The 2020-21 New York Rangers season was one of the weirdest in franchise history. From the Artemi Panarin fiasco to the entire Tom Wilson saga, owner James Dolan decided the team needed a new direction. Say goodbye to former GM Jeff Gorton, former President John Davidson, and former Coach David Quinn and say hello to new GM Chris Drury and new Coach Gerrard Gallant, the men in charge of leading the Rangers back into contention in the Eastern Conference. It’s no secret that Chris Drury’s primary goal this offseason was to acquire players that make the Blueshirts more difficult to play against, and to add much needed grit and toughness to a roster that consists of primarily young skilled players. From that perspective, even without the heavily rumored Jack Eichel trade yet occurring, we believe the Rangers are a playoff team this 2021-22 season. Our earliest projection models have the Rangers as the fifth best team in the Metropolitan Division behind Pittsburgh, Carolina, Washington, and the NY Islanders, and predict that they will be one of two wild-card playoff teams from the Metropolitan Division. As of today, the Eastern Conference playoff teams according to AB are Tampa Bay, Boston, Pittsburgh, Carolina, Washington, NY Islanders, NY Rangers, and Montreal. In this article, we will tell you how the Rangers ended up at this point, and why we believe Chris Drury’s first offseason at the helm could potentially be a great success.
Let’s start with the subtractions. Brett Howden likely won’t be missed, as Rangers faithful never really understood what David Quinn saw in a player who scored one goal in forty-two games. A career -4.54 AB player, Howden was shipped off to Vegas in exchange for a 2022 4th round pick and AHLer Nick DeSimone. Great move from Drury and his team, as most Rangers fans tend to agree. However, trading Pavel Buchnevich is the one and only head scratcher of this Rangers offseason to this point. Buchnevich had a career-year this season in virtually every category, including AB, as his +5.92 shattered his previous career best +2.05 score registered in his rookie season. Before this season, Buchnevich was a slightly career negative AB player, as his Career AB score in four seasons was an acceptable -0.14. However, he is now a +1.07 Career AB player, at twenty-six years old. Production wise, Buchnevich was one goal shy of his career-high twenty-one goals this year but doing so in ten less games played. He was also two assists shy of his career-high in that department of thirty set during the 2019-20 season but did so in fourteen less games. Despite this, his forty-eight total points was his career-high, and his +12 +/- rating was also his best. Things appeared to be trending upward for Buchnevich, as most fans and media called him one of the teams most complete forwards this past season. This didn’t change the fact Buchnevich needed a new contract that definitely would’ve started with five million AAV. Following the trade with the Blues, Pavel Buchnevich signed a four-year, $23.2 million dollar contract ($5.8 million AAV). After running Buchnevich through our arbitration analyzer, we found that his closest comparable was Ales Hemsky (40.30 career average points/AB Hemsky to 40.07 career average points/AB Buchnevich). According to CapFriendly, Ales Hemsky was making $4.1 million AAV during his twenty-six year old season, an overpayment of about $1.7 million on St. Louis’ end. In today’s flat cap world, $1.7 million is not something to just throw away, and perhaps Chris Drury and his team recognized this and made the smart decision to acquire assets and avoid making a decision that could have affected the eventual re-signings of Alexis Lafrenière, Kaapo Kakko, KeAndre Miller, Igor Shesterkin, and Norris Trophy Winner Adam Fox. (Update: Rangers signed Igor Shesterkin to a four-year, $22.6 million ($5.66 million AAV) contract; about 200k less for the same term as Buchnevich, which appears to be one of the best goaltender contracts signed all summer). We’re sure most Rangers fans would agree that locking up the players mentioned in their young core is far more critical that signing Buchnevich until he’s on the wrong side of thirty. Although the package appears underwhelming to some, allow us to explain why it isn’t.
