Rangers have plenty of concerns after start of NHL free agency

Regarding the Rangers:

1. I spy the makings of a formidable and sustainable top six that would include Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko.

2. I spy a strong tandem in nets with Igor Shesterkin supported by Alex Georgiev.

3. But beyond that, I must confess, the rest of the portrait appears wildly out of focus. I don’t think the Rangers had a particularly good weekend.

The bottom six is entirely without definition. The defense makes no sense to me. The team was unable to do anything at all to address a stunning absence of depth and options at center throughout the organization, even passing on a couple of highly regarded pivots in the draft to select a physical right defenseman they obviously coveted.

4. I spy an almost ludicrous cap squeeze given the fact the Rangers could carry as many as 10 players on entry level contracts. But entry level contracts include bonus provisions, the sum of those attainable bonuses exceeding $6,112,500 are charged against the cap, and the Blueshirts will be anywhere from $4-to-5 million over that allotment depending on the final roster.

True enough, the situation is exacerbated by the $12,494,444 in dead space that accounts for buyouts and retained salary, almost all of it representing the charges against Kevin Shattenkirk and Henrik Lundqvist.

5. Silver Lining I: Had the Rangers kept Shattenkirk last year, they’d be spared his $6 million-and-change in dead space for 2021-22, which would change a lot of things. But you know what else would have changed? The Rangers’ performance last season.

Adam Fox might not have played. If he did, the rookie who evolved into the team’s best and most dependable defenseman probably would not have had the same role or minutes if Shattenkirk had remained in the lineup. Who would have come out? Tony DeAngelo? Jacob Trouba?

And without Fox’s stellar rookie season, the Rangers all but certainly would have failed to qualify for the NHL’s 24-team tournament. Do you know what that means?

No first-overall draft selection.

No Lafreniere.

6. Jesper Fast’s decision to leave New York for Carolina and management’s decision to allow the five-time-running Players’ Player play somewhere else was not about the surprisingly modest but sign-of-the-times $2 million per on his deal, but the third year he received from the ‘Canes and apparently could not from the Rangers.

It is fair to question the judgement of both parties on this one, though it is important to stress that this decision was entirely unrelated to the call to sign Jack Johnson.

7. On Wednesday, GM Jeff Gorton enthusiastically talked up the possibility of moving either Fox or DeAngelo to their off-side on the left to fill the hole created by Marc Staal’s trade to Detroit.

Moving one or the other would create an immediate vacancy on the right side for next year, but it would also produce an opening that could be filled by Nils Lundkvist if he were to sign following the end of his season in Sweden.

This is the primary reason that even if Johnson wasn’t JACK JOHNSON, I’d have trouble understanding why the Rangers signed a lefty rather than a righty out of the free agent market.

(Zach Bogosian, who signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Maple Leafs would have been perfect, but sources report that he essentially only wanted to play in Toronto and rejected other, more lucrative offers.)

Let’s say it is DeAngelo who shifts sides. That gives you No. 77, Ryan Lindgren, Johnson and Brendan Smith on the left. But then what about Libor Hajek and K’Andre Miller or Tarmo Reunanen?

If neither Fox nor DeAngelo switches, there is no guarantee that Lundkvist will sign, and the Rangers still would have three veterans on the left ahead of the kids. Yes, Smith could be sent to Hartford, and that would save $1.075 million on the cap.

These are all hypotheticals. This is early October and the season won’t start for at least about another three months. No one expects a finished canvas. But if David Quinn maintains the Lindgren-Fox pairing, and Smith is waived or becomes the seventh defenseman, then does that mean Johnson as Jacob Trouba’s partner on the first pair?

That is kind of like picking Nick Holden to play first pair with Ryan McDonagh. That is the fear if the alternative is to give the assignment to one of the kids, though Quinn did pair Hajek with Trouba for 18 of the first 20 games last year.

8. The Rangers were 23rd in penalty killing at 77.4 percent, with Staal leading the defenseman by being on for one PPGA for every 8:18 of shorthanded ice time.

The Penguins were 10th at 82.1, with Johnson on for one PPGA every 9:18.

By the way, the Rangers’ PK save pct. of .872 was better than Pittsburgh’s .867.

9. Other than Brendan Lemieux, who exactly do the Rangers have up front to muscle up if opponents attempt to take too many liberties with the kids?

10. And what have the Rangers done to become harder to play against?

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