The future starts now for the Rangers. Every team need entry level contracted players to step up and provide cap relief and ideally play significant minutes – it’s a critical part of successful salary cap survival. With Derek Stepan about to get a serious pay rise (thanks Buffalo) the Rangers will need a younger player or two to step up sooner rather than later. With Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes, amongst others, due for significant raises next summer, the Rangers would dearly love a prospect or two to force their way onto the roster and/or into significant roles in the short to middle term.
The immediate options for the coming season are obviously Emerson Etem, JT Miller and Jesper Fast. All three are absent of arbitration rights this season, so remain cost controlled; two of them are established Rangers and all three of them have serious upside, albeit in different forms (with Fast’s ceiling likely to be a solid two-way third liner).
The New York Rangers ought to be concerned and not necessarily because of Derek Stepan’s current contract situation but because of the looming contract issues that currently sit just over the horizon. The NHL annual free agency frenzy was surprisingly (and encouragingly) muted this summer but don’t let that fool you.
The leagues’ posse of general managers realised value for money wasn’t there, perhaps money and internal resources weren’t there to spend and as a result we saw a lot less head scratching moves made. However, some of the contracts that were dished out bordered on the ridiculous. And it starts with arguably the most exciting player to be moved this week in Brandon Saad who joined Columbus in a multi-player swap.
For those accustomed to watching the Rangers leap head first into free agency and enjoy the fall out, they will have been disappointed as July 1st turned to the 2nd. For the rest of us, yesterday would have been a pleasant change. Ironically, as Glen Sather officially relinquished his GM duties to Jeff Gorton, yesterday also offered a change of approach by the Rangers, albeit a partially enforced one because of the aggressive moves made over the past two or three seasons.
Barring any significant changes over the next days and weeks (changes that could obviously yet happen) the Rangers core is in place for next season and the overall make-up of the roster is set. It’s better than it was a week ago. Losing Hagelin hurts, Talbot also. But the Rangers acquired solid depth in Viktor Stalberg, potential upside (and youth) in Emerson Etem and value for money in Antti Raanta.
Considering the unknowns, the main reason Rangers fans should be on tender hooks until the new season begins to play out is not because of the loading up in free agency by the Penguins or the aggressive moves by the Blue Jackets, nor the complete retooling undertaken by the Bruins. It’s because so much of the Rangers immediate future is the Rangers gambling on their own. Read More→
Let’s have a gander at the grades for the Rangers’ top two forward lines shall we?
Rick Nash’s overall season can be argued both as a positive and a negative. Indeed, there are few players that have divided opinion the way Nash has since he became a Ranger. A season that featured notable career highs but that was offset by another underwhelming postseason, things went as far as culminating with Nash being considered prime trade material this offseason. Hardly the appreciation you’d expect for a 42 goal player and early season Hart Trophy candidate. The problem is that Nash, like many Rangers, is now judged primarily on what he does after the regular season and this is where he failed to live up to both his regular season production and significant salary.
Nash needs to be a leader, the go-to guy offensively and in the postseason that didn’t happen nearly enough. Nash lacked postseason consistency, was never close to being his dominant regular season self and as the Rangers went quietly into the offseason, tellingly, so did Nash. Once again, despite solid numbers the microscope will firmly be on Nash come October. Despite the disappointing end, Nash finished in the top ten for the Hart trophy. Grade: B
While the disappointment of Carl Hagelin’s (necessary) departure still lingers for some, something might have been forgotten. The Rangers you may recall, have a rather talented NHL ready prospect, on deck, waiting for his chance. Thanks to the Hagelin trade, the path should now be clear for Oscar Lindberg’s arrival in New York.
Lindberg has been ready for a while, a fact only emphasised by his impressive AHL playoff performances this spring (16 points in 15 games). The main problem may have been finding an appropriate spot in the Rangers line-up suitable for Lindberg’s skill set. So is it a case of exit Hagelin, enter Lindberg?
