The New York Rangers are short on centers after losing Derek Stepan and Oscar Lindberg. They have had a hard time finding adequate centers to replace the two and wingers could be their solution.
The New York Rangers had lots to like down the middle just a few months ago. It was hard to expect losing two centers this offseason.
Now they are down Derek Stepan and Oscar Lindberg thanks to a trade and the expansion draft, respectively.
The free agent market hasn’t been kind to teams in need of a center this offseason. There was a lack of overall talent and too much age for most teams to find the right fit.
The Rangers best solution could be overloading on wingers.
Current State of the Rangers Roster
The Rangers currently have just three players who can play center under contract: Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, and David Desharnais. Mika Zibanejad is a fourth but he is a restricted free agent right now and has filed for salary arbitration earlier this week.
If Zibanejad signs, the Rangers will have 12 forwards on the roster, four of which will be capable centers. So what’s the problem?
The Rangers would probably prefer to play Miller on the wing and keep Matt Puempel out of the regular lineup. Miller fits much better on the wing and Puempel only played 27 games last season going -6.
Acquiring another winger who can play center might be the Rangers best bet.
Winger Free Agent Market
Unfortunately for the Rangers, there are not many current unrestricted free agents at center that fit the roster well. Moving Miller to center might be their only effective option. How, ver there are some viable options at the wing that could help them fill Miller’s spot on the wing.
Thomas Vanek, Jaromir Jagr and Brian Gionta are all options that could fill a void Miller would leave on the wing. They are a little older but could help to get the job done until the Rangers find a better option.
They have the option of offer sheeting one of the many appealing restricted free agents. However that isn’t a commonplace in the NHL and the Rangers would lose compensatory draft picks if they did so.
If they still choose to take that route, there are multiple great options. Ryan Johansen, Leon Draisaitl, and David Pastrnak are just a few of the great options. However, there is no guarantee that the teams that have their negotiating rights won’t match the offer.
As a whole, free agency seems like a bleak option.
Winger Trade Market
The trade market might be the Rangers best, most realistic option.
The Rangers could trade for a winger who is under contract. They could also trade for the rights of a restricted free agent. Teams could be more likely to trade the rights to a player they are uninterested in resigning for their respective asking price.
One under contract winger the Rangers could chase is James Van Riemsdyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs need to trade someone to shed cap space before the season starts.
Van Riemsdyk is an unrestricted free agent next season and carries a $4.5M cap hit. The Rangers have plenty of cap space and could really use a scorer like Van Riemsdyk. The Leafs could look for a cheap defenseman such as Nick Holden in return.
Finding the ideal fit at center has proven to be very difficult. Wingers are a much easier find this summer and the Rangers should consider that in their decision-making process.