Musings: Feigning optimism and what worthwhile UFAs are left

James Wisniewski is recovering from a torn ACL, but could be the righty D, PPQB the Rangers sorely need (Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)
James Wisniewski is recovering from a torn ACL, but could be the righty D, PPQB the Rangers sorely need (Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports)

– 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.

Question time:
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?


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  • I have a better chance of being on the Rangers opening night roster than Brandon Pirri. 105 hours and counting.

    Edmonton has cap & roster construction issues, hence the Hall/Larsson deal. EDM had to deal Hall to sign Lucic, Nuge would have to go along with the pick for McDonagh.

    • They didn’t have to trade Hall if the end game was to sign Lucic. Pouliot is another LW with a significant cap hit and the guy who would have been traded if the only goal were to sign Lucic. The Hall trade was triggered by EDMs “need” for a top 10 RD and the fact that they view Larsson as a guy who fits that criteria.

      • Pouliot is a lateral(actually EDM would take on salary, not shed) move in cap space and a downgrade on talent. EDM were offered Subban, passed.

        • That’s due to the same reason the Habs traded him. His final year of team control (RFA status) is looming as is the expansion draft. The Oilers have a ton of young talent they’ll want to be able to protect. Having an expensive contract with a NMC would leave them with a young player unprotected that they would want to keep.

          I understand why Gorton signed Grabner & Gerbe. Grabner is a speedster that can kill penalties and possibly paired with Kreider, could make a very tough line for teams to defend. Speed has left the Rangers since 13/14. Gerbe is a shooter. He doesn’t hesitate, he shoots and that what the Ranfers need. In a top 9 role, Gerbe has a 20+ goal season for the Rangers and adds depth up front. I like it. Clendening was a smart grab too.

    • We can’t trade McDonagh. That would be taking the Rangers major weakness a step in the wrong direction. Especially for a forward.
      These NMC/NTC are going to be difficult to trade with the imminent expansion draft looming. I would think a team interested in taking Staal or Girardi would want Gorton to retain a good chunk of their cap salaries. Maybe Gorton feels he can get a better deal than what’s being offered by waiting until the UFA music stops and see who’s left without a seat.

      What the Rangers need to do is wait it out for Kevin Shattenkirk. They don’t have a top pair righty Dman. Klein could potentially make that leap but the Rangers would still need to add a top 4 righty. Staal & Girardi (if on the roster in October) belong on the 3rd pairing (if not the press box) even tho they’re not built for that. Neither can play against top competition anymore. Too slow and not good enough with the puck. Both are possession nightmares.

      In time the price for Shattenkirk will come down. From what I hear, the Blues want a Kings ransom for him right now. That’ll change tho.
      On the other hand, Edmonton could really upgrade their back end with a defensively minded Dman like Girardi or Staal. Many of you have heard me say this before but with Demers off the UFA board, Shattenkirk is the last player I see that can help the Rangers get back to relevance next season. From there they can buyout Marc Staal. I would keep the righty over the lefty since it’s so much easier to fill a lefties spot. Skjei could step right in for Staal. There isn’t a righty that can effectively fill Girardi’s place next to McDonagh.

  • The RFAs filed for arbitration as expected. There are no free agent game-changers out there at this point.

    Gorton may know his defense needs a makeover but his options are few. His best choice may be to wait for anot her team to sustain an injury and be willing to pay our defensemans bad contract.

    AV may be given too much credit by people. He is a pawn like everyone else. A good soldier, but still a pawn.

    The real shock to me this off-season is Scott Arnell still having a job.

    • If you were going to get rid of Ulf & Arniel, as I’ve said before, you might as well get rid of Vigneault too.

  • on the first day of free agency they had winners and losers the rangers were the losers because they didn’t draft guys for what they needed they yes they got grabner for the speed and grebe for grit but nothing else

  • Not easy for the Rangers to make any moves without the cash to make deals…

    Question time:
    1) Which free agents are you still eyeing?
    Justin Schultz – if he is not signed, he would be a nice young D-Man to get…

    2) What’s your glass-half-full outlook for next season?
    Henrik – I have no doubt he will give the team a chance to win…
    Let’s hope that MGT can get him team that can help him win too…

    3) In your opinion, who are the league’s most improved teams?
    Buffalo is building a nice team…
    Florida made right moves too…

    I hope this team can get it going… last season was hard to deal with…

  • I forgot to say I hope Edmonton stinks… Lucic is a slob, I hope someone cracks him in that extra ugly nose of his… and McDavid is left all alone…

    The Oilers Really Tick Me off… how many times can that team pull a first round pick!

