NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The Rangers’ rebuild just got accelerated in a big way.
Fresh off turning a handful of their veteran players into current and future assets through shrewd trades and landing a franchise talent with the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft, the Blueshirts owned the opening minutes of NHL free agency on Monday by coming to terms on a contract with superstar forward Artemi Panarin. The 27-year-old winger received a seven-year deal for a little less than $12 million in average annual value.
Panarin had a career-high 87 points, including 59 assists, last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has 320 points in 322 career games, split between Columbus and the Chicago Blackhawks, with whom he won the Calder Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s top rookie, back in 2015-16.
The addition of Panarin follows a series of moves that likely will position the Rangers to get back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 season sooner rather than later.
On June 21, general manager Jeff Gorton used the No. 2 overall pick in the draft to select Finnish forward Kaapo Kakko, a highly skilled and intelligent winger who is expected to play in the NHL this upcoming season.
On June 17, Gorton engineered a trade with the Winnipeg Jets that brought steady puck-moving defenseman Jacob Trouba to Madison Square Garden. Trouba, who has one year left on his contract, is expected to get a long-term extension soon.
On April 30, the Rangers acquired top blue line prospect Adam Fox from the Carolina Hurricanes and quickly signed him to an entry level contract. Fox is expected to compete for a job with the Blueshirts this September.
By adding a talent like Panarin to the mix, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before the Rangers again become a postseason regular.
As for the Islanders, the only New York City-area team to actually make the playoffs this past season, losing Panarin to their archrivals has to be a bitter pill to swallow. The Isles reportedly offered upwards of $12.5 million over seven years, only to get spurned by a superstar for the second straight offseason. Last July 1, captain John Tavares took less money to sign with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs.
Undeterred by the Panarin snub, GM Lou Lamoriello quickly pivoted back to current captain Anders Lee, who reportedly received a lot of attention on the open market before agreeing to a seven-year, $49 million deal with the Isles on Monday afternoon. Lee, who had 28 goals and 51 points last season, had continuously expressed a desire to stay with the Islanders, the only organization he has played for since entering the NHL as the 151st overall pick in the 2009 draft.
Earlier this offseason, Lamoriello re-signed center Brock Nelson and winger Jordan Eberle to team-friendly deals, when they could have made considerably more in free agency. Reinserting Lee, who will turn 29 on Wednesday, is another positive step, but the goal was for the Islanders’ offense to be improved by September. It remains to be seen if Lamoriello can add another big piece up front.