groans were right. With the exception of a solid '21-22, Trouba's tenure not only never matched his paycheck but has gotten alarmingly worse since he was named captain prior to last season. Now, after an awful playoffs that saw him demoted to third pair and STILL making inexplicably bad plays like this…


…it's fair to wonder if he's gonna follow in the footsteps of Girardi & Shatty with yet another buyout for the Rangers to get out from under yet another liability on the right side. A buyout of the remaining two years of Trouba's contract would clear $4M of his $8M cap hit through '25-26 followed by two more years of $2M in dead money on the books. Combining an extra $4M to spend with the cap jumping up $4.5M, the Blueshirts could find themselves in position to go big on a RW for Zibanejad and Kreider this summer. There's no justification for the Trouba Train playing ahead of Fox or Schneider and there's no justification for keeping an $8M player on your third pairing. I don't care that he wears the C. It's a results-oriented business and this is a win-now squad. Treat it that way.

That being said - they won't. No way. For whatever reason, Drury will come out and say he has complete faith in his captain to rebound. He'll point out how the locker room loves him & how he fought through the lingering effects of a regular-season ankle injury like a warrior who will come back healthy to help this team get over the hump next year. He'll be hungrier, better, blah blah blah. They'll ignore the dwindling foot speed, countless unforced turnovers & reckless decision-making. Harp on how you can't win in this league without leadership and physicality. My gut just tells me there will be an illogical sense of allegiance here…but I was wrong about Trouba being a great acquisition, so hopefully I'll be wrong again.



I'm going to answer these questions together as I think it's crucial they get themselves a legitimate top-six winger among anything else. I'm also going to focus on free agency based on what I'm estimating they'll have to spend (meaning we can skip the top-tier options like Guentzel, Reinhart, etc.). There are some interesting names with a year left on their deals who teams might be looking to move this summer instead of the upcoming deadline to maximize value (Buchnevich, Konecny, Vatrano). Maybe they'd like themselves a controllable Kakko & a pick attached. We'll see. In terms of UFA RW1 options that may be able to step in and finally solidify a Rangers top-six that's been a bit of a carousel though, here's who I like:

Jonathan Marchessault - The Golden Knights are up against it this offseason. All their cap gymnastics have caught up to them and they simply can't keep everyone. You gotta think they'll do everything they can to keep an OG misfit and I'm sure Marchessault is willing to leave a little on the table to stay, but he's still the oldest & priciest of their free agents. If he's a victim of number-crunching the Blueshirts should be a highly desirable spot for him. Fans may be quick to jump on the fact that he's 33 & undersized but make no mistake about it, Marchy plays a lot bigger & brings a lot of other components the Rangers need. He's still got wheels. He's a volume shooter who excels at even strength - only 16 players have more ES goals than him over the last three seasons - and could be the perfect bumper option for PP2. Don't forget 36G/39A & a Conn Smythe in 95 playoff games with Vegas. Squeezing him in at something like $6M-$6.5M instantly makes this team better.


Jake DeBrusk - DeBrusk is on the other end of the age spectrum as a 27 year-old UFA. He's had an up & down love/hate relationship with the Bruins organization with both sides seemingly wanting more - whether it be more production or more opportunity. After back-to-back 25-goal campaigns the winger didn't hit 20 this season & logic would dictate a change of scenery is in the cards. If so, the Rangers could be a prime landing spot for DeBrusk to chase down that elusive 30-goal plateau. He skates well, can play both sides/all situations and while he's not a banger he's strong along the boards & on the forecheck. There's some risk involved as consistency hasn't been his forte but he's young enough where his best hockey could be ahead of him. If DeBrusk is chasing the biggest payday then it's not gonna work. There's a bad or mediocre squad out there with more to spend willing to take a bigger risk. If the price tag is in the 6's though the Blueshirts should be in the mix.