The St. Louis Blues would not be 2018-19 Stanley Cup Champions if it weren’t for the contributions of Sammy Blais. Blais scored in his debut playoff game facing elimination against the Dallas Stars and stayed in the lineup for the remainder of the playoff run, averaging just about twelve minutes per night. Blais had two assists with his one goal for three points in the fifteen games played, helping the Blues win their first ever Stanley Cup. Blais has a reputation of being tough and hard to play against, which is exactly what the Rangers set out to acquire this offseason. Blais stands at 6’2, 205lbs, and used his size to his advantage in the last couple seasons, throwing 258 hits in 76 combined games over that span. He had a career year this season production wise, as he scored eight goals with seven assists for fifteen points in thirty six games, eclipsing his previous career-high of thirteen points set in the 2019-20 season in four fewer games. Blais is a career +0.96 AB player in three seasons of data, including a +3.62 score during that 2018-19 cup year. Since then he’s been a slightly negative AB player in each of the following two seasons with a -0.68 and -0.07 score. However, unlike most modern day enforcers or gritty players, Blais is not a liability in terms of AB, proving that players can have grit and toughness without making bad decisions that actually hurt the team rather than help. This won’t be the last time this is mentioned in this article so stay tuned. In addition to Blais, who only makes $1.5 million this season (200k shy of the exact amount Pavel Buchnevich was projected overpaid by the Blues according to our arbitration analyzer), the Rangers also received a 2nd round pick in a potentially loaded 2022 NHL draft, which gives them three picks in the top-62. Our advice to Rangers fans is to not freak out about the immediate offensive loss of Buchnevich in trust in this new regime to get the most out of players such as Lafrenière, Kakko, and Vitaly Kravtsov to make up for it. A full season of Artemi Panarin is also of extreme importance.
Continuing on the trend of adding players that are tough to play against, the Rangers signed back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion Barclay Goodrow to a perplexing six-year, $21.85 million ($3.641 AAV) contract. When we looked at Goodrow in our arbitration analyzer, we found that his career average points/AB is nearly identical to that of Washington Capitals winger Garnet Hathaway, as the two were separated by 0.01 points (15.9 Hathaway to 15.89 Goodrow). Hathaway signed a four-year, $6 million dollar ($1.5 million AAV contract), an overpayment of about $2 million dollars by NYR according to the analyzer. We mentioned earlier that $1.7 million was not just something that can be thrown away in today’s flat cap world, neither is the $2 million that they appeared to do here. However, we acknowledge that GMs can’t win them all, and that the intangibles, experience, and leadership Goodrow brings won’t necessarily appear on the score-sheet in some instances. What’s done is done money wise, but Barclay Goodrow will be a significant contributor in whatever success the Rangers have in 2021-22. He’s a career +0.72 AB player in six years of full data and registered a career-best +5.04 individual score this past season in Tampa Bay. He even produced twenty points (six goals and fourteen assists) in fifty-five games played for the two-time defending champions last season, playing primarily on Tampa’s third line with elite AB players Blake Coleman and Yanni Gourde. We understand the thought process behind this Goodrow signing, as he is another player who is hard to play against and can kill penalties for Gerrard Gallant this coming season.
Lastly, and most importantly, the Rangers sent a 3rd round pick to the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for perhaps the league’s best enforcer, Ryan Reaves. The new NYR management regime clearly wasn’t happy last season after the Tom Wilson incident and were exposed in the game immediately following it. Skilled players like Ryan Strome, and role players like Kevin Rooney and Phil Di Giuseppe were the ones who fought in the famous line brawl to start the game, clearly showing the Rangers lineup as assembled that night had no clear-cut tough guy that could stand up for his teammates. Its safe to say after the offseason Chris Drury has had, the Rangers now have a handful, most notably Ryan Reaves. We have eleven full AB seasons on Ryan Reaves, and over that span he is a career -3.01 AB player. He’s only registered two positive AB seasons over the course of that eleven year period but is coming off one of his best individual AB seasons of his career last season at -0.88. Its also worth mentioning that Reaves had his 2nd best individual AB score of -0.88 during his first full season of Gerrard Gallant in Las Vegas, before Gallant was fired during the 2019-20 season. That 18-19 season under Gallant in Vegas was also Reaves’ best production season of his career, as he contributed nine goals and eleven assists for twenty points in eighty games. For these reasons, we are going to assume Reaves performs over his career average AB score of -3.01 and could easily see him as a positive player for NYR this season as well.
As we’ve mentioned several times throughout this article, we feel that Chris Drury has accomplished his goal of making the Rangers a tougher team to play against. In the loaded Metropolitan Division, it is definitely important to have that proper blend of grit and toughness with the skill and finesse the Rangers clearly had an abundance of prior to this summer. As of now, their 2020-21 team AB score would be +23.80 and their Career AB projection (predicted 2021-22 team score) is -0.22, which is good enough to qualify for the playoffs in our model. That is without accounting for increased scores from sophomores Alexis Lafrenière and Vitaly Kravtsov, and the continued improvement of KeAndre Miller and Kaapo Kakko, who were among the teams better AB players last season. This team should be exciting, fun to watch, and something Rangers fans should be proud of, as they won’t be pushed around any longer. We are looking forward to covering them even more once the 2021-22 season begins in October, and perhaps the Rangers are able to get a Jack Eichel deal done during this offseason as well. Much more to come.