Chris Drury understood the assignment in NHL Free Agency

Chris Drury, NY Rangers (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Chris Drury, NY Rangers (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

NHL Free Agency has begun to slow down somewhat and, while there are still some big names on the market, the NY Rangers and general manager Chris Drury accomplished what they set out to achieve.

Heading into free agency, there were clear needs that the Rangers needed to address after reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in 2021-22. After trading Alexandar Georgiev to the Colorado Avalanche, the Blueshirts needed to find a new backup goalie for Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin.

Perhaps more pressing, though, was the need to find a legit second-line center. With Ryan Strome, Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano hitting the open market, the depth at center all of a sudden became razor thin. Dangerously so.

Drury had to do all of that while operating out of salary cap hell – a fate that many teams found themselves in due to the lingering effects still being felt in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic. With just over $10 million in cap space to play with, Drury needed to upgrade his roster, address key needs and keep room to sign forward Kaapo Kakko to an extension.

So, with the dust having now settled and the Rangers all but done – barring a shocking trade out of left field – it is fair to assess the job done by Drury and his staff now we are a few days removed. Again, this isn’t an exact science given that we don’t know how any of these moves will pan out yet, but we can grade on a curve and give a verdict based on the factors we do know.

Chris Drury did the best job he could under tight salary cap constraints

It is worth pointing out again that Drury was operating with his hands somewhat tied heading into NHL Free Agency. With not a lot of cap room to play with and multiple players wishing to see what they could get out on the open market, the Rangers’ second-year GM knew he would have to be both clever and creative in order to improve the team.

He certainly did that by signing Vincent Trocheck to a seven-year, $39,375,000 contract, giving the Rangers the legit second-line center they were after. By stretching the deal to seven years, Drury was able to sign Trocheck to an Average Annual Value that worked for the team and its salary cap situation.

And, as we mapped out here, Trocheck is an upgrade on both Strome and Copp. He has a higher ceiling offensive production-wise, he boasts a career win percentage of 52.1 percent in the faceoff circle, he has some snarl to his game, he can finish his checks, he’s responsible in his own zone and he can play a real hard-nosed 200-foot game.

Drury also addressed goaltending by signing two seasoned veterans in Jaroslav Halak and Louis Domingue. Halak, who has a career 2.49 Goals Against Average and a career .916 Save Percentage, will backup Shesterkin while Domingue will provide a handy insurance policy should anything happen to either Shesterkin or Halak.

Gritty bottom-six forward Ryan Carpenter was then signed as a replacement for Kevin Rooney, and the veteran is a typical Gerard Gallant player in that he’s a defense-first center who is responsible in his own zone, battles hard in the dirty areas and is good in the faceoff circle. He’s also thrived under Gallant before with a career year in 2018-19 while with the Vegas Golden Knights, recording career-highs in assists (13), points (18) and faceoff win percentage (52.6).

Finally, Drury was also able to shed Patrik Nemeth’s contract by trading him to the Arizona Coyotes along with a 2025 second-round pick and a conditional future pick for prospect Ty Emberson. While it was a steep price to pay, it cleared Nemeth’s $2.5 million cap hit in each of the next two seasons.

That will allow Drury to sign Kakko to an extension and hopefully avoid a dreaded offer sheet. Currently, the Rangers have just over $4 million in cap room remaining and that should be enough to get a deal done with Kakko before preseason.

Of course, it would have been nice to see Tyler Motte re-signed and even Vatrano but, given the money the latter got with the Anaheim Ducks (three years, $10.95 million) and the other needs the team had to fill, it was unlikely either player was going to be able to be brought back to New York.

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The Blueshirts could also do with another veteran on the backend and that may not happen until after Kakko has been extended. But, in the grand scheme of things, Drury was quick and decisive in going out and addressing the needs his team had and he did as good a job as he could have done with the cards he was dealt. Now we wait and see how it all unfolds.