– 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.
– Larry Brooks’ piece last week was extremely depressing for the most part, but his suggestion that Minnesota is very interested in trading for Derek Stepan caught my eye. I would be loath to part with the team’s best two-way centerman, but the Wild has a very intriguing collection of young talent. If Matt Dumba (and more) were on the table, that could go a long way towards rebuilding the defense.
– I’m dying to know what the Rangers were offering Tampa Bay in exchange for Jonathan Drouin earlier this season.
Sportsnet’s John Shannon lit a match next to a can of gasoline when he sent this tweet on Saturday:
— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) May 22, 2016
Does the idea of dumping a bunch of salary via trade only to immediately reinvest a mega deal in another free agent sound familiar to anyone else?
On June 30, 2009 the Blueshirts shipped Scott Gomez and his remaining $33.5 million to Montreal. The very next day those short-lived savings were spent on Marian Gaborik, who inked a five-year, $37.5 million deal. Read More→
– A major reason for the Rangers’ struggles defensively that was astutely pointed out by Rick Carpiniello was the disinterest in playing on that side of the puck by so many of the team’s top forwards. Whereas in the past the Blueshirts have had Ryan Callahan, Carl Hagelin, Brian Boyle, Brandon Dubinsky, etc. playing key roles and devoting just as much attention to their own end, this season a host of forwards including Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and at times JT Miller were no-shows in their own zone. They didn’t do Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and co. any favors by botching their assignments so regularly.
– Oscar Lindberg’s surgery was a real curveball. Lindberg’s dirt cheap $650k cap hit is a hugely important piece of the puzzle heading forward given the Blueshirts’ cap woes and expected push towards youth, but now they’ll have to plan around his absence for the first month of the season. Given Nicklas Jensen’s outstanding showing at the World Championships and similar cap hit, Lindberg’s injury may have granted Jensen a regular spot to lose at camp.
In a utopian hockey world, the Rangers’ roster would be full of 6-foot-6 tanks that all skated like the wind, possessed unreal skills, and paid equal attention to both ends of the ice.
But in reality, NHL teams can really only afford to focus on a couple of attributes in building their rosters. The best franchises have identified those characteristics within their existing talent pool and continued to add and improve over the years. The Kings, Ducks and Panthers are teams of physical giants that will grind you into a pulp, while the Lightning, Penguins and Stars have focused on speed and skill.
The 2015-2016 Rangers lost their identity. They maintained the same all-world goalie that was key to the John Tortorella-era Blueshirts who were airtight defensively, and the recent Alain Vigneault edition that became a lightning quick counterattack team. But this year’s group never quite figured out what it was beyond having that super-safety net in goal.
The Rangers’ 2015-2016 season was about a team that didn’t necessarily lack enough talent, but certainly had the wrong mix.
That’s not meant to absolve Alain Vigneault. There’s no question the coach deserves a share of the blame for his atrocious deployment – but there was also only so much Vigneault could do to right the ship with faulty personnel.
New York’s major problems were three-fold – and all were hallmarks of previous success that suddenly became glaring warts. The headliner was the disastrous blueline with long-time rocks that crumbled and created a domino effect that directly impacted the club’s other two biggest issues – forechecking and the penalty kill.
We’ve talked about the blueline repeatedly and are in universal agreement that fixing the defense will be priority No. 1 this offseason, so let’s explore the other two dilemmas.