We keep talking about how the Rangers are poised to make an array of moves to shake up both the roster and the organisation as a whole, but aside from signing Pavel Buchnevich (hurrah!) the team have been silent thus far. That may be because they aren’t done assessing the current situation yet; time will tell.
The Rangers are obviously going to need to reshape their defense – if they can – but perhaps the biggest decision they may have to make may be which center they have to deal. The Rangers don’t just need to shift cap space but they need to acquire assets and the Rangers best chance of a quality return – without negatively impacting any one specific position – may be moving one of their centers. It’s the position where the Rangers are deepest.
Former Rangers blueliner Jeff Beukeboom is likely the fan’s choice to replace Ulf Samuelsson and he’s the emotional choice to be the Rangers next assistant coach thanks to all his obvious connections to the big club. Emotions aside however, and Beukeboom is indeed the right choice, and for several critical reasons.
Continuity is something that’s a common theme in successful organisations and Beukeboom knows the organisation better than maybe anyone else – certainly better than any other assistant coach candidate. It can only be seen as an advantage that he’s so familiar with the club, with the systems and with the majority of the blueliners in the organisation.
Beukeboom has been with the WolfPack since 2012 and will know better than most how the Rangers can best integrate Dylan McIlrath (assuming he is even retained – which he should be). Beukeboom will know Brady Skjei well from their time together last season so he’ll surely be able to help accelerate the Rangers top prospect into a top four role. He’ll also know how far away fellow blueline prospect Ryan Graves is from being NHL ready following his own solid introduction to pro hockey.
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 .