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Jeff Gorton should clear cap and sign the RFAs to long term deals

Bobby Bevilacqua

jt miller goal celebration 1-16

JT Miller and Kevin Hayes (#13, far left) are both RFAs. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

There’s been a recurring theme in a lot of my articles this offseason, as well as many articles from other Rangers blogs and writers; the team desperately needs to shed some cap space. There’s not a lot of room to maneuver and fix the problems they have, and the big contracts to ineffective players will hurt the Rangers both long and short term.

On top of that, the team finally needs to undergo a youth movement. In recent memory, the team has turned to veterans and experienced players to try and propel them to a championship, trading draft picks for rentals and forgoing an infusion of youthful talent in name of a “winning pedigree” among the players. Guys like Brad Richards, Rick Nash and Dan Boyle have all been counted on to play really big roles, and it hasn’t always worked.

But this year has shown one important thing; the young talent on this team is ready for a prominent role. Chris Kreider had another 20 goal season, JT Miller posted career highs in all offensive categories, Derek Stepan hit the 20 goal plateau for the first time, and Jesper Fast took a big step up offensively, recording 30 points. On defense, Dylan McIlrath impressed with his improved skating and his ability to handle tough NHL competition, and Brady Skjei blew people away with his performance in the playoffs despite playing just seven regular season games.

Every single one of those names mentioned deserves a starting spot on the roster next season. It’s time for Alain Vigneault to trust all of his young players and let them handle prominent roles. Other young players like Marek Hrivik and Nicklas Jensen also deserve to be given a chance as a potential fourth line role or a spare forward role, rather than bringing someone new in.

If Jeff Gorton is smart (which he is), he’ll try and follow the path that the Florida Panthers have taken, minus the few years at the bottom of the league. One of the things that Dave Tallon has done correctly was locking down his young players early, saving money in the process.

Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad got long term contracts before hitting the RFA status, both inking new deals after enjoying breakout seasons, and Jonathan Huberdeau will probably get a big deal soon too. Rather than wait until they might have massive years to give them long term deals, Tallon spent less to retain his talent while still sitting in a good position to get increased production, especially from Barkov.

Gorton needs to do the same thing. JT Miller showed that he’s going to be a top-six player, and likely a 20+ goal, 50+ point player moving forward. Instead of the famous Glen Sather bridge deals, lock down Miller NOW, four years and around $4 million. Chris Kreider has stayed consistent, and Gorton should reward him with a three or four year deal with a cap hit of $4.3 to $4.5 million. And while some people have negative feelings about Kevin Hayes (baffling as to why), he’s still a tremendously talented player who just went through a sophomore slump. Try to extend that bridge deal to three years.

It’s important to trust guys like Miller and Kreider, and make sure they will be parts of the franchise for years to come. Signing their key RFAs to longer deals now would be the best move to save money in the long run while keeping the team together.

To do so, the team needs to shed some salary. And not to beat a dead horse, but that has to come in the form of Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, or both. They had terrible seasons, show no signs of returning to their original form, and are taking a roster spot away from Dylan McIlrath and Brady Skjei, all while eating up a massive $11.2 million in salary cap space. The team could also move Nash if they plan on really trusting Kreider and Miller while potentially giving Buchnevich a top six spot.

It would be hard to move them given their NMCs, but @HockeyStatMiner has been creating a bunch of hypothetical trade possibilities and potential roster moves, so I highly suggest looking at some of the ways he would try to improve the roster.

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Posted on May 18, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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