The Post’s Mollie Walker breaks down the Rangers’ free agents:
Ryan Strome, UFA
The second-line center spot that’s been occupied by Strome is the most critical decision for the Rangers this offseason. The two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement during the season and considering Strome didn’t produce much in these playoffs, the Rangers may take their chances with the open market. The Rangers’ cap situation also leaves little room for negotiation, which may ultimately end Strome’s tenure with the club.
Kaapo Kakko, RFA
Kakko getting scratched in an elimination Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final Saturday night raises questions regarding his future with the team. The Rangers, however, can’t afford to lose a player who would certainly fit under their cap budget. Ideally, the Rangers would want to sign the Finnish winger to a two-year bridge deal in the $2 million-$2.5 million range. But Kakko wish to entertain offer sheets, which could fall between $4.2 and $6.3 million, the Rangers wouldn’t be able to match that.
Andrew Copp, UFA
Of all four trade-deadline acquisitions, Copp is probably at the top of the Rangers’ list to retain. His versatility and style fit with how the Rangers want to play. But it’ll probably come down to the numbers for Copp, who may be able to command more money on the open market than what the Rangers can afford. However, if Copp believes the Rangers are within striking distance of a Stanley Cup, he may be willing to take less to remain in New York.
Tyler Motte, UFA
Motte brings a lot of what the Rangers want in a bottom-six winger. His contributions on the penalty kill are an added bonus, as is his high-energy style of play. Motte is coming off a two-year deal with a $1.225 million cap hit. His willingness to re-sign with the Rangers on a team-friendly deal will probably come down to the length of his new contract.
Frank Vatrano, UFA
There probably isn’t a scenario where the Rangers could keep all three of their forward trade-deadline acquisitions. While Vatrano scored eight goals and dished five assists in 22 games with the Rangers in a top-six role, the Massachusetts native probably isn’t the team’s answer when it comes to filling out of the top two lines. It’s worth noting that Vatrano’s agent, Peter Fish, used to be Rangers president and general manager Chris Drury’s agent during his playing days.
Justin Braun, UFA
The Rangers have a lot of defense options in house already, with players like Zac Jones and Matthew Robertson waiting in the wings. Plus, Braun’s price tag as a former top-pair defenseman with the Flyers is probably not something the Rangers are willing to offer.
Kevin Rooney, UFA
It’s true, Rooney probably deserves a bump from the $750,000 cap hit his two-year deal with the Rangers carried from 2020 to this year. The question is, can the Rangers afford it and are they willing to? Every team needs players like Rooney: selfless, glue guys who can provide secondary scoring at times in a fourth-line role. His penalty-killing abilities are also an added bonus. Fish also represents Rooney.
Julien Gauthier, RFA
Despite playing in the most games of his NHL career this season with the Rangers (49), Gauthier wasn’t able to make a lasting impression. He got his shot while the Rangers were dealing with injuries earlier in the season, but the 24-year-old never stepped into the big-bodied power-forward role that the Rangers hoped he would. It’s likely that Gauthier won’t be a Ranger next season.
Greg McKegg, UFA
McKegg is the quintessential depth player who knows his role and does it well. It’s why the Rangers brought him back after he spent the 2020-21 season with the Bruins. He skated in the second most games of his 10 NHL seasons (43). Of the current depth players, McKegg is the most likely to return.
Sammy Blais, RFA
Since an ACL tear in November derailed his first season with the Rangers, who acquired Blais in the offseason trade that sent Pavel Buchnevich to the Blues, the 25-year-old winger should get another shot with the club. He’s coming off a two-year, $1.5 million deal, but because of his injury, he never really got to show what he’s capable of and in turn develop leverage in negotiations. Still, Blais’ small sample size (14 games) went relatively well and he’ll likely be willing to re-sign on a deal that works for the Rangers.
Alexandar Georgiev, RFA
The Rangers will be looking for a backup goaltender this offseason. Georgiev will probably be with another team in 2022-23.