– 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.
– Of course, the rosy outlook is New York will add top Russian prospect Pavel Buchnevich to the forward core and promising 22-year-old Brady Skjei could really help the blueline. More can also be expected from several of the team’s emerging young forwards like Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller. And a return to health for Girardi and Rick Nash, plus extra rest for the playoff weary roster could help in a big way.
– But it doesn’t feel like enough. There’s simply no way you could have watched the first round of the postseason against the eventual champion Penguins and thought the Rangers were anywhere near measuring up. Anyone with eyes as well as anyone with charts can see the Blueshirts just aren’t quite in that upper tier anymore.
– So what’s next? I expect Gorton will continue to work the phones and hope he can pull a rabbit out of his hat with a midsummer trade, but that’s definitely a long shot. New York could strengthen its forward core by signing Harvard UFA Jimmy Vesey in August, but the Rangers do not appear to be the frontrunner in those sweepstakes. There are still a bunch of bargain depth signings the club could make to stretch its lineup, like Justin Fontaine, Brandon Pirri or Eric Gryba.
– The one remaining UFA that really jumps out is James Wisniewski. As a righty D that can also quarterback the power play, Wisniewski seems like a no-brainer fit for the Blueshirts. He’s coming off a torn ACL though, so it’s possible New York may be waiting to see how Wisniewski’s rehab progresses before making the multi-year offer it might still take to secure his services.
– You have to wonder what Alain Vigneault thinks of all this. He was adamant that the current group deserved “one more kick at the can.” They got it and failed to deliver. Now Vigneault has been handed basically the same roster and asked to turn water into wine. Is it even possible? And given the pressure of New York as well as Vigneault’s own recent struggles, how does that make him feel?
– The Blueshirts do deserve credit for taking a flier on 23-year-old D-men Adam Clendening and Michael Paliotta. Of the two, I think Paliotta still has a real chance at making it as an everyday player. He was viewed as a real bonus to the Brandon Saad deal for Columbus last offseason, and though it didn’t pan out right away, this is the type of roll of the dice on a still promising youngster that smart teams make. Ideally there will be a few more signings like this to stock Hartford.
– How about the Panthers? It’s amazing that the two Florida clubs have shelled out more cash than just about anyone else over the last few weeks. The Panthers have totally remade their blueline as the Rangers should have done, and now boast Yandle, Aaron Ekblad, Jason Demers, Michael Matheson, Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk with Ian McCoshen on the way. None of them are older than 29 and most are adept at moving the puck. For all the turmoil in Florida’s front office a few weeks back, this is an organization that is on the same page with a plan and executing like a well-oiled machine.
– One thing that’s still eating at me is the report that the Rangers made a serious run at trading for Edmonton’s pick at the top of the first round of the draft. Who was New York targeting? And what possible package could the Blueshirts have assembled that would have legitimately piqued Edmonton’s interest? Yes, I know the Oilers just traded Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, but there’s no way they would have given up that pick for a package that didn’t include probably two of Kreider, Miller, Hayes Buchnevich, Skjei, Derek Stepan, or Ryan McDonagh, right?
– In case you missed it, Paul Bissonnette’s Twitter on July 1 was pure gold.
1) Which free agents are you still eyeing?
2) What’s your glass-half-full outlook for next season?
3) In your opinion, who are the league’s most improved teams?