Welcome to The Hockey Writers’ 2023 Free-Agent Target series for the New York Rangers. During it, we will be looking at a handful of free agents from NHL teams who the Rangers should consider signing this summer.
In this edition, we will focus on the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes have some pending unrestricted free agents who could be of interest to the Rangers’ roster needs. Let’s discuss them now.
Paul Stastny represents an affordable depth player the Rangers could sign this offseason. He has several years of NHL experience, and the 37-year-old could be helpful to New York’s young forwards, Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko.
Stastny’s motivation for signing a one-year deal last summer with the Hurricanes was the chance to win a Stanley Cup, “I’ve been fortunate to play long enough that it’s not about the dollars and cents. I think it’s just winning. It’s a chance to win. I think that’s what everyone wants.”
Stastny proved during the 2023 Playoffs that he can contribute in key moments. He secured the first-round series win for the Hurricanes over the New York Islanders with the game-winning goal in overtime during Game 6. He is still capable of contributing decent numbers for a bottom-six forward and is very good at winning faceoffs. He nearly matched his career high at winning faceoffs during the 2022-23 season. He finished with a 57.61% faceoff winning percentage this year, and the Rangers could benefit from another player that excels at winning faceoffs.
If the Rangers trade Barclay Goodrow, Stastny could replace him as a more affordable option for the fourth-line center spot. The 37-year-old forward earned $1.5 million in 2022-23, and President/general manager (GM) Chris Drury could pay him that amount on a one-year deal. New York should be a playoff-contending team in 2023-24, which could motivate the veteran to consider signing with the organization this offseason.
Antti Raanta filled in net for the Hurricanes as the starting goalie during the first-round series against the New York Islanders. Along with Frederik Andersen, the two provided a goaltending tandem for Carolina throughout the 2023 Playoffs. Both goalies are unrestricted free agents, and only one of them may return next season for the club, with Pyotr Kochetkov signed for the next several seasons.
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Andersen has more experience as a starter, and the Hurricanes may try to re-sign him to compete with Kochetkov for the starting goaltender position next season. Raanta is more suited to be a backup goalie and held that role previously with the Rangers from 2015 to 2017.
During his two years with the Rangers, he posted solid numbers as a backup netminder:
2015-16: 11-6-2, 2.24 goals-against-average (GAA), .919 save percentage in 25 games played.
2016-17: 16-8-2, 2.26 GAA, .922 save percentage in 30 games played.
Raanta has maintained his standing as reliable in his backup role during his two seasons with the Hurricanes. He has gained the most postseason experience in his career with Carolina. During the 2022 Playoffs, he had a 2.26 GAA and a .922 save percentage in 13 games played. In the 2023 Postseason, he finished with a 2.48 GAA and a .909 save percentage in six games.
Raanta is coming off of a two-year deal with the Hurricanes, in which he had a $2 million average annual value. If GM Drury wants to seek a change at the backup goalie position, he could consider signing the 34-year-old netminder. Jaroslav Halak, the Rangers’ backup during 2022-23, had a $1.5 average annual value, and Raanta will be seeking at least that same amount with his new contract.
GM Drury could offer a one or two-year deal to Raanta with an average annual value of $1.5 million. If the 34-year-old goalie does not receive any offers this offseason matching the $2 million average annual value he earned with his last contract, he may agree to a deal worth $1.5 million. He represents a solid alternative to Halak for the Rangers to pursue as a backup to Igor Shesterkin in 2023-24.
Jesper Fast is another Hurricanes player that the Rangers could target this offseason. He was effective in his role as a bottom-six defensive forward during his time with New York from 2013 to 2020. If unrestricted free agent Tyler Motte does not agree to a contract with the Rangers, Fast is a good alternative for the team to sign to take his place at right wing on the fourth line.
Fast is skilled at blocking shots, as he had 31 at five-on-five during 2021-22 and 2022-23 for the Hurricanes. He worked on his shot-blocking during his tenure with the Rangers. Despite not being known for his offense, he led all Carolina players with six goals in 15 contests during the 2023 Playoffs.
Fast excelled offensively during the Hurricanes’ second-round series versus the New Jersey Devils with at least one point (three goals, three assists) in all five games. The winger tallied the game-winning goal in overtime during Game 5 to enable Carolina to advance to the 2023 Eastern Conference Final. He did not do as well on offense during the series versus the Florida Panthers (one goal, no assists) in four games. However, his ability to contribute offensively on occasion, in addition to his defensive skills, makes him more marketable.
Anthony Scultore of Forever Blueshirts wrote that it is possible Fast and the Rangers could agree on a multi-year deal with an average-annual-value of $1.5 million per season. The winger’s two-way ability would make him an underrated addition for the Rangers to make.
The Hurricanes have a few depth players for the Rangers to consider signing in Stastny, Raanta, and Fast. GM Drury could agree to a one or two-year contract with one of these free agents while still having cap room to sign restricted free agents Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller. The experienced Stastny could provide the club with more leadership, particularly for their young forwards. Raanta and Fast did well in their respective roles previously with New York.