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My kingdom for a center

July 4, 2014, by
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

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.


  1. craig says:

    short a decent 2c we’ll finish 3 or 4 in the east and out in the 2nd round

    • Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

      That’s what everyone said last Summer and early on Brad Richards helped keep this teams head above water. I feel the hole left by the need for a top 6 C but I think there’s a larger more visible lack on the right side up front. This team could win games with a rookie at Center and a better mix of left and right handed shots up front. Nash has to play on the left side 5 on 5. The teams identity last year was speed and skating at least offensively. Persuit of the puck defensively. I think the blue line will be better offensively with Boyle next to Staal. Have to find a couple righties.

  2. prole30 says:

    Vnny comes half-price doesn’t he if the Flyers would agree to ship him to NY

    • Puck Luck (@Centerman21) says:

      I don’t think the Rangers and Flyers do much business together being division rivals and all but Lacavalier would be a big 2nd Center the Rangers could use. Now he is another lefty so that makes having a reliable righty on his right side that much more important. His forehand is to the right winger on a pass. Stepan is a righty so having Nash on the left would maximize his potential as an offensive threat. Maybe Kristo is ready for 2nd or maybe even 3rd line with Brassard and Zuccarello on the left. Brassard is also a lefty so his RW is important on most odd man rushes up the ice. I wouldn’t mind Vinny if he was acquired for a 5th or 6th round pick. The Flyers may have to retain part of his salary since he hasn’t played up to it.

  3. paulronty says:

    Hey everybody wanted Richards bought out(except me) and it indeed left a huge hole at centre like I said it would. But no use crying over spilled milk, so it is going to have to be JT Miller or Lindberg and we’ll all have to live with the growing pains. Derek Roy has wheels but he’s small & Legwand will cost too much, so what choice is there.

    • Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

      I wanted Richards to stay last year too. All in all it was a good idea. I was on the fence about buying him out this year but if we still had his $6.7 mil on books there wouldn’t be any money for RFA’s. His finals performance showed his age and stamina. If we had Richards or a constant performer as 2nd Pivot. The finals go different. Especially the first 2 games in LA. If we won those 2 games. The series goes 7 games and who knows. Richards is another Lefty too so he was expendable. We need to make a trade for a Joe Thornton or another big top 6 center and find right side shooters. Kreider and Nash should be the top 2 LW. Hagelin can move to the 3rd Line with Brassard and Zuccarello as a fast two way line dependable in all 3 zones. Either of the kids they use can line up at Wing with Glass & Moore.
      Also, since Faceoffs were a problem for a Possesion team. Why not have your best Faceoff guy (Dom Moore) as the Center and Nash on RW and Stpan on the Left where he scores most of his goals on the PP from. That leaves options open for the second unit but with out a RW to play on Left with MSL on the right. A right handed shot up front is imperitive. A right handed Center would be a good start. I think Sather has a trick up his sleeve. His team won the east and went to the finals. He’s not gonna let the NY Rangers flop the following season. We have a solid Backend with some more offensive potential 5 on 5 and the PP. I bet Boyle has his best Possession stats of his career in NY this year playing next to “stay at home D” Marc Staal.

  4. supermaz says:

    Grabowski is not the second coming of Denis Savard, he is a journeyman center, and no better than Miller or Lindberg. Let it go, good move Glen, keep the pen in your pocket and play the kids.

    • Chris F says:

      Grabovski is no Stastny, but he’s capable of 55-60 points (playing with Hagelin and MSL) and he’s actually a pretty strong possession player.

      He would have been a very much needed addition to this lineup and he’d provide much better depth down the middle than either Miller or Lindberg.

    • Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

      With the cap space as tight as it is, some rookies are going to inevitably be in the regular lineup next season. Grabovski had pretty good possession stats last season. He would have done little about size down the middle for us and he’s another lefty. I think Sather will pull out a trade at some point for a Center. Any of the rookies either line up on the wing on the 3rd or 4th line or slot in at Center (Lindberg or Miller) and move Brassard up. I don’t really like that idea. Brassard is a great 3rd line pivot on a contending team. Unless they add a couple big right handed wingers that can skate well enough to play on the top 2 lines. I always thought Stewart could be coaxed out of Buffalo. I doubt he really wants to be there anymore than Halak did.

  5. Tim B says:

    If Nash were traded i’d want back a 2nd line center and a 2nd line winger. Look at edmonton. They were stacked with those guys.

  6. Seahorse says:

    Im a Derek Roy fan but that be just me cause he was on my fantasy team. And riberio might have personality issues but he was playing for the yotes. They are both worth one year contacts and if you’d want to get big and gritty ott is your man. I sound optimistic and im surprised at myself

  7. Walt says:

    I may be way out there in left field, but I believe that the coaches, and management must feel that the kids could do the job, or they would have made the necessary moves to correct what may be a perceived problem???????

    Don’t be too suprised to see Lindberg on the 3rd line, with Miller as the replacement for Pouliot. That would take care of two so called problems, and add some speed, and grit to the Brass line. Lindberg could play solid defense, and at the same time, has the skill set to do some dishing out of the puck to the likes of MSL. and Hags. He also brings more speed than did BR, and comes sooooooooo much cheaper! This could very well be a win win for us?????

    • joe719 says:

      I’m of the opinion that JT Miller will never have a place on the Rangers. Av basically said that the kid needs to learn to work harder and devote more time to getting better. I don’t see how that opinion could have changed while he was unavailable during the playoffs. I think he will be packaged for a front line center. As for Lindberg, I don’t have a clue as to what he can or can’t do. Until we get a better look at what type of player he is, hes just another name on the prospect list. I don’t think Sather will be content with just handing over a job to a rookie; especially with the window closing on winning with this group. I think he owes that to Hank!! IMO.

      • Walt says:


        What AV ment was the Miller kid had some growing up to do. He is no different than MDZ was, except he is a better player. Look, he showed up at camp on time, when the rest of the guys were there a week, or more before him.

        Bottom line, he has to prove that he wants to play in the bigs, and I believe that’s why AV said he has to learn to be a pro!!!!!!!

        I could be wrong, but the kid wants to be here, and will be here early this season, ready to work his tail off!!

        • joe719 says:

          Understand all that Walt. But I don’t see how anything has changed since the time AV made his remarks and now. Miller got hurt, and really couldn’t show anything in the playoffs. I don’t know how people can pencil him in a spot before the coaching staff even get a look to see if he has taken things to heart. I just feel that with all the promotions and demotions in his short career, there might be something that we’re missing as fans. And then, the coach goes out of his way to comment on him. Just sends up red flags to me. Hope I’m wrong; but I have my doubts.

        • flatbush says:

          Said it yesterday that we did a good job due to cap and contract terms but we couldn’t address our biggest issue of getting that #1 center. At this point we’re not going to get it and to settle on whats out there within the cap isn’t gonna help. The coaches get to make something out of the kids and /or experiment line combos. Could Nash be a center? Before the experts here say its crazy we’ll never know unless he’s willing to try? You gotta play with the cards your dealt. That’s what coaches do. Lets focus on what we have and stop looking to blame next year ( before it starts) on not getting a big name center.

    • Snake says:

      “I may be way out there in left field, but I believe that the coaches, and management must feel that the kids could do the job, or they would have made the necessary moves to correct what may be a perceived problem???????”

      Ditto, but with extra emphasis on “perceived”.

