RALEIGH, N.C. — It’s difficult to project where the Rangers are going to stand after the expansion draft for the new Seattle franchise takes place following next season. There will be some roster resolution once Monday’s trade deadline passes, but that will only slightly clear up what is now a very murky picture.
Rest assured, general manager Jeff Gorton is already thinking about it.
Even as his team dreams of the playoffs heading into Friday night’s game against the Hurricanes, the future is still the focus. That means preparing for the expansion draft, which will be run under the same rules by which the Golden Knights poached one player off each team (and many other assets) following the 2016-17 season.
The Blueshirts got off easy that time when they lost forward Oscar Lindberg, who is now out of the NHL and plying his trade in Switzerland. Of course, it wasn’t just luck — Gorton was well-prepared.
So while Wednesday’s trade for former Islanders goalie Jean-Francois Berube (with just future considerations going back to the Flyers) was more about needing a reasonable replacement for Igor Shesterkin at AHL Hartford, it could possibly prove to be a valuable asset around this time next year.
Every club is allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie (or eight skaters and one goalie), with first- and second-year players not counting toward protection limits. That means Shesterkin is exempt, as are Adam Fox, Kappo Kakko, and Ryan Lindgren.
The Rangers will have to expose at least one defenseman who is under contract in 2021-22 and who played in at least 40 NHL games the prior season or played in at least 70 NHL games the prior two seasons. They have to expose at least two forwards with the same criteria. And they have to expose one goalie who is under contract for 2021-22, or who is a restricted free agent already given his qualifying offer.
As of now, two givens to protect are Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad — both of whom have no-move clauses they would have to waive to be exposed, anyway. The futures of Chris Kreider, Pavel Buchnevich, Ryan Strome, Jesper Fast and Brendan Lemieux are all up in the air. It seems as if Brett Howden is in the role of Lindberg right now if the Rangers can sign him to a bridge deal after his entry-level contract expires following next season.
On the back end, Jacob Trouba is in the first year of his seven-year, $56 million deal, with a $8 million annual salary-cap hit. His no-move clause starts next season, so if he’s still here, he stays.
At the end of next season, defenseman Brady Skjei will be 27 and have three more years left on his deal at $5.35 million per, but where will he stand with a deep pipeline of young defensemen? Once thought of as a cornerstone to the blueline, Skjei has been plagued by inconsistency, and there is now more value to players with term on their deals at a reasonable price than there has been in the past. Could the Rangers possibly even obtain an asset from Seattle in order for them to expose Skjei?
Dealing with the trade deadline can be hard enough, and Gorton has deftly navigated the previous two with a necessary coldheartedness. The expansion draft only brings another wrinkle, because by this time next year, it might be too late.