Of course the Rangers are linked to Matt Beleskey because, well, aren’t the Rangers linked to every single free agent and trade candidate? This year’s prime buyer beware candidate is Anaheim’s Matt Beleskey who will officially test free agency and was actually ranked by several media outlets as the top free agent forward available. That he is ranked numero uno to some speaks volumes about this season’s weak free agent market and is one reason why the Rangers shouldn’t conduct any major roster surgery through free agency.
Beleskey actually would be a nice addition for the Rangers. He has size, he’s physical and he has suddenly discovered a scoring touch but he’s a classic free agency risk. He shot around 15% this regular season which is unsustainable (especially given his career 8% mark) and yet he still ‘only’ potted 22 goals in 65 games during the regular season. Considering Marty St Louis and his 21 goals are being chased out of New York City it’s hard to see why you would overpay for a guy that has had plenty of ice time with one of the league best tandems (Perry and Getzlaf) in recent years and hasn’t yet truly broken out.
It’s still amazing to think that just a couple of short seasons ago, Mats Zuccarello was toiling away in the KHL because, well, the Rangers didn’t really want him. At best, they were certainly not convinced by him. Fast forward a few years and Zuccarello is absolutely irreplaceable on a club that harbours annual Stanley Cup hopes.
We all saw how the Rangers struggled to generate consistent offense in the playoffs. Zuccarello’s enforced absence early in the playoffs was almost an instant death knell to the team’s hopes of winning the Cup. It shouldn’t have been the case however.
The Rangers had Rick Nash, they had Marty St Louis in position to step up, they had their trio of young centers all entering the playoffs in good form and they had Chris ‘Mr Playoff’ Kreider. But it didn’t work out as intended. St Louis literally played himself out of a new contract and maybe even out of the league. Nash hasn’t ridden himself of his playoffs demons. So what does it all mean?
For those of you that missed it, the Rangers announced their preseason schedule this week. If you’re into meaningless hockey games, played at a half pace, in half empty arenas you’ll be excited. If you get turned on by watching prospects duke it out for a roster spot you’ll be excited. Or, if you’re just glad that hockey is back on the ice, you’ll be delighted.
The Rangers play a pair of games against the Devils, with the Devils visiting the Garden on September 21st, and the Rangers in Jersey on the 26th. The Rangers also play two games against the always pleasant Flyers (22nd and 28th September) and take on the Bruins twice as well (Sept. 24th and 30th).
Expect the regular season schedule next week. Which means I have plenty of advanced notice to schedule my next New York trip…
It’s truly unfortunate timing that Rangers goalie prospect McKenzie Skapski is going to be sidelined for almost half a year. Skapski had perhaps unexpectedly established himself as a legitimate NHL prospect this season. He did so by first making a solid, if not excellent start to life in the AHL with the Wolf Pack then built on that with an impressive cameo in the NHL while Henrik Lundqvist was shelved. Now, Skapski is injured.
Skapski is young and he’ll return. His injury may have cost him a regular back up gig at the NHL level this coming season but then again, wouldn’t he be best served with 40-50 starts at the AHL level? Indeed, Skapski’s injury shouldn’t in any way alter the Rangers plans to actively shop or ‘listen’ to offers for Cam Talbot. The free agent goaltending market this coming season will be awash with short term options for a backup, a position that would only cost the Rangers dollars and no assets. Talbot is replaceable (Sorry Cam).
I started writing this when the Rangers were down 2 games to 1 to the Capitals but didn’t post it. Fast forward a month. I believe what I was trying to write several weeks ago – even as the Rangers were one good period away from the Stanley Cup final – still rings true so the opinion hasn’t changed. The Rangers are a great team, have a good roster and have some talent coming through the ranks but for me, there remains one major issue that needs addressing this summer.
This isn’t about skill and it isn’t about depth. It certainly isn’t about goaltending and with one of the best coaches in recent times, it’s not about the Head Coach either. No, the Rangers have a lot going for them even as they enter the offseason after a hugely disappointing end to their season (based on the expectations that had arisen). The Rangers are missing something much different. Ironically this team lacks a player – or two – in the Brandon Dubinsky mould.