    • Puck Luck @Centerman21 says:

      Bringing in 2 more lefties to play with a lefty winger helps how? Then Brassard I guess is your 2nd Center? I don’t think that helps much. If any kids were going to come up and play in the NHL, my vote would go to Kristo for the right handed shot. The proposed lineup you are dreaming of has 1 righty and 11 lefties up front. This is why the PP didn’t work the 2nd half of last year and for most of the playoffs. No righties on the left side of PP.
      There’s going to be a rookie or 2 in the lineup and there should be at least one kid graduating to the NHL level each year. However, even tho Linberg may be better suited for the area he will play in the lineup. Kristo is the scorer and has the right handed shot. Besides Lindberg had some trouble on D when he first played pro. He was a 2 way center in Sweeden but not in the NHL. The team expects Miller to be in the NHL and I bet Kristo gets the other spot even if Fast and/ or Lindberg play better in camp.

  8. Johnny Red says:

    we have what we have and make do with it because that’s the new salary cap N.H.L. Had Sather done a better job in the early years things could have been better. Do we forget how he just kept over paying free agents and drafted badly in his first 7 years! Other teams give their young players chances and we must do the same. With them comes growing pains so get use to it. Let’s stop wishing for players we can’t afford to get. Kristo has history with Stephan and should be given a chance even if he’s not so good in defensive zone. The big 8 for the caps was minus 38. but no one says get ride of him. Let these play and learn on the job, we have no other choice!!!

  9. Leatherneckinlv says:

    So how do you all project who MSL’s linemates will be and who replaces Pouliot on the Brass line?

  10. joe719 says:

    I still have a feeling that we haven’t heard the last of the Joe Thornton to NY rumours. I just keep coming back to him when I look at what might be available. They might be desperate enough to get Nash going again, that they might overpay to get him in terms of prospects going the other way. Sather might be looking at this season as a last chance with the current group. He might be willing to sacrifice a little of the future for big returns now. I just have a feeling that we haven’t heard the end of this yet.

    • Rangers Fan in Boston says:

      They’d have gut the team for him (no cap room otherwise). Not a fit.

    • Dave says:

      What prospects do they have to give to even make the trade possible? No first rounder next year either…

  11. bloomer says:

    The ranger cap situation would be different right now if slats kept Callahan and the draft picks and simply let Cally walk at the end of the season. But ny fans are love the with the big names on the jersies thus Sather caved in. Now its pay back time and time to lower expectations.

    • Leatherneckinlv says:

      Sadly that is a fact. Other teams with big names trade for picks and depth, us we trade our big name and , AND assets for washed up big name players. The MSL trade was horrendous for the Rangers. Look at us now. We are in a pickle. That was one of the worst trades made by Sather. Sure we went to the Cup finals all for the appearance and now a weak foundation.
      We hardly have any top 6 forwards in depth to speak of. We have a couple of high paid loafers on the club, no size and toughness with talent. We consistently have great bottom 6 lines. Sometimes you have to fall to get back up and run. My observation is there is a lot of work to do with hands tied. If we start slow, Staal and St Louis have to be traded by trade deadline. Also if we can get the right deal for Nash that also needs to be looked at. We are good to go in goal and defense but the forwards is as close to a disaster as it gets

  12. mikeyyy says:

    We are the problem.

    We expect a contender every year.

    Teams that are contenders every year don’t win the cup.

    Teams that BUILD win cups.

    Lets stop the win now mentality and start the win the cup mentality.

    We should stop pucking around and get serious.

    The kids can’t develop in the ahl. They need playing time. If the past 10 years hasn’t been an indication of that, I don’t know what is.

    • Leatherneckinlv says:

      Man I can not agree with you more. Only way to get top 6 forwards with high probability is to draft in the top 5. Building a team is the only way to go. It has proven to be so as a model. In 4 years you know who will be a powerhouse? Yeah Buffalo. Who will be a serious contender, yeah Florida. Eckbald type defensemen only come once every 20 years. Conner McDavid types once every 30 years. Buffalo will be in great position to add him plus 2 more 1st rounders next year. Us, we got weaker by the free agency and no 1st round picks to replenish. All that means is we will be making news via free agency…ughhh

      • Walt says:

        That’s why I posted just yesterday, “You never give away your #1 pick, year in, and year out”.

