The Rangers’ suffocating cap constraints are of no concern to the players, but a couple of the names that president and general manager Chris Drury was able to add to the roster this offseason impressed a few of the core players all the same.
Veteran right wing Blake Wheeler and future Hall of Fame goalie Jonathan Quick headlined the Rangers’ offseason haul of free agents who signed cheap, short-term deals to round out the club’s lineup.
The key signing was Wheeler for a multitude of reasons.
The former Jets captain agreed to a one-year deal with an average annual value of $1.1 million, which only crossed into seven figures because of a max $300,000 performance bonus incentive.
Otherwise, Wheeler will be making a base salary of $800,000 as he embarks on his 16th NHL season.
To put it in perspective, the 36-year-old was most recently carrying a cap hit of $8.25 million before Winnipeg bought out the final year of his five-year deal at the end of June.
That’s a potential pay cut of $7.15 million or more, depending on Wheeler’s play.
The price tag does not correlate with how much Wheeler will be expected to do for the Rangers.
“It’s exciting to see a player like Blake Wheeler pick our group,” Chris Kreider said last week in the locker room of the Terry Conners Ice Rink, where the Shoulder Check Showcase charity event was hosted to benefit the #HT40 Foundation. “A guy who’s in a position where he’s had a ton of success, he’s an incredible player, he’s had an outstanding career. And he looks at our group and says, ‘Yeah, they’re right there and I want to win a Cup.’ That’s quite the vote of confidence.
“Obviously, he brings a lot to the team on the ice and off the ice. A good American player.”
The contract is a testament to how Wheeler views the Rangers, but the team will need to get the most out of Wheeler if it is to reach its common goal.
Wheeler will likely slot onto the right wing of either of the top two lines, as well as contribute on special teams.
His right shot could allow for Alexis Lafreniere, who is still an unsigned restricted free agent, to remain on his preferred left wing.
Most importantly, however, the Rangers will need Wheeler to utilize his stellar ice vision and be a playmaker.
“He’s a heck of a passer,” Barclay Goodrow said. “He makes plays. He’s done it for a long time. I know, from being on the penalty kill against him, when he’s working the half walls, it’s not the easiest thing to try and cover up the seams. He’s a proven guy that’s done it for so long. Happy he’s going to be on our team.”
Quick signed a one-year deal with an AAV of $925,000 ($100,000 in bonuses) to replace Jaroslav Halak as backup to Igor Shesterkin in goal.
Though his numbers have dropped off from his prime as the Kings’ franchise netminder, Quick is still an experienced and capable piece to have in such a role.
Speaking of the Kings, Quick will be the first goalie in the organization’s history to have beaten the Rangers in the Stanley Cup finals (with Los Angeles) then play for the team.
The Connecticut native, who grew up rooting for the Blueshirts, owns a career .911 save percentage and a 2.47 goals-against average through 753 NHL games.
“I had seen him, never really talked to him, but when I worked out in Connecticut at one of the rinks, he would skate around there every now and then,” Adam Fox said. “I mean, another guy whose résumé speaks for itself. It’s pretty cool when you can have guys like that, that’s a goalie who’s been around a lot of cool moments and [has] a really good pedigree.
“It’s always fun to have those guys, hear stories and just pick their brains a little bit.”
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