Jeff Gorton has done a masterful job remaking the Rangers’ forward corps and deserves full credit for that.
But as the trade deadline closes in without any apparent blueline solutions on the horizon that don’t cost an arm and a leg, it’s fair to ask – what was the plan on defense?
The decision to let Keith Yandle walk was puzzling, but with Yandle having a poor year and his not insignificant contract, we’ve largely given Gorton a pass on that.
And indeed, the acquisition of Nick Holden has worked out marvelously. Paying a mere fourth-round pick for arguably New York’s second-best D-man was a coup.
But here’s the key question: was that it?
It hasn’t quite worked out. Kulikov has played in just 31 games this year, missing time with a lower-back injury suffered in the first preseason game that has also caused running pain down his legs for much of the season.
Kulikov has logged just two points and now seems like an afterthought in Buffalo’s future plans rather than a building block. Indeed, there have been growing rumblings that Kulikov could be on the block as we approach the trade deadline.
Dennis Wideman is perhaps best known for crashing into a referee last season, which earned him a 20-game suspension. However, he’s just two seasons removed from a 56-point campaign in 2014-2015 – the fourth-most points in the league amongst defensemen that year.
Wideman, 33, has been a workhorse throughout his 11-year career, averaging over 20 minutes a night in 10 of his 11 seasons. He’s nearing the end of the line though and has seen his ice-time reduced over the last two years, especially on the power play.
Note: No goal breakdown from last night. Sorry about that.
Today marks one month until the trade deadline and buzz continues to build that the Rangers are seeking help for the right side of their defense. TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported that the Blueshirts don’t want to part with any of their young forwards in a swap – but they are expected to look for cheaper solutions.
We’ve already discussed Michael Stone and Ryan Murphy, so today we’re taking a look at Cody Franson. Two years ago, Franson was one of the hot commodities at the deadline and he was shipped from Toronto to Nashville with Mike Santorelli in exchange for Olli Jokinen, Brendan Lipsic and a first-round pick.
Last week we began examining possible trade deadline targets to help the defense with Michael Stone of the Coyotes. This week, we’re turning our attention to another righty D-man – Ryan Murphy – that has been pushed down the depth chart and no longer looks like he has a future with his club.
Murphy was Carolina’s first-round pick in 2011 – three slots before the Blueshirts selected J.T. Miller. He was billed as a future power play quarterback and offensive dynamo, but Murphy has only played 135 NHL games with the Hurricanes and never more than 48 in a single season.
With the Rangers sputtering, anticipation is quickly building for the March 1 trade deadline. Unlike in past years, New York is set up front, so it’s hard to fathom a deal for another forward. But it’s no secret that the Rangers desperately need help on defense and have been searching for a top-four blueliner for much of the season.
The options are limited, but one name that appears likely to be on the move is Arizona’s Michael Stone. He wouldn’t be the sexy acquisition many crave, but the pending free agent might help fortify the back-end.
Stone, 26, broke out last season with 36 points (six goals, 30 assists) including 14 power play assists. That performance helped him earn a new $4 million contract for this season, but Stone has struggled to match that production.
Continuing our midseason grades (defense here), next up is the front office and goaltending. Grading both is a little tricky, as the front office is just ramping up their efforts for the trade deadline, while the goaltending has been a bit inconsistent.
When grading the front office, I had to look at the offseason body of work in addition to the moves made in season. Considering the injuries, the front office has been a little busy lately. As for the goaltending, well I’m taking a different approach this year. Instead of looking at each player individually, I’ll be looking at both Hank and Raanta as a single entity.
Tonight’s game marks the halfway point of the 2016-2017 season. The Rangers are in prime playoff position, with an 11-point cushion separating them from the wild card cutoff line. But despite a successful campaign thus far, things haven’t gone perfectly on Broadway. Here’s a recap of where the Rangers stand halfway through the year.
What’s gone according to plan
– A bounce back season for the penalty kill. When asked about the team’s plans for the summer, GM Jeff Gorton said, “you can probably look at our roster and pick that apart and figure out what we need to do.” While many of us believed he was referring to the defense, Gorton’s subsequent moves made it very clear that he was dead set on improving a penalty kill unit that ranked 26th last season after three top-six finishes in the previous four years. So far, Gorton’s makeover has paid major dividends. Thanks to acquisitions like Michael Grabner and the development of youngsters like J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes who have often tilted the ice in the Rangers’ favor even when they’ve been shorthanded, New York currently ranks ninth in the league.
The pair of 7-goal spankings the Blueshirts took just before the holiday break at the hands of the Penguins and Wild magnified warts that had gone masked for much of the early part of the season.
There are obvious problems with the Rangers lineup, but if all goes well, they may only have to play a handful more contests before the cavalry arrives. Top center Mika Zibanejad and rookie Pavel Buchnevich are closing in on their returns after missing the last 18 and 22 games, respectively.
Buchnevich has already hit the ice in a non-contact jersey while Zibanejad is out of his walking boot and now skating on his own. The expectation is that both players will ramp up activity during the approaching bye week and return in mid-to-late January. And that can’t come soon enough for the floundering Blueshirts.
Somehow every year this game tricks us into forgetting that each season consists of 82 games and will without fail feature peaks and valleys in both performance and results.
The 2016-2017 campaign has been no different for the Blueshirts, who came out of the gate like gangbusters – scoring at an unprecedented rate and looking very capable of making another run despite pessimistic preseason predictions by most pundits.
Then, the offense dried up, the luck ran out, injuries struck and the usual all-world goaltending became suddenly average.