Apparently, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal are so bad (p.s. they’re not) that they are untradeable unless the Rangers do something ridiculous like take back Bobby Holik and Scott Gomez’s Ranger contracts.
Well, the rather perplexing trade between the Canucks and Panthers this week has taught us two things that should excite the Rangers and those are: NHL General Managers still make stupid decisions and there is most certainly a market for mediocre defensive defensemen.
Here’s the deal; Erik Gudbranson is a better, younger player than either Staal or Girardi but he has neither lived up to his draft billing (3rd overall in 2010) nor is he such a particularly impressive blueliner that teams ‘just have to have him’. Factor in the Canucks gave up the 33rd overall pick in what appears to be a solid draft, gave up on their 14th overall draft pick from 2014 and you have the makings of an overpayment regardless of the other bits and pieces in the deal.
We keep hearing the comparisons between Evgeni Kuznetsov and Rangers prospect Pavel Buchnevich. Also how Buchnevich bested KHL numbers from a certain Vladimir Tarasenko – arguably the best young sniper in the NHL today. We also hear that expectations should be tempered for Buchnevich partly based on the period of adjustment required for the aforementioned rising stars – and rightly so. No one should expect Buchnevich to come in with no English, no exposure to the North American style of hockey and pot 30 goals as nice as that would be.
With all that said, not only can Buchnevich significantly help the Rangers on the ice – by adjusting quickly to the rigours of the NHL – but he can help Alain Vigneault and the perceived notion that he is a veteran-favouring coach who often ignores developing younger players for immediate gains.
The Rangers have a pretty long shopping list this summer with the defensive (let’s call it) overhaul and all the restricted free agents needing signing (amongst other to do’s). Complicating things for Jeff Gorton and co. will almost certainly be Oscar Lindberg’s injury and the fall-out it will cause.
Lindberg’s season came to a very disappointing end. After a truly surprising start (that include Calder whispers in October) where he was a major reason for the Rangers’ own fast start, Lindberg eventually slipped and stayed out of the line-up. In retrospect it’s now fair to assume that his hip issues influenced the disappointing culmination to his season.
Remember when everyone thought the Pens were too light and too ‘green’ on defense to contend this season? Seems like a major error of judgement, no? After dismissing the Rangers, the Pens have the Caps on the brink and appear very well set to take a run at the Stanley Cup and they’re doing it with a relatively unheralded defense.
Yes, the Pens have an absolute offensive stud (albeit a dirty one) in Kris Letang and beyond Letang they have two good puckmoving blueliners in Olli Maatta and the traded for Trevor Daley. Beyond that though and they have either a lot of youth or question marks rounding out their unit depending on your own personal take on Ian Cole, Ben Lovejoy, Justin Schultz and Derrick Pouliot. What the Pens lack is a lot of established, top four blueliners. But it hasn’t mattered.
When the Rangers exit the playoffs (and it may be tonight but it will certainly be before June) they will have a lot of issues to confront. The lack of accountability, the holes on the roster, the coaching staff’s inability to address the obvious issues plaguing the team all season… the list is pretty extensive. Yet despite all of this it’s easy to forget the core of the roster is legitimately solid. Changes are needed, but not on a ‘let’s blow it all up’ level. The biggest danger to the Rangers however may be the number of teams in similar positions who may be vying for the same talent this summer.
Whether you believe the Detroit Red Wings should entice Pavel Datsyuk to stay or not (they shouldn’t) the Wings have managed to stay competitive and like the Rangers have a core of prospects now in place that should allow the club to return to contender status if Detroit have a good summer. The Wings can accelerate a return to contention if they are able to steal Steven Stamkos in the summer. The Wings coped with losing Mike Babcock pretty well as well as dealing with the steady decline of important veterans.
Tonight is surely the beginning of the end for Dan Girardi as a Ranger. First of all because it is now clear to everyone that Girardi is no longer superhuman and the once-warrior is accumulating injuries like never before. Hey, this is what players past their sell by dates often do. Secondly Dylan McIlrath can surely do no worse even if he doesn’t excel, right? And thirdly, as mentioned yesterday the Rangers are trying to do the unlikely and jump in front of the speeding train that is Pittsburgh and get it to stop. Can the Rangers really continue with Girardi if they exit the playoffs early? Surely not.
If he is sheltered, Girardi can probably add value to a team where he better fits, where they may want a veteran presence, where he can player in a more friendly system and where the media glare is not so intense after every mistake. That’s the qualifier to this post.
I’m not a pessimist, in fact I am usually quite the (complete) opposite but here’s a grim statement for all you Rangers fans out there: barring a remarkable turnaround in performance, momentum and decision making the Rangers will be enjoying the offseason in about ten days time.
Here’s another pretty bold statement for you: this season Henrik Lundqvist has saved Alain Vigneault his job. At first glance Lundqvist’s numbers are not their usual Vezina standard until you dig a bit deeper and see what incredible numbers he’s actually put up against the quality of shots he’s facing. Lundqvist has never had it harder and yet has never been more important to the Rangers success.
As we have discussed a few times, and from a few different angles, the Rangers are approaching a period of significant change over the next summer or two. With players (Girardi, Dan and Staal, Marc to name just two) regressing, contracts expiring (Eric Staal amongst others), other cumbersome contracts causing reason for concern (Rick Nash is making almost 8m? Really?) and a lack of can’t-miss prospects on the way, the Rangers are going to have to be both creative and proactive as they look to build on the fly as they try to stay in contention.
Jeff Gorton’s trade savvy will need to be in full beast mode over the next summer or two and maybe one player worth exploring might be Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman. Hoffman, despite emerging as a legitimate goalscorer, hasn’t always seen eye to eye with the Sens coaching staff this season and at times has even been demoted to the fourth line .
You know that kid J.T. Miller? He’s quite good at this thing they call hockey. Miller has surely, finally established himself as a New York Ranger and is fast becoming (if he hasn’t already) a Rangers fan favourite with his all-action, never stop style. He’s also going to get paid this summer.
Given the sudden surge in his development this season, and despite the way the Rangers are hard pressed against the cap, the Rangers need to go against their usual process and think long term with Miller when discussing a new deal this summer. Sure, there’s a lot of hockey left in the season (we hope) and things could change, but there really is no reason the Rangers should be thinking ‘bridge deal’ when it comes to Miller.
With the news that SKA were eliminated on Monday and thus Pavel Buchnevich’s season in Russia being officially over, excitement began about the prospect of the über-prospect hot-stepping it to New York. I was also twitter guilty of a little bit of Buch-hysteria. But not so fast.
The Rangers are a cap team and they’ll be tight to the cap for (at least) the foreseeable future. Take a look at the current Rangers roster and the ‘problems’ that Alain Vigneault is having with finding appropriate roles, ice time and combinations for all his presumptive top nine forwards. Is there really enough room to squeeze Buchnevich into the top nine – in a meaningful role?