Tyler Bertuzzi - While it looks like Toronto & Bertuzzi want to extend their relationship it's no sure thing. Not as long as the Leafs still have 4 guys taking up over half their payroll with several holes to fill on the back end & in net. If the 29 year-old hits the market don't be surprised to see the grit-seeking Rangers checking in. He didn't have the overall offensive season either side hoped when agreeing to a 1-year deal at $5.5M but he closed strong with 14 goals in his final 26 games & has a 30/30 season on his resume. He played most of this year to the left of Tavares & Nylander as one of the best lines in the league but has experience skating on the right. Bertuzzi would instantly bring tenacity to a team suffocated by it against the Panthers without sacrificing skill. It'd be hard to rationalize much of a raise after 43 points and after a career of 1-2 year deals term might be more of a priority which would make him a relatively easy fit.




There's plenty of reason for fans to point fingers at all three of these guys. Mika, Kreider & Panarin were overall disappointments as soon as their postseason run hit an ounce of resistance…and it's not the first time. Still, movement/trade clauses aside, there's no expectation the Rangers front office will be looking to get away from any of them - and rightfully so. It's HARD to win a Stanley Cup, and usually when 15 other teams are dismissed from the postseason it's usually because their best players weren't the best players in their losing series. And when it gets down to the final four you're playing the best of the best. Yeah losing that late in the playoffs sucks but if it were easy for organizations to simply shuffle out their "almost" players for "Cup champs" everyone would do it.

What cheap options are there to replace two years left of Chris Kreider at $6.5M? Are there younger, cheaper, easy-to-acquire names I'm missing that play all situations, own a 58% 5x5 on-ice goals for percentage & are locks for 35+ that do so "more consistently"? Kreider's contract is a bargain, plain & simple. While he's got a penchant for disappearing acts and fans always wonder why such a big, strong skater doesn't impose physically he's also the guy who single-handedly willed the Blueshirts past the Hurricanes with a third-period hat trick on the brink of a third-straight loss & a Game 7. You're not gonna do any better for that price tag.

I'm a Mika guy but, while I can easily admit he was dog shit, I can't wrap my head around the overall hate among the fanbase. He didn't score a single goal over the last 11 playoff games. Inexcusable. He was only on the ice for 6 Rangers 5x5 goals all playoffs. That's bad. But he was also only on the ice for 6 against despite drawing the toughest defensive assignments each series. Rewind back to the regular season where everyone lauded Trocheck yet hammered Zibanejad - they both shared nearly identical 5x5 on-ice goals for percentages & goals scored per-60. No one other than Trocheck - not even Panarin - had a better 5x5 primary assist rate than Zib.


He had an outlier season lighting the lamp. He's no even-strength dynamo but despite the same shot & expected goals rates Zibanejad finished with a 6.72% 5x5 shooting percentage. Half of what he shot a year ago and only 20 forwards with over 100 shots finished at a worse clip. We're talking about a guy who had 39 goals last year & 24 points in 20 tilts a couple postseasons ago. He'll bounce back. Stop comparing him to the elite centers making $10M+. He's a level below and he's paid accordingly. There's no fathomable way for the Rangers to improve on Zibanejad. Holding him accountable for a bad year is perfectly fine. Just acknowledge the big picture instead of just blurting stupid shit like "Mika needs to go!".

It's hard to get on a guy who's been a Hart finalist and only trails McDavid, Draisaitl & MacKinnon in points since joining the Blueshirts in 2019 - but Artemi Panarin has been a shell of that player come playoffs every time. 12G/23A/-12 in 46 postseason games is not gonna cut it for a guy getting paid almost $12M a year to do nothing else but score. Especially considering most teams still put their best against the Zibanejad line and not his. Still, you gotta be successful in the regular season to get to the dance and no one's been more important to that than the Breadman. There's a long line of certified superstars who've taken a while to mimic regular season domination in the playoffs and fans just have to hope Panarin is next…but there's no "decision" to be made on him just as there's none to be made on 93 & 20. These are your core forwards for two more seasons and while Drury can improve their supporting cast, Cup hopes are still gonna fall largely on their shoulders.