To call him the out-and-out centerpiece of the deal may not be entirely apt, but when the New York Rangers shipped captain Ryan McDonagh and center J.T. Miller to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Vladislav Namestnikov was certainly a player the Blueshirts coveted as part of the return.
The reasons for that were plentiful, of course. He was on pace for 25 goals and more than 60 points, he was playing a top-six role on one of the league’s top teams and he appeared to have plenty of room for growth if he was given the ice time to flourish. But upon arriving in New York, a funny thing happened. Away from the all-world skill of Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, along with playing on a roster that didn’t have supplementary talents such as Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point, Namestnikov’s numbers took a dive.What kind of a dive, you ask? If Namestnikov’s rate of scoring once suiting up as a Ranger are to be believed, he scored at a nine-goal, 19-point rate. That’s less than one-third of the rate at which he had scored while he was skating with the Lightning.
Thus, New York was faced with a conundrum: what exactly were they to pay Namestnikov, who had come in as a 20-goal scorer but finished the year looking like a bottom-six forward? Well, we got our answer Sunday, as the 25-year-old was inked to a two-year deal worth $8 million. And while the $4 million annual average value says that Namestnikov is about to be paid like an up-and-coming youngster, the term tells us that the Rangers aren’t quite sold that he can reach the same heights as he did prior to arriving on Broadway.
The good news for Namestnikov, however, is that this gives him the chance to prove himself. Without explicitly saying so, that’s exactly what this contract is. It’s a deal that shouts from the rooftops that it’s now up Namestnikov and no one else to show New York he can be worth the kind of long-term deal players with similar 22-goal, 48-point outputs in their age 25 season have signed prior. But doing so will require finding a better fit in the lineup and possibly blossoming under new coach David Quinn, who joins the Rangers after years as a standout college coach.
If Namestnikov can be a 20-goal guy, he solves a lot of problems for a Rangers outfit that finished bottom-10 in league scoring last season. If he can’t and he continues to play as he did across the final 19 games of the past campaign upon his arrival in New York, the Blueshirts can take solace in the fact they avoided a long-term deal.