The Rangers have not yet decided whether to extend a Qualifying Offer to pending restricted free agent Ryan Strome, sources with insight into the situation have told The Post.
The deadline for QO’s is 5 p.m. on Tuesday. The Blueshirts have already qualified Tony DeAngelo, Alex Georgiev and Brendan Lemieux. It is unknown whether Phil Di Giuseppe has been qualified. If the Rangers do not qualify Strome, he would become an unrestricted free agent.
Arbitration eligibility is the major issue regarding Strome, the 27-year-old center who had a career year with 59 points (18-41) while meshing beautifully with Artemi Panarin on the club’s 1A/1B line. Those numbers would likely elevate Strome, who had a cap hit of $3.1 million last season, into the realm of the $4.75 million neighborhood.
That would likely be too rich for the Rangers, even if they do have the space under the cap to accommodate it. Remember, too, that Strome is a season away from unrestricted free agency, so we’re probably talking about No. 16 becoming a trade-deadline rental property.
And yes, the Rangers would have walk-away rights, but only if the award is above $4,538,958. That could be close to the award if the arbiter goes low. It is unlikely the Blueshirts would extend a QO without being comfortable having the power to walk away from it.
It is unclear whether the Blueshirts are engaging in negotiations with Strome on a deal that would preempt an arbitration filing. The team is lacking depth down the middle to begin with. If not Strome, then Filip Chytil would become the leading candidate from within to center Panarin’s unit that will all but certainly lose Jesper Fast to free agency on Friday. Indeed, sources have linked Fast to Carolina.
The free-agent market is scarce with centers, though Erik Haula would fill a lot of the boxes for a club that needs more of a checking presence up front and better work at the dots from all of its centers. Haula, a 29-year-old from Finland, checked in at 54.1 percent in working last season for Carolina and Florida. Strome was at 47.5 for the Blueshirts squad that was next-to-last in the league on faceoffs at 46.8, ahead of only the Sabres’ 45.9 percent inefficiency.
Haula could play up or down in the lineup depending upon Chytil’s success as a top-six pivot playing with a Hart finalist. The problem, though, is that given the market, Haula will likely be in great demand and thus command a contract that’s too expensive for the Rangers’ taste.
But back to Strome and the decision that general manager Jeff Gorton and president John Davidson are confronting. The loquacious one was a very important player for last year’s team both at five-on-five and on the power play, where he recorded 17 points (3-14) on the four-righty unit. He and Panarin were a plus-23 (48/25) in 700:48 of full-strength hockey.
But there were defensive deficiencies, the faceoff issue and a penchant for taking careless penalties. Indeed, he was hit with 17 minors, tied for fifth-most among NHL forwards at five-on-five according to Naturalstattrick.com, while drawing only three.
The Rangers are weighing the pluses and minuses, the impact on the cap and on the roster. If Chytil can’t make it with Panarin and Strome is not here, then who would play with the Hart finalist?
Oh, that’s right. I forgot. Jack Eichel, obviously.
Again, the QO deadline on Strome comes Tuesday, just about two hours before the Rangers step up to the virtual podium and announce the first-overall selection in the NHL entry draft. It is theoretically possible that the sides could negotiate beyond that if management does not extend the QO but by that point, wouldn’t Strome be better off waiting to see what the open market has to bear when it opens on Friday?
The Rangers have not yet made theirs regarding Strome.
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