Ryan Strome has never been in this position before.
The 28-year-old center is hurling toward unrestricted free agency for the first time in his nine-year NHL career. He said he doesn’t know what to expect, but that he does expect it to be weird to see his name on all the free-agent lists in the media should it get to that point. However, Strome is certain about one thing:
“My heart is here,” Strome said Monday during the Rangers’ breakup day at the MSG Training Center in Tarrytown. “I think the last four years, I’ve tried to pour everything into this thing, on and off the ice, as much as I could. Whatever happens, happens. I can’t predict the future. All I know is that I love these guys. I think we have some unfinished business and this team is destined for great things in the future.
“See what happens. It’s a little emotional, honestly. It’s a great group of guys. I hope there’s more.”
The Post’s Larry Brooks reported that Strome and his camp declined an offer from the Rangers during negotiations earlier in the season. Considering the cap crunch the Rangers will be under in years to come, president and general manager Chris Drury only has so much to offer Strome while also planning for the future contracts of other key players like Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller, who will all be restricted free agents after next season.
Strome pointed out that his longest deal was the three-year entry-level contract he signed with Garth Snow and the Islanders in October 2011, so he’s hoping for something a little longer than that after playing on back-to-back-to-back two-year deals.
And after making the jump from a 30-point player to a 50-point player, he deserves his payday. The question now is whether the Rangers can — or want — to afford it. Otherwise, the Rangers will be in the market for a second-line center this offseason.
“We talked a little bit, but I think both sides once we got a little closer [to the playoffs] we just focused on hockey,” he said. “I try not to be apart of it as much as possible. I think going through it as the player, you get information secondhand from your agent, then he calls the team and whatever. I feel like it’s best to stay out of it as much as possible. I feel like for me, it was a little bit harder to focus the more I was involved. So I tried to stay out of it a little bit.”
In declining the Rangers’ initial offer, which is believed to have had a cap hit ranging from $5.25 million-$5.5 million, Strome took a chance on himself going into the postseason. He ultimately scored two goals and dished out seven assists in a playoff performance that could’ve used some more production if upping his price tag was the goal.
Strome did reveal that he played through a pelvis injury for half of the regular season and most of the playoffs. He said he’ll find out if he needs a core-muscle-type surgery on Tuesday, but he doesn’t think his rehab will carry over into next season. He added that he’s never dealt with this kind of injury, which he said started in the second half of the year and gradually got worse.
Asked if the uncertainty of his future factored into his mindset that he had to play in the Rangers’ season-ending Game 6 loss to the Lightning, Strome said he didn’t think so.
“I think I did a good job of not thinking about that as much as possible,” he said. “I would never make a decision, one way or another, based on if I had a contract or if I didn’t. It was about this group of guys.”
Throughout his four seasons with the Rangers, Strome was an integral part of the leadership core. He brings a lot to the team camaraderie and has preexisting chemistry with one of the team’s most important players, Artemi Panarin, which are traits that can’t be bought elsewhere.
But as every NHL player points out, it’s still a business. What the Rangers want and what Strome wants may not align. Time will tell. But Strome is still certain about one thing:
“My first choice is to be a New York Ranger,” he said. “I think I’ve given them the indication that that’s my feeling. And if that’s not the case, then we’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it. I don’t really know what to expect. I’ve never been through it. I have no idea.”