With the offseason in full swing, the Rangers brass is going to look for ways to improve the team and fill holes by dealing from strengths. At the moment, the Rangers currently have 17 players signed for next season (10 F, 5 D, 2 G) at $50.9 million in cap space. That leaves them around $13.4 million to bridge the gap with three forwards and two defensemen. Among those that will be included are RFAs Fs Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, and Mats Zuccarello; and RFA D Ryan McDonagh.
The RFAs are the biggest concern, but after that the Rangers are going to need to address their two most glaring needs: Scoring depth and a puck moving defenseman. The Rangers were absolutely inept on the powerplay, and these two needs played directly into that. While those are the two most glaring needs, the Rangers find themselves in the same position as last year: Owning a dearth of depth forwards from which they can deal.
Prospects J.T. Miller, Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Christian Thomas, and Ryan Bourque not withstanding, the Rangers –in an ideal depth situation– have five guys (Boyle, Pyatt, Asham, Dorsett, Powe) best suited for bottom-six play currently under contract or as RFAs, and another two (Brassard, Hagelin) that can play second line minutes, but are really best served as third line players to take advantage of match ups.
The problem is that the Rangers have very few established top-six players, or at least players that are best served playing in a top-six role. In that group you can include Nash, Richards (he hasn’t been bought out yet, so he still counts), Callahan, and Stepan. Kreider is a wild card, and while he has unreal potential, he has yet to be consistent enough to warrant a designation of “top-six forward.” Scoring depth –particularly a top-six forward– is a clear need for this team. A Richards buyout exacerbates this need.
On the blue line, it was clear the Rangers did not have the depth to deal with injuries to any of their top-six guys. Once Marc Staal and Anton Stralman went down long-term, the Rangers were overmatched. The acquisition of John Moore helped tremendously, but when injuries force you into a decision between Roman Hamrlik and Matt Gilroy (Steve Eminger was already playing), then there is a huge depth problem. The powerplay issue is a known one, and with the Rangers in need of a solution on the blue line, addressing the need for a puck mover coincides with this.
There aren’t many attractive names on the free agent market, however. Slats and company may need to look to the trade market and deal from a strength to address the needs of a team that is in win-now mode, and has their window closing with every day that Henrik Lundqvist ages.
With so many prospects knocking at the door, the Rangers have some wiggle room with their bottom six to swing a deal using their depth. It won’t be on the scale of Rick Nash, one that cost them two key roster players, but it will be on a scale that will still cost them one roster player. It’s tough to really guess who the odd man out would be without a coach, but in a Torts system, Pyatt’s foot speed –or lack thereof– makes him the obvious candidate. But that was last week. For now it’s really a toss-up depending on trade partner and team need.
It would behoove Slats and company to keep the aforementioned prospects in Hartford blue, as we’ve seen how useful prospects can be in the playoffs as injury replacements (see: Krug, Torey). That said, the Rangers have a good number of prospects with some decent trade value, and if the new coaching staff doesn’t see a fit under their system, you may see some of them moved along to fill these holes. It’s not ideal, but it is an option.
The Rangers we saw this season were a flawed team. They had some guys faking it as top-six forwards, and they had a clear hole on defense. With the core pieces set, it is up to Slats and company to fill these holes and build a team capable of winning a Cup. It’s been a long post-lockout road (first lockout), but we are closer than you might think.