The New York Rangers cleared some salary-cap space for themselves by trading Derek Stepan on the day of the 2017 NHL draft. The question then became how general manager Jeff Gorton would make use of his newly earned financial flexibility.
After the Rangers exited the Stanley Cup playoffs in the second round, Gorton may prioritize making a big splash in free agency. He may also opt for more incremental moves in an effort to focus on the team's younger generation of stars.
Judging by the most recent rumors surrounding the team, the Rangers may be going with the latter approach.
Signing Kevin Shattenkirk is by far the simplest way to bolster the Rangers' blue line. As Adam Herman of SB Nation's Blueshirt Banter argued, failing to bring Shattenkirk aboard would leave New York's defense in somewhat rough shape:
Despite that, the Rangers may be content to let Shattenkirk sign elsewhere.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported Friday the expectation from some was that New York would use the money it saved in part from trading Stepan on a contract for the veteran defenseman. However, Friedman followed up Tuesday casting doubt on Shattenkirk landing in the Big Apple.
"I know we've been hammering Shattenkirk to the Rangers, but New York seems very determined to increase the roles and responsibilities of its young players," Friedman wrote.
Well, you know what? I don't know that the Rangers are as eager for Shattenkirk as everybody thinks they are. They might get in those sweepstakes. But quite frankly, part of the reason—well, a big part of the reason—they made the deal is they were trying to shed a contract. Listen, [Stepan] is a good NHL center. He's money in the bank for 50 points. But he's got a contract that kicks in with a full no-trade on July 1. He's got four years left at $6.5 million. The Rangers are looking at what he did for them for $6.5 million. They're looking at his age. They're looking at their team. They're looking at the need to get younger and to transition.
Shattenkirk's record speaks for itself. He has finished with 40-plus points in six of his seven NHL seasons, and the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign is the one exception.
The New Rochelle, New York, native would be a great fit in New York if money were no issue. He's arguably the best free agent in the league, though, so he's in a position to command a sizable contract.
Signing the 28-year-old would look great right now, but it's a deal New York would likely regret were it to pay him top dollar.
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau
Although the Rangers apparently want to get younger, that's not stopping them from entering the race for Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
Freidman reported New York was one of four teams pursuing the 37-year-old forward along with the Montreal Canadiens, Columbus Blue Jackets and Los Angeles Kings. TSN's Pierre LeBrun tweeted that a dozen teams had contacted Thornton's representatives.
Regarding Marleau, The Athletic's Craig Custance reported the Rangers, Kings, Nashville Predators, Carolina Hurricanes, Anaheim Ducks, Toronto Maple Leafs and San Jose Sharks had all registered interest.
The San Jose Mercury News' Paul Gackle noted free agency is somewhat foreign to both players. Thornton has spent 12 years in San Jose, while Marleau has been with the team since entering the league in 1997. During their time with the Sharks, neither Thornton nor Marleau has been an unrestricted free agent. Thornton signed three extensions with the team and Marleau received four extensions.
Of the two, Marleau would arguably be the better target for the Rangers. He's the same age as Thornton but doesn't offer as much of an offensive ceiling, despite Thornton finishing 2016-17 with just seven goals. Still, Marleau has averaged 59 points a season since turning 30, and he may be willing to make the move across the country from San Jose to New York despite spending his entire career in northern California. NBC Sports California's Kevin Kurz reported in November 2015 the Rangers were one of three teams for whom Marleau at the time would've waived his no-trade clause.
According to The Fourth Period's David Pagnotta, Thornton is looking for a three-year deal. If that's the case, then the Rangers are better off targeting Marleau until Thornton lessens his demands.