Now that the Blueshirts have pulled off another late-summer coup and added coveted prospect Jimmy Vesey to their lineup for the coming season, the club is loaded with forwards and many are wondering if the next domino to fall is a deal for help on defense.
But though the Rangers are well equipped to trade from their excess depth, finding a trade partner will be no easy task. This late in the summer teams have basically assembled the rosters they intend to bring to training camp. Adding free agent scraps is one thing, but making a blockbuster move at this point is extremely rare.
After weeks of relative silence, the rumor mill will begin churning again this week as August 15 approaches. That’s the day Jimmy Vesey officially becomes an unrestricted free agent.
The heralded Harvard alum is essentially this year’s version of Kevin Hayes and will draw league-wide interest after spurning first Nashville, then Buffalo after the Sabres traded for his rights prior to the draft.
By most accounts, Vesey is an NHL-ready prospect that could instantly step into an NHL lineup and has legitimate top-six potential.
GM Ray Shero pulled off the coup of the offseason when he landed Taylor Hall from the Oilers in exchange for Adam Larsson. Hall gives New Jersey the top offensive talent to build around its been lacking for years – and with Kyle Palmieri and Adam Henrique’s continued emergence, plus 2015 first-rounder Pavel Zacha and 2016 top pick Michael McLeod on the way, there are finally some pieces up front. The Devils are set in goal with Cory Schneider firmly entrenched among the league’s best netminders, but New Jersey’s defense was weakened with the departure of Larsson. The Devils signed Ben Lovejoy – who should play major minutes – but they are still waiting for some of their other blueline prospects to emerge. New Jersey won’t be easy to play against, but the Devils are still likely a couple years away from being serious contenders in the division.
Despite some shrewd acquisitions by GM Jeff Gorton this offseason, most fans and critics believe the Rangers have failed to make the necessary improvements required to propel them back into contention in 2016-2017.
That criticism is based largely on the sorry state of the defense where the Blueshirts appear poised to trot a unit that is no better than the group that was so porous a year ago. And despite improved depth up front and a radically improved penalty kill, that makes it hard to envision success, at least at the level that would meet lofty expectations for a club that had been knocking on the door of the Stanley Cup.
– I’m a little stunned by some of the quality free agents still floating out there. Guys like Brandon Pirri and Justin Fontaine should be appealing to the many front offices that have hired #fancystats analysts and developed more progressive player evaluation models. A few of those players will still find homes before the season starts, but a good number will likely end up with PTOs at training camp. Remember, Lee Stempniak signed a PTO with the Devils before last season and ended up having a huge year. There’s potential for the same thing to happen with a couple of guys this season and the Rangers should be eyeing them closely.
– Overall the Rangers have made some pretty strong moves this offseason. Nick Holden should be a nice upgrade to the third pair; Nathan Gerbe, Josh Jooris and Michael Grabner bring speed, depth and penalty killing prowess; Adam Clendening and Michael Paliotta are two post-hype prospects that still have some real potential on defense; and the draft class was loaded with value picks that fit the direction of the franchise. Failing to re-sign Viktor Stalberg is the one head-scratching departure, but it’s hardly worth losing sleep over.
– In his post-draft press conference, GM Jeff Gorton was asked about his team’s plans for the summer and acknowledged “you can probably look at our roster and pick that apart and figure out what we need to do.” Gorton’s subsequent actions were to add Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe, which suggests Gorton viewed the penalty kill as the club’s primary weakness. Yes, Nick Holden might be a decent third-pair depth defenseman, but by no means is bringing him aboard the wholesale defensive makeover the Blueshirts so desperately needed. And what’s most puzzling is that of all the clued in media, Pat Leonard is the only one that has reported Gorton made any effort whatsoever to deal Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. There’s still a chance that Gorton buys out Girardi later in the summer or somehow swings a blockbuster trade, but it seems pretty likely that the Rangers will enter next season with a roster far too similar to the one that disappointed this past spring. By subtracting Keith Yandle, Viktor Stalberg and Dominic Moore and adding spare parts Holden, Grabner and Gerbe, there’s not much of a case to be made that the club is improved.
With the decision to let Keith Yandle go and the Rangers in position to dump more salary this week, it suddenly looks like New York may be a player in free agency once again. With Friday’s frenzy nearly upon us, here’s who the Rangers should look to add and who to steer away from.
Who they should target
Viktor Stalberg – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Stalberg was inconsistent to start last season, but fit like a glove on the third line in the second half of the year. He didn’t produce enough to warrant a huge increase in salary, so the Rangers should be smart and bring Stalberg back for another go.
Brandon Pirri – I was extremely frustrated when the Blueshirts didn’t top Anaheim’s deal of a sixth-round pick for Pirri at the trade deadline, but sure enough the Ducks weren’t even high enough on Pirri to extend a just-over $1 million qualifying offer. Maybe I’m way off base with this one, but a 25-year-old former 20-goal scorer is definitely worth that money in my book. As a third-line scorer, Pirri would come much cheaper than Thomas Vanek and still has room to grow.
– The list of available puck-moving defensemen has quickly dwindled with the Ducks re-signing Sami Vatanen and Avalanche GM Joe Sakic insisting he will keep Tyson Barrie. The one possibility floating around that still makes a lot of sense is a match with Minnesota, which might be willing to part with Matt Dumba, Marco Scandella, Jared Spurgeon, or Jonas Brodin in exchange for an impact forward. There were rumors a few weeks back that the Wild coveted Derek Stepan, so there’s some smoke here.
– The one other big name that looks like he may be on the move is Kevin Shattenkirk. It’s common knowledge that Shattenkirk would love to be a Blueshirt, but with one year remaining on his current contract and a hefty raise inevitable, moving major assets to acquire him is not without risk. A Shattenkirk for Rick Nash swap still seems possible, but St. Louis has cap woes of its own that makes things tricky.
Update: It was brought to our attention that the wording of the Sportsnet article is confusing, and that the limited NTC business discussed was in relation to NMCs that don’t have full no-trade protection, like Fleury and David Clarkson. Regular NTCs may not have to be protected, which certainly helps the Rangers immensely. This should be confirmed next week.
The latest news from Sportsnet on a potential expansion draft to stock the new Las Vegas franchise next summer revealed some important details on how teams can build their “protected” lists. Here’s a summary of the key criteria:
- Each team must expose at least two forwards and one defenseman that played at least 40 games during the 2016-2017 season, or 70 total games over the previous two years.
- All teams may protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie.
- Players with no-movement and no-trade clauses that extend through the 2017-2018 season will count against the protection limit, but those with clauses that expire at the end of next season may be exposed. Teams may also seek agreements with individual players to waive existing clauses.
- Players with two years of pro experience or less are exempt from the process.
- Each team can lose a maximum of one player to expansion.
– Rangers fans have been salivating over the possibility of trading for RFA Tyson Barrie from the Avalanche. He’d go a long way towards rebuilding the defense with more adept puck movers, but there’s going to be a long line of teams waiting to poach the 24-year-old PPQB from Colorado. New York might be able to entice the Avs with one of its RFA forwards, but the dream scenario is that Colorado might be dumb enough to accept one of the Blueshirts’ anchors as part of a package for Barrie. Unfortunately, TSN’s Bob McKenzie made it clear that the Avs know they need help on D, but don’t want to tie so much money up in one player. That would pretty much rule out Marc Staal or Dan Girardi. It’s not that the Avs don’t have cap space, but they’ve always been a budget team as opposed to a cap ceiling team, and Colorado must also re-sign RFA Nathan MacKinnon this summer without much significant money coming off the books. It’s hard to see a match here.