If you were to rank the NHL’s ‘Most Improved Teams’ through this point of the offseason, the New York Rangers would likely land near the top of most lists. Along with their rivals across the Hudson River.

Since finishing 32-36-14 and seventh in the Metropolitan Division, the Rangers landed the second overall pick and selected Finnish forward Kaapo Kakko. In addition, they signed the top forward on the market by inking Artemi Panarin to a seven-year, $81.5 million deal and acquired restricted free agent defenseman Jacob Trouba from Winnipeg. The latter just signed a seven-year deal worth $56 million.

New President John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton have elected for the quick re-build. In order to acquire the rights to the pending RFA, the Rangers sent Neal Pionk and a 2019 first-round pick to Winnipeg. The Jets used that to select Ville Heinola.

The recently signed Trouba contract puts the Rangers $906,466 OVER the cap of $81.5 million. This accounts for 22 players on the roster with two restricted free agents yet to sign. One of which is 24-year-old Pavel Buchnevich, who scored 21 goals last season. They will get some relief when guys like Matt Belesky and Gregg McKegg likely end up in the AHL. With that said, it doesn’t offer that much relief.

The silver lining? Trouba instantly becomes the Rangers best D-man after enjoying a career-year with the Jets in 2018-19. Trouba played in all 82 games last year tallying 42 assists and 50 points. Both career bests. He did this while averaging over 22 minutes of ice time for Winnipeg.

What’s Next?

The obvious next step in this process is to clear some cap space. But, who?

Chris Kreider, the subject of plenty of trade rumors, carries a cap hit of $4.625 million next season in the final year of his contract. Kreider matched a career-high with 28 goals last season for the Rangers in his seventh NHL season. His 52 total points fell one shy of his career-best of 53 set during the 2016-17 season. The Massachusetts native has spent his entire career with the Blueshirts since being drafted 19th overall out of Boston College in 2009. Set to become a UFA after this season, Kreider seems like an obvious candidate to be moved. Especially considering, at just 28-years-old, he will present quite a bit of value for potential suitors.

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Given the fact that they have roughly $20 million coming off the books following this season, John Davidson, Jeff Gorton, and the rest of the Rangers front office may roll the dice and try and re-sign Kreider in the offseason. If that’s the case, guys like Vladislav Namestnikov and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk may become expendable.

Namestnikov, like Kreider, is entering the final year of his contract and accounts for $4 million against the cap. After scoring 22 goals in 2017-18, Namestnikov scored just 11 times in 78 games for the Rangers last season. The former first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning may be on his third different team in three seasons before training camp opens.

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In regards to Shattenkirk, he carries a $6.65 million cap hit over the next two seasons. On the wrong side of 30, moving Shattenkirk could solve two problems for the Rangers. One, it would free up a significant amount of cap space. Even if the Rangers are required to retain salary in any sort of deal. Two, with Trouba now in the fold, it would free up a bit of a logjam the Rangers have on their defensive depth chart. Long-time Ranger, Marc Staal could also fall into this category as he carries a lofty cap number and is on the wrong side of 30. All in all, the Rangers have just under $32 million committed to seven defensemen.

The Rangers have certainly improved this offseason with the additions of Trouba, Kakko, and Panarin. And, of course, they still have one of the best goaltenders in the league in Henrik Lunquist. However, before the puck drops on the 2019-20 season, the Rangers still have work to do.

– Ian Glendon is the Editor-In-Chief of Full Press Coverage and the Managing Editor of FPC NHL. He covers the National Hockey League. Like and follow on and Facebook.

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