Jesper Fast

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The Rangers are keeping J.T. Miller at wing

When the New York Rangers traded center Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes this offseason it created an opening at a pretty important spot in their lineup. With that new vacancy at center it seemed reasonable to conclude that J.T. Miller, coming off of a career year that saw him score 22 goals and record 56 points, would move back to his natural position on a more permanent basis.

According to Rangers coach Alain Vigneault on Monday, that will not be the case to start the season.

Vigneault announced on Monday that Miller is going to open the season playing on the wing, not necessarily because of anything he has or has not done, but because of the play of the other centers in Rangers camp.

This would seem to be good news for 2017 first-round picks Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson. Both have not only been impressing the team at camp, but still remain in the running for a roster spot. With Jesper Fast currently sidelined due to an injury, Vigneault said it is possible both of the Rangers’ first-round picks could start the season on opening night roster.

Along with the two draft picks, the only other move the Rangers made this offseason to address the center position was to bring in veteran David Desharnais.

Mika Zibanejad, who was limited to just 56 games a year ago due to injury, will also be expected to take on a bigger role in what will be his second year with the team.

The Rangers traded Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes over the summer in a deal that brought them back the No. 7 overall pick (used to select Andersson) and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo in an effort to create some cap space and help rebuild their defense.

Let’s look at Rangers’ contracts after Zibanejad signing

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The New York Rangers are no strangers to big off-season (and trade deadline) changes, and this summer has been no different.

Phew, that’s quite the series of changes, and it’s not necessarily covering every single facet.

So, that leaves us with some questions: what are the Rangers left with, and what does the future look like beyond 2017-18?

Spending on players in their own zone

When checking out the Rangers’ salary structure at Cap Friendly, it’s clear that the Rangers’ long-term commitments lie in Henrik Lundqvist ($8.5 million cap hit through 2020-21) and the defense in front of him.

Shattenkirk, 28, is the highest-paid blueliner of the bunch … at least for now.

His $6.65M cap hit is more manageable than some anticipated, particularly since the term isn’t too risky at four years. Shattenkirk, Marc Staal (30 years old, $5.7M), and Brendan Smith (28, $4.35M) all see their contracts expire after the 2020-21 season.

Shattenkirk may not be the most expensive Rangers defensemen for too long, as Ryan McDonagh is due for a raise quite soon. The 28-year-old’s $4.7M cap hit is a bargain, but his deal runs out after 2018-19. McDonagh would hit unrestricted free agency if the Rangers can’t figure something out there.

As mentioned before, the Rangers are trying to shake Holden’s $1.65M cap hit (a deal that only runs through 2017-18), but either way, he likely won’t be part of the mix for long. Brady Skjei, on the other hand, stands as an especially intriguing consideration. His rookie deal expires after next season, and with it that $925K cap hit. It will be intriguing to see how much he gets, and when the Rangers aim to sign him (as they technically could do that now if they’d like).

Staal’s $5.7M is a problem, especially going forward. Otherwise, the Rangers seem to be spending their money reasonably wisely on the blueline.

The goalies behind that defense should be fascinating to watch, as Pavelec has plenty to prove after years of Raanta giving Lundqvist very valuable breaks.

Uncertainty beyond Zibanejad?

It’s one thing to have three defensemen locked down for at least three seasons; it’s another to see that the Rangers only have three forwards with at least three years of term remaining.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, yet it’s a bit of an eyebrow-raiser for a team that once made a lot of shaky bets on long-term deals for scorers.

Right now, these are the three Rangers forwards who are signed through 2019-20 or later:

Zibanejad: 24, $5.35M, expires after 2021-22 (would be UFA)
Chris Kreider: 26, $4.625M, expires after 2019-20 (UFA)
Jesper Fast: 25, $1.85M, expires after 2019-20 (UFA)

Those deals are good-to-great, and the best news is that those players are in the thick of their primes.

It’s fascinating to note some of the decisions that are looming, though.

After a long stretch of being a trade rumor magnet, Rick Nash, 33, will see his $7.8M cap hit evaporate after 2017-18. That could come in handy as the Rangers will see noteworthy forwards (and also Skjei) like J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, and Jimmy Vesey become RFAs. Desharnais is slated to be a UFA, and most importantly, Michael Grabner is too … and will almost certainly command a significant raise from his dirt-cheap $1.65M.

