Prior to the start of the 2013-2014 season, few could have imagined that the Rangers would trade their heart and soul captain, Ryan Callahan, at the March 5 trade deadline. But such is life in the salary cap world – GM Glen Sather determined a contract number he wouldn’t exceed for both Callahan and defenseman Dan Girardi. Girardi proved willing to negotiate within Sather’s limits, Callahan did not, and he was stunningly traded for Martin St. Louis.
Why bring this up now? Because just as with last fall, the Rangers are about to open camp with a few mega contracts looming on the horizon. New York has a bit more financial wiggle room this time around, especially with the salary cap ceiling likely to increase, but there are still tough decisions to be made. So what lies ahead?
Who will be the captain? – Not all of the major personnel decisions are financial – who will be the next face of the Rangers is as important a decision as any. The logical candidates – Girardi, St. Louis, Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh – all come with questions. Girardi’s play dipped dramatically in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs after he signed a six-year, $33 million contract, so it could be a risky move to give the 30-year-old blueliner this honor without knowing if he can maintain his previous level of play. St. Louis has just one year remaining on his contract and is 39 years old, so while he might be the perfect veteran leader right now, that could represent flawed short-term thinking. Like St. Louis, Staal has just one year left on his deal and faces an uncertain future with the organization. That all leads to McDonagh, who’s certainly the unanimous choice among fans. It would be a major shock if he didn’t receive the C, but that’s also a lot to throw onto a 25-year-old who’s still blossoming as a player.
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What colours will Jesper Fast start in next season? (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Jesper Fast has acclimatised well to North America despite suffering a few injuries over the past couple seasons. Last year, on a struggling WolfPack team, Fast managed to grab 17 goals and 34 points in his first full year in the AHL. Those totals managed to get him a shot with the Rangers which included 3 games in the playoffs and his first NHL point (an assist). Those totals also showed that his relative offensive explosion the year before in the SEL wasn’t a fluke or a hot streak.
What Fast hasn’t yet done is show that his production in Sweden – and in the AHL – can translate to the NHL. Many fans will see Fast’s cup of coffee with the Rangers, his relative lack of production and the arrival of a slew of depth signings at the NHL level and assume Fast is a prospect in danger of being lost in the shuffle.
What the depth signings suggest is that Fast is not yet ready for full time NHL play and that is probably true. That said, the Rangers haven’t rushed fast nor have they needed to and that’s the right way to treat the young winger. What is also yet to be established however, is what kind of player Fast will be at the NHL level. Will he be an offensive producer or another Hagelin type Swede who excels through his skating ability and work rate?
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Nash is Canadian for frustrating.
Rick Nash – There were three Rick Nash’s this season. There was the timid, perimeter, unengaged Nash who sleep walked through parts of the season. There was the hungry, physically dominant, clutch Nash who was joint third in the entire league with nine game winning goals despite missing almost a quarter of the season. Then there was the postseason Nash whose effort and determination couldn’t be questioned but whose production certainly could.
Nash will enter next year closely watched by one and all to see how he responds to what was a hugely difficult postseason for him. Nash needs to produce more, and more consistently, given his contract, reputation and incredible size and ability. Nash managed to score a solid 26 goals in the regular season which was interrupted through injury, but everyone knows he should be the Rangers best goal scorer and he wasn’t. Grade: C
Brad Richards – Thanks for trying Brad. Brad Richards is almost certainly an ex-Ranger as his buyout is a mere formality at this stage. During the regular season, Richards actually produced quite well given his diminishing importance to the club on the ice. With 20 goals and 51 points, Richards was solid. However his second lowest shooting percentage of his career and being arguably the biggest defensive liability amongst Ranger forwards, Richards was very hit and miss.
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Speed Kills. It can also score goals. Photo: Chris O’Meara/AP
If Carl Hagelin can develop some consistency in his offensive game and improve his decision making, he could be an elite talent. Yes, the Rangers cruelly lost the first game in the Finals against the Los Angeles Kings, but there were positives to be seen and one of them was and continues to be the growth of Carl Hagelin.
Hagelin’s speed terrifies people. It was the focal point of the first portion of Game One in LA, and the Rangers should really focus their offensive game plan around Hagelin and Chris Kreider’s speed. When those two players arrive in the offensive zone at full speed, it’s pretty daunting for opposition defenses.
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Dom Moore: Hugely deserving of a new deal this summer (Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI)
The Rangers are within two wins of the fan base going crazy with excitement. With the danger of looking too far ahead, let’s keep it sane and throw up a musings a day early shall we?