        As for Buffalo, they will indeed be a powerhouse for years to come, once this group of kids develope from the last three drafts, or so. Add to that the fact that next season they have 3 #1 picks, what I would do to see us that loaded for bear!!!!!

  13. Gary says:

    I think that the AV system made Pouliot. He is still Pouliot, but he played in an up tempo system that featured his strength, which was speed.

    Brad Richards could not keep up w/ the AV system.

    Boyle was a great piece of grit in the middle of it, but I think a faster kid (Lindberg) could be even better.

    Stralman had a great playoff and suddenly he’s not Stralman anymore? He’s still Stralman.

    I don’t love the Boyle thing but it is what it is. Not a major downgrade on D anyway.

    As for the center issue, I think the AV system can make a couple kids too. I think it is a sort of plug-n-play thing for people with a certain skill set… namely, speed.

    I think Lindberg is going to surprise because he already has what we need for the 4th line, which is D awareness and faceoffs. He’s also way faster than Boyle and if his last year in SE was not a fluke, can will pop in a few.

    It comes down to if Miller’s head is straight and if he took to hear what AV said. If so, he’ll take a jump within the system too. If not, he’s a meat head and we’ll have some issues.

  14. webs16 says:

    Guys, I completely disagree. The Rangers are coming off a cup run – is that not what we have begged for over the past 20 years? Lundqvist is not getting any younger so we are in win now mode. The Rangers are in great financial shape next season. Staal and MSL come off the books which clears up like 10mil in cap space. The only bad contract is Girardi. He had a terrible playoff run and has logged so many tough minutes over the past 5 seasons. Sather stood his ground and didnt lock us into long term deals with the likes of Poulliot or Stralman to keep some flexibility. I think a big decision needs to be made on Brassard and Zucc. IMO Zucc had a great year but as an undersized forward who has no track record of this success I find it hard to meet his demands. Brass was over his head when matched in LA by a deep down the middle team and is no more than a 3C and needs to be paid accordingly. I would not be surprised if the Rangers revisit the Thornton talks and look to attach Brass or Staal in this move.

    • supermaz says:

      Webs16, if you can’t see the talent and heart in Zuccarello there is no need to proceed further in discussing hockey with you. You know nothing.

  15. Johnny Red says:

    Why players won with the salary cap: This system was put in place to try and control players salaries, but when the put in the cap floor and made it high it forces teams to pay below average players more then they are worth. This forces all salaries higher! The players rep knew this and it’s working like a charm.
    what the Rangers and other teams need to do is trade guys who are going to be U.F.A’S and get something for them instead of losing them for nothing. That’s what we should have done with our players and we would have been a lot better off.

    • supermaz says:

      And not been in the finals? That’s ok, keep your draft picks, I’ll take an exciting playoff season over draft picks.

      • paulronty says:

        Actually Rangers scored two number 1’s last year in the 3rd round with Duclair & Buchnevich. Two awesome draft picks says craig button.

    • "The Original" Rob says:

      “What the Rangers and other teams need to do is trade guys who are going to be U.F.A’S and get something for them instead of losing them for nothing.” Excuse me, but I’m a bit perplexed by your statement. If you’re saying that all the teams in the NHL should do this makes no sense, because for every trade, there’s a giver and a taker. So if one team does this then another team must be the taker. Also, this is exactly what the Rangers did at the deadline and traded our Captain. Unfortunately, Slats gave away a lil too much in return with the two picks.

  16. Kevin mccarthy says:

    Agree with 90% think your list of centers on the market is off As far as the Glass deal, AV must have seen something from him with there time together. Also he is a good replacement for Dorsett serving a similar role with less PIM that will not hurt the team. I was disappointed with the Richards departure but hope the rumor is true he will be back in one year on a lower contract.