Some interesting deals only have two years remaining, including Mats Zuccarello‘s $4.5M and Pavel Buchnevich‘s ELC.

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All things considered, the Rangers are in pretty good shape. It’s up to GM Jeff Gorton to keep it that way.

Welcome Nick Holden to the trade rumor mill

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Last summer, when Nick Holden was traded from Colorado to the Rangers, Patrick Roy called Alain Vigneault to say, “You just got one of my better defensemen.”

Now it seems that Holden may be on the trading block again.

From the New York Post, in the wake of Mika Zibanejad‘s contract extension:

The Blueshirts are projected to start the season with just $445,556 of cap space if they carry eight defensemen (including Alexei Bereglazov) and 14 forwards (including Andersson and Boo Nieves with Jesper Fast on IR). The Rangers are expected to attempt to deal defenseman Nick Holden ($1.65 million) in order to bulk up in the middle, if possible.

Holden played 80 games for the Rangers last season, scoring 11 goals with 23 assists. The 30-year-old is signed for one more year before he can become an unrestricted free agent.

If Holden is traded, the Rangers could go into next season with a top four of Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk, Brendan Smith and Brady Skjei. That would leave Marc Staal, Bereglazov, Anthony DeAngelo, and perhaps even Neal Pionk to fight for minutes on the bottom pairing.

What’s unclear is Holden’s value on the trade market. After all, the Rangers only gave up a fourth-round draft pick to get him from Colorado. Has his value risen significantly since?

Key players from Penguins, Sabres, Lightning headline salary arbitration list

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The NHLPA released a list of players who are filing for salary arbitration during this off-season on Wednesday.

It’s important to note that arbitration hearings rarely happen, and with good reason, as they can be harsh situations that may lead to hard feelings between a player and his team. Hearings take place July 20-Aug. 2, with a 48-hour window for verdicts to be made.

Also, the deadline for club-elected salary arbitration is set for tomorrow (July 6) at 5 p.m. ET.

Another key note: offer sheets are not an option for players who file for arbitration. Now, onto the list, which began with 30 players and is now down to 28:

TORONTO (July 5, 2017) – Thirty players have elected Salary Arbitration:

Arizona Coyotes

Jordan Martinook

Boston Bruins

Ryan Spooner

Buffalo Sabres

Nathan Beaulieu

Johan Larsson

Robin Lehner

Calgary Flames

Micheal Ferland

Colorado Avalanche

Matt Nieto

Detroit Red Wings

Tomas Tatar

Edmonton Oilers

Joey LaLeggia

Los Angeles Kings

Kevin Gravel

Minnesota Wild

Mikael Granlund

Nino Niederreiter

Montreal Canadiens

Alex Galchenyuk (signed for three years; more on that here)

Nashville Predators

Viktor Arvidsson

Marek Mazanec

Austin Watson

New York Islanders

Calvin de Haan

New York Rangers

Jesper Fast (signed, read about the deal here)

Mika Zibanejad

Ottawa Senators

Ryan Dzingel

Jean-Gabriel Pageau

Pittsburgh Penguins

Brian Dumoulin

Conor Sheary

St. Louis Blues

Colton Parayko

Tampa Bay Lightning

Tyler Johnson

Ondrej Palat

Vancouver Canucks

Reid Boucher

Michael Chaput

Vegas Golden Knights

Nate Schmidt

Winnipeg Jets

Connor Hellebuyck

Rangers re-sign Fast: three years, $5.5 million

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Following an impressive postseason performance, Jesper Fast has cashed in.

On Wednesday, the Rangers announced they signed Fast to a three-year, $5.5 million deal, one that carries a $1.85M average annual cap hit. The deal comes after the 25-year-old was one of New York’s top skaters in the playoffs, scoring six points in 12 games while playing just under 15 minutes per night.

This is a nice piece of business from Rangers GM Jeff Gorton, who locks in a steady lineup presence and contributor for less than $2 million per season.

Fast’s offense took a bit of a dip from ’15-16 to ’16-17 — his goals decreased from 10 to six, his points from 30 to 21 — though to be fair, last season was somewhat derailed by a separated shoulder.

Today’s signing also comes on the heels of Gorton adding depth to the center position, by inking veteran free agent David Desharnais.