It's been a long offseason in the Big Apple after a devastating first-round playoff exit for the New York Rangers in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blueshirts were one season removed from advancing to the Eastern Conference Final, where they had a 2-0 lead on the Tampa Bay Lightning before losing four straight.
It was expected that the Rangers were good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup last season after the scintillating 2022 run, but Jack Hughes and the New Jersey Devils had other ideas. Heading into 2023-24, GM Chris Drury has made some shrewd moves, highlighted by signing Blake Wheeler to a one-year, $800,000 contract and locking up former No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere to a two-year bridge deal that only pays him $2.3 million AAV.
There's not much more you can do with this roster. It's up to the team's core to produce in the playoffs, something that didn't happen last season under Gerard Gallant. With Peter Laviolette now behind the bench, the hope in New York is that the Rangers can return to the form they briefly showed in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. But it's on the players to do that, and there are a few that are expendable and could be moved this season.
Barclay Goodrow, C/LW
Barclay Goodrow has really struggled since being traded from the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2021. He's put up 33 and 31 points seasons, respectively, and has done next to nothing in the playoffs, scoring two points in 15 games over two campaigns. The playoff performance was an issue for multiple Rangers last season, but Goodrow is one of the more expendable pieces on the roster.
That's because the 30-year-old Canadian is making $3.6 million in each of the next four years before testing unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2028. It seemed like a bad contract from the start, and it has not aged well. As New York is one of the more salary cap strapped teams in the league, it could be time for Drury to move on from the forward.
That is especially true as Goodrow figures to begin the 2023-24 campaign on the fourth line. He would be better suited on a team where he can move higher up in the lineup considering he's making nearly $4 million AAV. The Goodrow experiment in New York hasn't worked, and it seems impossible that he will remain a Ranger for the duration of that contract.
Jimmy Vesey, LW/RW
Like Goodrow, Jimmy Vesey has really struggled in a New York Rangers uniform after signing with the team off a professional tryout in 2022. He scored just 25 points in 81 games last year, and disappeared in the postseason, registering just a single assist in seven games against the Devils. But unlike Goodrow, Vesey is on a team-friendly contract that pays him only $800,000 for the next two seasons.
The fact that Jimmy Vesey and Blake Wheeler are making the same amount of money next year is startling; Wheeler scored 55 points in 72 games last year, and is a better player despite being seven years older. Vesey is now 30-years-old, and it's clear the Rangers want to let the kids play. The Boston native can no longer be considered in that bracket, and instead of keeping him around for two more years, Drury could look to get him a change of scenery sometime this season.
Zac Jones, D
Zac Jones has been billed as future of the Rangers' third defensive pairing for years now, but the 22-year-old has somehow only played 16 games with the big league club. He continues to impress at the American Hockey League level, scoring 31 points in 54 games and adding another six points in nine playoff contests last year.
But it seems like every season, there is someone who ends up on the third pair instead. This year, that figures to be Erik Gustafsson, who was signed to a one-year deal by Drury on July 1. The veteran Swede proved he still has some gas in the tank after an impressive 42-point campaign between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals last season. The fact that he did it in just 70 games is also quite impressive, and he could supplant Jacob Trouba on the second powerplay unit.
Jones is a very solid defender, but he obviously hasn't proven himself at the NHL level. And with the top four of Trouba, Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren and K'Andre Miller set in stone, it's difficult to crack the defense in New York. For that reason, the restricted free agent in 2026 could be on the move. The Rangers also have Matthew Robertson blocking his path after a great season with the Hartford Wolf Pack himself. Zac Jones deserves a crack at an NHL roster while he is still relatively young, and that simply might not happen with the Blueshirts.