By Lenn Robbins
While Knicks management and fans were crying in their beer on Sunday, The Garden’s other marquee franchise was popping the cork on champagne bottles.
The Rangers landed the biggest free agent on the market, signing Artemi Panarin to a monster seven-year, $81.5 million deal. Unlike the Knicks who failed to land Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving (don’t even dream about Kawhi Leonard because that’s not happening), the Rangers went for it all and scored.
Panarin, a 27-year-old winger, already is considered one of the best snipers in the NHL. He’s in the prime of his career and will be for the length of the deal. There are no injuries concerns.
“When you see him play, the fans are going to enjoy it because of the style he has to his game,’’ Rangers president John Davidson told reporters on a conference call. “He can be electrifying at times. As we get this all going and young people see how he plays, I think it’ll be infectious. I think it’ll be infectious for the fans to watch.
“But again, everybody keep in mind, that this is a process. And we’re going through it, and he’s going to be part of it. These are pieces that fit a puzzle, and we are trying to get that puzzle completed the proper way as quickly as possible.”
Panarin represents a huge piece of the Blueshirts’ rebuilding plan.
It was less than 18 months ago that then Rangers president Glen Sather and current GM Jeff Gorton sent fans a letter stating their intention to reshape (read: rebuild) the current roster.
They have drafted wisely, taking rugged forward Kappo Kakko with the second pick in this year’s draft. And Vitali Kravtsov, the No. 9-overall pick in 2018, reportedly looked great at the team’s recent camp in Stamford.
They also have traded shrewdly, acquiring defenseman Jacob Trouba from Winnipeg. The Rangers also acquired the rights to Harvard defenseman Adam Fox from Long Island.
The reshaped roster was getting closer to being a playoff contender.
And then the Rangers sent shockwaves through the NHL.
The signing of the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Panarin puts the rebuild in warp speed. He has amassed 116 goals and 320 points in 322 career games. That production didn’t wane in the playoffs. Panarin has 26 points in 27 playoff games.
“When you put these pieces together, some of them pop sooner than others,” Davidson said. “We have a lot of youth. We want Artemi to be a part of this, and when these young players pop, he’s still going to be in his prime. And I think he’s excited about that. I just think it’s a win-win for him and for our hockey club.”