So much in sport depends on timing. Success is so often about peaking at the right time. In Henrik Lundqvist the Rangers have the best goalie in the world playing at the very top of his game. A (the?) leading Conn Smythe candidate, the Rangers have a huge advantage when he’s on his game. Right now it’s on fluke deflections that seem to be his undoing.
We’ve discussed it before, but the way he’s elevated his game (even further) in recent weeks it needs saying again; the Rangers have to keep Dominic Moore beyond this season, don’t they? Moore has beyond a strong penalty killer, a great defensive presence and has chipped in with leadership, some offense and filled in admirably for Derick Brassard. He’s a keeper.
Prediction: Ryan McDonagh will win a Norris trophy within the next four years. Not a wild prediction.
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When healthy, Derek Dorsett has been everything the Rangers hoped for
Like many parts of the 2013-2014 roster, the bottom-six forwards have struggled through long stretches of the season thus far. Part of that can be attributed to players being used out of place and in unusual situations, but the team hasn’t gotten consistent play out of many of its depth forwards for most of the year. That seems to be changing over the last few weeks, and has been as instrumental to the team’s mini turnaround as anything else.
Boyle will forever be a polarizing player amongst Ranger fans because he has hands of stone and doesn’t drive opponents through the boards with his massive size. You can’t really judge Boyle fairly until you accept those two facts of life, which many refuse to do. But Boyle is a very useful player in many other areas. Though this hasn’t been his finest year, Boyle is still being relied on as the team’s top defensive forward, plays well on the penalty kill, is the best faceoff man on the team and drives possession. He is guilty of being a passenger at times this season the same as nearly every player on the roster, but for the most part, Boyle has been use usual steady self. Still, scoring just one goal all year is pretty hard to do.
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Kreider is earning his ice time.
With all the additional ice time, Chris Kreider is getting better with every game. But he isn’t scoring. JT Miller is beginning to impact games in a multitude of ways. But he isn’t scoring. Generally, the Rangers aren’t scoring. However, despite this team being in a depressing state offensively, the coaching staff needs to stick with the younger players.
While sending Jesper Fast back to the WolfPack was the right thing to do, Miller and Kreider are getting good minutes and they are now showing clear progression. The Rangers won’t derail their season by playing these two promising youngsters – now they are showing some NHL readiness – but they may damage their own long term potential beyond this season if they revert to leaning on the veterans with limited upside.
Despite some indifferent starts, the Rangers can still be excited at the long term potential of their top nine forwards. With Carl Hagelin’s return and with Kreider, Miller, Derick Brassard, Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan’s presence, the Rangers have an excellent young core to build around Rick Nash. It may not be the most overly skilled top nine but there is still a nice balance of skill, speed and work ethic. You live with the growing pains.
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Photo: Chris O’Meara/AP
As of today, Carl Hagelin is eligible to be activated off long-term injured reserve and rejoin the Rangers roster on Long Island. Hagelin, who had offseason shoulder surgery, was placed on LTIR at the start of the season. He had to sit out three weeks or ten games, whichever came first, and tonight’s game against the Islanders is the first game that he can be activated and return to the roster.
When Hagelin was placed on LTIR, the Rangers gained an additional roster spot and the salary cap space to fill his spot. With Jesper Fast’s demotion last night, the Rangers have made room on the roster for him to rejoin the team. The club will also need to clear $2.25 million in cap space. But it’s not just about sending someone down or clearing cap space, it’s clearing space among the 12 forwards to insert Hagelin back into the lineup.
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Per Larry Brooks, injured winger Carl Hagelin has been cleared for contact starting tomorrow. Hagelin was placed on LTIR at the start of the season due to offseason shoulder surgery. He is scheduled to return 10/29 against the Islanders.
It’s far too early in the season to make any fair assessment of the 2013-2014 Rangers, but already several things have become apparent – chief among them that the Blueshirts have impressive depth this season.
The return of the team’s heart and soul, Ryan Callahan, on Monday night provided a huge boost against the L.A. Kings and further solidified New York’s top-nine. The one key piece that remains out of the lineup is 25-year-old LW Carl Hagelin, who underwent surgery on a torn shoulder labrum last spring but is on a slightly slower recovery path than Callahan.
Of course, an extended injury to Rick Nash would put a big dent in the depth, but we are optimistic that it won’t be a lingering injury.
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