Jeff Gorton’s main focus this offseason was retooling the blue line. He did so with what amounted to a major overhaul. Dan Girardi was bought out and essentially replaced with Kevin Shattenkirk. Anthony DeAngelo was brought in as a result of the blockbuster trade involving Derek Stepan. Kevin Klein retired. Brendan Smith was re-signed. And the Rangers inked two solid undrafted free agents in Alexei Bereglazov and Nick Pionk. All in all, the Rangers will have a vastly improved blue line this season.
However there are still many questions on the blue line. As we all pencil in Shattenkirk alongside Ryan McDonagh, some of us are left to wonder if that is truly the top pairing. As Brady Skjei is penciled into the 2LD spot, some wonder if that is still Marc Staal’s spot to lose. Many of these questions are aimed at the coaching staff, as Gorton has certainly done his job.
- Starting with the obvious, is Shattenkirk really going to be the 1RD? Will Alain Vigneault deploy what could be the best top-pairing in the division? Or will he rest on his laurels, and go with ole-reliable Staal or Nick Holden alongside McDonagh, because he “doesn’t trust” Shattenkirk?
- Will Skjei really be the 2LD? Or again, is it Marc Staal’s spot to lose? What if Skjei regresses, will he be pushed to the third pairing, getting minimal minutes at even strength and none on special teams?
- Is Brendan Smith really the 2RD? Him and Skjei really clicked and formed a solid second pairing last season. Or, once again, will Staal/Holden get those minutes, because they are “trusted” by AV?
- What about Anthony DeAngelo? Where does he fit in? Without a trade, he actually looks like the odd-man out. Because let’s be honest, do you trust AV to play a kid who has defensive zone struggles over his own “trusted” guys, who also have issues in the defensive zone. Maybe DeAngelo won’t play slip-n-slide in the slot. But will AV recognize that?
- What impact will Lindy Ruff have? He’s another old school guy who trusts his guys and runs the same systems as AV. He’s basically the same coach. If the decisions on the blue line are deferred to Ruff, will we see identical decisions?
- Will both Staal and Holden even be on the team at the start of the season? Not many trades occur this late into the offseason. The Rick Nash deal is the only one I can think of at the moment, and that happened on July 23.
- What will the Rangers do with Bereglazov? At this point, he appears to be the 8D, and he has an out-clause back to the KHL if he’s not in the NHL.
- Will Pionk, who seems like he could be NHL ready, start in the minors?
- What about Ryan Graves?
- Will one of these guys be used as a chip to get a true 2C?
These are ten questions facing the Rangers and their ten-man competition to make the NHL roster (symbolism at its finest, folks). As great as this offseason has been, there is work to be done. And not all of that work involves clearing the logjam. What do you think the coaching staff will do with their new blue line?