Some options for Ryan Strome’s future

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 19: Ryan Strome #16 of the New York Rangers celebrates his third period game winning goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden on January 19, 2022 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Maple Leafs 6-3. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 19: Ryan Strome #16 of the New York Rangers celebrates his third period game winning goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden on January 19, 2022 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Maple Leafs 6-3. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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The New York Rangers have a difficult decision to make when it comes to Ryan Strome.  Due to become an Unrestricted Free Agent this summer, the team as to decide if they want to extend him with a raise, or let him walk for nothing.  The way this season is going, the likelihood that he will be traded at the deadline is slim.

Strome can be a perplexing player.  He was at the top of the ire of the fanbase when he missed an open net on Thursday night in the shootout.  If he had scored, the Rangers would have won. Instead, they had to settle for one point.

With the team’s unexpected success, Strome’s production has been slightly off this season.  He has nine goals and 34 points in 45 games.  Prorated over 82 games that works out to 16 goals and 62 points. Those numbers are comparable to his output the last two seasons and his .76 points per game is fourth among Rangers forwards.

The numbers are good, but the question is whether they should be better considering he is playing with Artemi Panarin, one of the best passers in the NHL. One stat in his favor is that he is second on the team in even strength points per game.  Considering that 5v5 scoring is a team weakness, that cannot be overlooked.

He isn’t strong in the faceoff circle.  With a 45.4% winning percentage, there are 117 centers in the NHL who are better and on the Rangers he is well behind Mika Zibanejad and Barclay Goodrow.

Despite his faults, the 28-year old is also a regular on the fourth best power play in the NHL.  He’s become a consistent offensive presence on the team and he is durable. He’s also got an undeniable chemistry with the highest paid player on the team.

His salary

Ryan Strome inked a two-year deal in November 2020 with an Average Annual Value (AAV) of $4.5 million.   He was an arbitration eligible Restricted Free Agent and was coming off a contract that had an AAV of $3.1 million.

That $4.5 million salary makes him the 58th highest paid center in the NHL.   Considering that his .76 points per game ranks 38th among centers, he is due an increase.  Of course, the question is how much.

The Rangers’ cap situation is no mystery.  They will have about $10 million in cap space and have to sign RFA’s Kaapo Kakko, Sammy Blais, Julien Gauthier, Libor Hajek and Alexandar Georgiev.  Their class of UFA’s include Strome, Kevin Rooney and Greg McKegg.

Inevitably, there will be moves to open up some cap space, but it’s going to be tight and if Strome is looking for a big raise he will be priced out of New York.

Intangibles

There is no doubt that Ryan Strome is a very popular teammate.  He’s a veteran presence on a young team and was selected as one of the captains in the team’s rotation of team leaders. He’s been through the NHL ringer: the fifth overall pick in 2011, a disappointment with the Islanders, a bust in Edmonton and a success with the Blueshirts.   He’s finally found a home and the question is how much is he willing to sacrifice in salary to stay.

If he willing to sign for the same money, the team could probably make his salary fit and they will not have to go out to find a second line center.  With Filip Chytil not even close to taking on that role, Strome is clearly in a position of strength in negotiations.

The J.T. Miller option

This is where the chatter about J.T. Miller makes sense.  He’s a better player than Strome as a scorer, faceoff man and physical presence.  He is signed through 2022-23 at an AAV of $5.25 million.  He’d be an upgrade over Strome at an additional cost of $750k a year.

If the Rangers can trade for Miller, it gives them a player who can slot in as a second line center or top six winger and a replacement for Strome on the second line next season.  It’s an upgrade in all categories.  Of course, by the trade deadline next season, they would be in the exact same situation as they are this year with Strome,  with a pending UFA looking for a big raise and no cap space to pay him.

The latest from Vancouver is that they are in no rush to trade J.T. Miller and if they do, they will be looking for a huge return especially on the blue line.  Ranger fans have to ask themselves if sacrificing Braden Schneider and other assets (Nils Lundkvist, Vitali Kravtsov?)in a deal to get J.T. Miller is worth it.  Don’t kid yourselves, that’s what it will take.

What could happen

Chris Drury is in a tough spot with a few scenarios looking ahead.  Here goes:

  • Scenario 1:  Strome stays and takes a hometown discount. 
    • In this scenario, Strome signs for a salary comparable to what he is making now, but the Rangers give him term (5-6 years) and a no movement clause so he doesn’t have to worry about his future.  He sacrifices a bigger payday for security. If they go this route, Strome is the second line center for years to come.  He’d be too expensive to be in the bottom six.
  • Scenario 2:  Strome walks and the Rangers have to figure it out
    • In this case, Strome becomes a UFA and is too expensive to re-sign and the Rangers let him walk this summer. Without the cap space to sign a big name free agent, the team gambles on Chytil or Goodrow as second line center and signs mid-level free agent (like Sam Gagner) to provide some depth.  This could work if they can trade for a center prospect who has top six potential.
  • Scenario 3:  Miller trade
    • As described above, the Rangers trade top future assets for J.T. Miller for one full season and two playoff runs.
  • Scenario 4:  Another trade
    • Drury pulls off a deal at the deadline or this summer to replace Strome with a younger center who is ready to step into a top six role.   It may take some of the Rangers’ young assets, but it solidifies the second center role for years to come.  Trading for a young center with a reasonable AAV helps the team’s cap situation immeasurably.
  • Scenario 5: Strome is dealt at the deadline
    • This is the unlikeliest of scenarios, but in a series of trades, Drury acquires a second line center and includes Strome in a trade.  In a way it makes sense and the Rangers get something back for a pending UFA and are able to replace him in the current lineup, although with a short term solution.  Although a Tomas Hertl would be an expensive pick up for the rest of this season they would be able to replace some of assets traded for him in dealing Strome.

Ryan Strome takes a lot of heat.  His shootout miss, his penchant for bad penalties, his faceoff losses and inability to take advantage of Panarin’s passes are all reasons for the anger. But he is a team leader and that cannot be underestimated on a team that has developed a winning chemistry.

Whether it was dropping his gloves against Lars Ellers of the Capitals last spring or taking on Mason Marchment a month ago, you have to believe that Gerard Gallant and his teammates value what he brings to the locker room.

Of all of the decisions facing Chris Drury, what to do with Ryan Strome is a key question that will trigger a slew of other moves.  What do you think?  Fell free to weigh in below.

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