Rangers Stay True To Rebuilding Plan On Day 1 Of Free Agency

BY: MATTHEW BLITTNER
SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR TO MSGNETWORKS

On a day when numerous players across the NHL signed lucrative long-term contracts with the teams of their choosing, the Rangers were content to sit back and watch the frenzy from a distance.

Ever since February of last season, the Blueshirts have maintained they were dedicated to rebuilding their team so they could be contenders for years to come.

First came the trades of several core players: Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller. (And let’s throw in the Derek Stepan trade from last summer as well.)

Those trades brought back several high draft picks; most of which have now been used.

And while the prospect pipeline got replenished, the NHL roster has mainly been left alone since the trade deadline.

G.M. Jeff Gorton has gone on the record numerous times, stating he wants to augment the Rangers’ roster with, “character players,” and “guys who play the game the right way.”

So while the likes of John Tavares, James Van Riemsdyk, Paul Stastny, Jack Johnson and Ilya Kovalchuk (last week) all found new homes, the Blueshirts decided to take care of some in-house business.

Vladislav Namestnikov — acquired from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline — was a restricted free agent (RFA) and needed a new deal.

After some rumblings Namestnikov might get flipped at the draft, or he might go to the KHL, the Rangers signed the enigmatic center to a two-year contract, reportedly worth $8 million (AAV of $4 million).

[Read Full Details of Namestnikov Signing]

And while the team appears to have a glut down the middle, this is a low-risk, high-reward move for the rebuilding Blueshirts.

With Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes (an RFA himself), Ryan Spooner (also an RFA), Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil joining Namestnikov at the center position, the Rangers could get creative to solve their logjam at the position.

One solution could be to have two of the above players move to the wing.

After all, Namestnikov and Spooner primarily played the wing when they first came to Broadway at the deadline. So a move back there for Namestnikov isn’t out of the question.

Of course, the Rangers could entertain trading one or more of their centers to shore up their defense, but as of now that’s mere speculation.

And, in case Andersson or Chytil prove to need a little extra seasoning down in the AHL, Namestnikov could simply take their place down the middle.

Overall, it’s a win-win for the team and the player; especially if Namestnikov returns to the form he showed in Tampa.

Shortly after announcing their re-signing of Namestnikov, the Blueshirts also announced their signing of defenseman Fredrik Claesson to a one-year, contract, reportedly worth $700k.

Claesson, who will be 26 in November, spent the first three years of his career in Ottawa and primarily played a physical style of defense.

According to Rick Carpiniello of The Athletic, “Claesson is a no-frills, dependable D-man who played at times on a pair with (Erik) Karlsson last year, and who performed well vs. the Rangers in the playoffs in ’17. He’s 6-foot-1, 200 pounds and a lefty.”

It’s his physical style and dependability that attracted the Rangers most; as they’re looking to add some grit to their back line.

All in all, it’s a low-risk signing for the Rangers as they continue to prioritize the addition of “character guys.”

And you can be sure more moves of this variety are on the way.

The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.