Chris Drury continues to put his stamp on the new-look New York Rangers, adding a back-to-back Stanley Cup champion, beginning the process to buy out a player they paid to go away and trading a productive winger to change the makeup of the roster.
The latest move in the offseason makeover came Friday before the NHL draft with the trade of winger Pavel Buchnevich to the St. Louis Blues for forward Sammy Blais and a 2022 second-round pick.
“I feel very good with our depth at winger,” Drury said. “It just gives us some flexibility moving forward a little bit for the rest of this offseason. There’s only so much to go around, whether it’s this year or next year, and certainly ice time is a factor.
Buchnevich had 20 goals and 28 assists for 48 points in 54 games last season. The 26-year-old winger is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights.
The Blues hope to work out a long-term deal with Buchnevich, who may have many prime years ahead of him.
“He’s a definite top-six forward,” St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong said. “You look at the minutes that he averaged last year, where he finished in scoring on the Rangers, I think he’s just starting to come into his own. So I think he’ll touch every aspect of our game, or have the opportunity to.”
Blais, 25, has 35 points in 119 regular-season NHL games and was part of St. Louis’ 2019 Stanley Cup-winning team. He’s signed for $1.5 million next season before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
“We’re trying to reshape and get a little different look on our bottom six,” Drury said. “I think he brings a lot of size, a good physical edge. I think he’s got some offensive upside, and the minutes he’s played in the past he’s had good production.”
Trading Buchnevich came hours after the Rangers put defenseman Tony DeAngelo on unconditional waivers for the purposes of buying out the final year of his contract and a day after signing gritty forward Barclay Goodrow to a $21.6 million contract.
“Lot of balls in the air,” said Drury, who is doing his best to add some sandpaper to a team that has been criticized for not being tough to play against. “It’s been a busy day, a busy week for everyone.
The Rangers used the money saved by dumping DeAngelo on a back-to-back Cup champion they hope will improve team chemistry on and off the ice.
Former GM Jeff Gorton said in February that DeAngelo had played his last game for the Rangers. DeAngelo was involved in an undisclosed incident, went unclaimed by the NHL’s other 31 teams on regular waivers and was assigned to the taxi squad but told not to report.
DeAngelo was signed for $4.8 million, and the buyout saves the team just over $4.4 million next season with a salary-cap hit of under $900,000 in 2022-23. Goodrow counts $3.6 million annually against the cap.
DeAngelo can sign anywhere as an unrestricted free agent when the market opens Wednesday. Despite the Rangers not being able to give him away last season, the 25-year-old could draw interest on a short contract: He’s only one year removed from putting up 53 points in 68 games.
Led by 2020 MVP finalist Artemi Panarin up front and reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox on defense, New York has plenty of players who can produce. What the Rangers needed was some toughness.
Enter Goodrow, who along with Blake Coleman was the “final piece” of the Tampa Bay Lightning coach’s Stanley Cup puzzle, according to coach Jon Cooper. Coleman, Goodrow and new Seattle Kraken center Yanni Gourde formed a third line that was a matchup nightmare on the way to consecutive championships.
After the Rangers took criticism for players not standing up for each other in the immediate aftermath of a scrum with Washington’s Tom Wilson that left Panarin injured and led to a $5,000 fine for roughing Buchnevich, the organization made a concerted effort to bulk up.
President John Davidson and Gorton were fired and Drury promoted from assistant GM. Drury hired no-nonsense coach Gerard Gallant and traded a 2022 seventh-round pick to Tampa Bay for Goodrow’s rights, which allowed the Rangers the chance to sign him before free agency.
Goodrow’s first game that counts with New York will fittingly be against Wilson and the Capitals. But the Rangers are counting on him to bring his Cup-winning experience and leadership all season and into the playoffs for years to come.
“I’m more of a ‘follow my lead’ (kind of) a player,” Goodrow said. “Not the most vocal but I just like to show and (hope teammates) follow my actions.”
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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