The Rangers began their retooling of the bottom-six by signing winger Michael Grabner to a two-year deal this summer. He was the first of numerous signings with the purpose of addressing the bottom-six and the penalty kill, and easily the most high profile signing they made this summer.
The 28-year-old speed demon is a former 30-goal scorer, putting up 34 goals in his first full NHL season. He then put up 20 goals his following season, then a 30-goal pace in the lockout shortened 2013 season. All these came with the Isles. Since then, Grabner has topped out at 12 goals, and has seen his goal totals in decline since.
Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend Smashfest for a third year in a row. For those unfamiliar with Smashfest, it is a questionably named fundraiser that (former?) Ranger Dominic Moore throws every year in Toronto. The event raises money for rare cancers and concussion charities, which both have personal ties to Moore.
Several NHL players attend to show their support for the cause, which elevates a ping pong tournament, paired with silent auctions, to raise over half a million dollars for charity. NHL players compete for ping pong supremacy in the friendly confines of the Steamwhistle Brewery, just beneath the CN Tower.
It’s the middle of the summer and there’s not a lot going on, so naturally I’m missing hockey. The longing for our beloved sport has got me ruminating lately about favorite hockey memories, lessons learned from being a fan of this team, and what hockey means to me. Along those lines I’d like to share a story as a kind of conversation starter, and because I realize that while I do spend a lot of time reflecting on statistics there’s more to the game than just numbers.
I’ll start by providing some background – I’ve always been a fan of the Rangers but throughout my young life my interest waxed and waned. In high school I was so wrapped up in academics and my dedication at the time to music that I wasn’t always as dedicated of a fan as I should’ve been. That began to change in the latter days of high school as I began to move on from things that had previously taken up most of my time. This was also the start of the Torts era – it felt like the Rangers had turned a new leaf and that this was a team you could believe in.
With the signing of Marek Hrivik, the Rangers have cleared up most of their to-dos for this summer. They locked up their restricted free agents. They got younger, cheaper, and faster with a big trade that also brought back a high draft pick. They retooled their bottom-six with quicker, more skilled, better defensive, and better penalty killing players. But the one major move that has been oddly absent is the big change to the blue line.
Many expected –hoped– that the big change on the blue line would come at the expense of Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. That was fueled by some draft day rumors that the Rangers were looking to move the pair. However that was shot down eventually by the public statement that Jeff Gorton expects Girardi to have a bounce back season. Considering the contracts, trading just one of them has always been a long shot. But perhaps the upgrade on the blue line will come from a relatively unexpected place – Kevin Klein.
The Rangers have re-signed RFA Marek Hrivik to a one-year deal. Hrivik was the last RFA the Rangers needed to sign, and barring any trades, will be the last move the Rangers make this offseason. Hrivik has spent the overwhelming majority –just 5 NHL games– of his four year career in the AHL with the Hartford Wolf Pack, putting up an impressive 12-29-41 in 68 games last season.
Hrivik might compete for a fourth line role in camp, but with some of the signings made, it appears he is still on the outside looking in. Hrivik would be a good fit on the fourth line as a good skater who is competent defensively. It’s unlikely the offense would translate to the NHL level, though.
The 6’1, 197 lb winger makes a better option than some of the other options that are going to be in camp this year. It will be interesting to see how long of a look he gets.
Another week of the postseason has passed us by and it’s time to Muse once again. While the Rangers remained somewhat active, a lot of league wide signings have generated a lot of discussion.
Arb Season signings
It’s still the arbitration season and lots of teams are getting their houses in order. We’ll wrap up some of the bigger signings below but one worth talking about is Calle Jarnkrok of the Predators. David Poile managed to get Jarnkrok to agree to a 6 year deal for 12m total. For a young man trending upwards coming off a 16 goal, 30 point campaign that’s an awful contract to sign. There is a very good chance he will be awfully underpaid in one or two years time. Poile once again has shown he’s among the very best GM’s league wide.
Noteworthy signings around the league include Brayden Schenn’s new pact with the Flyers. A hot streak got Schenn 20m over four years. If he carries his season ending tear into next season it’s a bargain.
On this week’s Blue Seat Blogs-cast we discuss the Derick Brassard/Mika Zibanejad trade, recent RFA signings, and some trade hypotheticals. As always you can find us right here, on Soundcloud, and on iTunes.
Per Renaud Lavoie, forward Maxim Lapierre will be brought into training camp on a PTO this September. Lapierre has that old school “gritty” reputation as a defense-first fourth line guy who can help the penalty kill. Problem is that he isn’t that guy. He’s that guy in the way that Dan Paille was that guy this past winter.
The 31-year-old didn’t play in the NHL last season, opting to play overseas in Switzerland and Sweden. He is familiar with Alain Vigneault though, as a member of the 2011 Vancouver Canucks that went to the Stanley Cup Final.
This isn’t anything to get all pissy about, it’s a PTO, and it’s unlikely Lapierre makes the team. The only concern is that this is now the second of “AV’s guys” brought in to fix a problem, and the guy brought in only exacerbates the problem.
Before the summer officially began, rumors were swirling that the Rangers would be retooling their roster to become a competitive team sometime in the near future. Here we are almost in August and we have seen the organization make moves to not only become a quicker team, but also a younger team.
While I still believe there is more fallout to come after the Derick Brassard trade, the current look of this team presents us fans with some interesting story lines to follow over the course of the year. The defense still has work to be done but I think the major moves will be catalyzed by the upcoming expansion draft. Until then, this defense unit will be put into new situations and we can possibly begin to plan out which players may have expanded roles either later this season or the Shattenkirk season (yes he will sign with here, I already bought his jersey).
Per Renaud Lavoie, the Rangers have signed defenseman Sergey Zborovskiy to a three year entry level deal with a $724k (and change) cap hit. The big (6’4, 195 lb) defenseman was the Rangers third round pick in 2015, and was a bit of a surprise pick by the Rangers in that spot.
Zborovskiy is big defenseman, and honestly that’s all there is to say about him. His numbers improved last year, putting up 8-17-25 in 64 games, an improvement on 3-16-19 from the prior year. He’s a decent skater for his size, and is smart and physical.
Zboro, as I’m going to call him because that last name is a pain to type, is going to spend a while in the WHL. He’s 19 now, turning 20 in February. He will have this season and possibly next in the WHL before coming to the AHL.