When the music stopped on the NHL’s annual game of July 1 musical chairs, the Rangers were clearly left standing. Not only had they lost Brian Boyle, Benoit Pouliot, Anton Stralman and Brad Richards, but they were also left with minimal cap space and a much smaller group of incoming players. The kicker to all this is that none of the new players were centers.
All throughout the Finals, the narrative was the Kings’ depth down the middle and how the Rangers could match it. It was an area targeted for improvement this off-season, and it was the one area the Rangers seemingly couldn’t find a way to upgrade.
I don’t hate the Dan Boyle deal. I do hate the Tanner Glass deal, but we are talking about a 4W here, so it’s far from the end of the world. Sather added some nice depth the minor league club and created a pool of reinforcements should injury strike, but when we are potentially counting on one of just two possibly ready prospects to play significant minutes without any veteran competition, it becomes a little concerning.
As of now, the depth chart at center looks woefully thin. Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Dominic Moore and one of Oscar Lindberg and J.T. Miller. I like both Lindberg and Miller’s games, but they have diametrically opposed skill sets and there are no guarantees that either of them can be a full-time, full-season solution. If they can’t handle the job, where does the organization go from there?
The $69 million cap hit for this season surely threw a wrench into Glen Sather’s plans. That extra two million goes a long way when we are talking about a solid defensive depth guy or a Pouliot-type flyer. I’m sure it was a Blues’ only hometown discount Statsny took, but at this point, wouldn’t we all rather see Kevin Klein moved up a rung on a defense and grabbed a Grabovski type instead of Boyle?
We are at the point now where the most attractive remaining UFA centers are David Legwand, Derek Roy, Mike Ribeiro, Steve Ott and Andrei Loktionov. That is not exactly an inspiring group. Are they guys who could potentially help the Rangers? Sure. Maybe. But I doubt this list is what Ranger fans had in mind when thinking about replacing Brad Richards.
Maybe a trade is still possible, but it seems with both Spezza and Kesler off the market, there isn’t much left to choose from. Not that we have the cap space without sacrificing our RFA’s, anyway. And before anyone mentions it, it makes no sense to trade Rick Nash for pennies on the dollar for a mediocre center that just opens up another hole.
I’m all for developing and integrating younger players and prospects into the NHL lineup. I’m just not a fan of throwing kids into the fire and hoping the team doesn’t get burned. If it’s Oscar Lindberg, he’s essentially going to be expected to replace a key penalty killer and defensive zone player in Brian Boyle. If it’s J.T. Miller, he’s going to be expected to anchor a third line that will be responsible for a significant amount of depth scoring and two-way play. Is anyone really that confident that either of those guys can fill that role seamlessly, right now?
I suppose on the overall spectrum of concern, I fall somewhere between Kevin and Chris. I liked some of Sather’s approach to free agency, and was more concerned by his results than his process. But what does concern me is the backward step the club took with its depth down the middle. Bringing in another at least 2C was imperative to taking the next step. I guess we’d better just hope that the kids are ready.