    That organization is like the Clinton’s – shady if you ask me!

        • If it was McD, then I hope we were also going to include one of the other two bad contract defenseman as well. That at least would make it more palatable.

          • I can live with one for them for the rest of their contract, if we can rid ourselves of he other. It is not because they are horrible, because they really are not. It is because we need a different style defenseman to compete in the 2017 NHL, and neither one is the up-tempo, quick outlet pass guy we need.

            Maybe Beuk can find some magic dust and sprinkle it in Girardi & Staal’s skates.

        • Wait, Dave. “Logic”? “Sense”?

          Good one, man. Have you skimmed any of the below? Or the above?

          One of our posters mentioned our signing a “Grebe” who’d bring “grit”. Yes, that’s my default association with a tiny songbird.

          McD for RNH? Oh yea. Fits our needs perfectly: a 160-lb contact averse vanilla winger.

          It’s like a Brexit of hockey common sense.

  • 1) none.
    2) without a doubt, half empty. Look back at all the posters who kept singing the praises of this team at the half way mark of last season “…..don’t worry, wait until the playoffs, AV has a plan etc etc etc..” This team was flawed from the start of last season, is now and will be, until the GM starts making moves with an actual plan, like Florida for example. I am not faulting Gorton, this mess was created by Sather. You remember the guy who when with Edmonton proudly announced that if he “had the Rangers money I’d win the Stanley Cup every year”. Yeah that really worked out. That plan should include NOT trading away first AND second round draft choices for way past their prime players.
    3) Tampa and Florida, for two.

  • 1) Which free agents are you still eyeing?

    Nobody immediately because I don’t think there is any UFA who would unquestionably make the team better. There are several players who would help if they sign a short-term, prove yourself type deal.

    2) What’s your glass-half-full outlook for next season?

    The Rangers are still a playoff team based on the talent on the roster. Since the 10-11 seasons there are three teams who played 75 or more playoff games and all three were eliminated in the first round this season (Rangers 86 games, Chicago 85 games, Kings 75 games). Boston, who failed to make the playoffs, is 5th on the list. If the core is healthy and playing well during the playoffs, another run at the Cup is a strong possibility.

    3) In your opinion, who are the league’s most improved teams?

    I think Florida took the step from Pretender to Contender. Nearly everyone here wanted to open with Florida rather than Pittsburgh because they knew the Pens were the real contenders of the two. I also think Carolina will make the playoffs this season. Nashville is on the verge of becoming a contender. Those who think they lost the Weber trade may have lost sight of the fact they are a young team and will be competing for a Cup in 2-3 years when Weber is on the decline whereas Subban should be at the top of his game.

    • If as you say Carolina makes the playoffs this year, who doesn’t?

      BTW, as constituted, TBL/FLA finish 1/2 in their division, one of them will be out in the second round max.

      Does anyone remember who won last summer? I don’t think it was the Pens. Does anyone remember who won the winter in baseball? It was the DBacks. They are currently 10 games under .500.

      About Scott Arneil….why would you complain about him? NYR Had 162 goals 5v5 and only allowed 129. Those are top of the league numbers. The Rangers however had serious deficiencies with regard to getting power play time. They finished last in the league in TOI on any power play and still scored 41 PP goals. (Yandle!). They played such a poor possession game that they took about 5o minutes more in penalties than they got. And they had a PP plus/minus (my stupid stat) of -8. That is they gave up 8 more PP goals than they scored.

      They had several forwards who had very high shooting percentages. Those tend to regress. It would be pretty easy to say Miller is going to score more goals this year. But, he doesn’t shoot enough and he had a fairly high shooting percentage. Those tend to flatten out. Zucc had same.

      I know there are some on these forums who don’t like to hear about possession stats. But, I was a total skeptic until I started looking. They do correlate. We were 23rd in CF and 28th in CA (Corsi for and against) last year. If you give up a lot of attempts and don’t have as many and the only thing saving you is your world class goaltender, the bubble is where you are going to end up.

      • There’s minimal correlation and zero causation.

        The Toronto Maple Leafs had great possession stats last season.

        • There will always be outliers in statistics. Not just in sports statistics or fancy stats…. but in the entire world of everything that is, has been and will be.

          Generally speaking, I think we can all agree that shot attempts are a good thing, and typically if you’re controlling play you’ll have more than the other guys. Yes there are always exceptions and no it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll win the game.

          • But there’s routinely outliers at both ends of the spectrum, which means:
            They aren’t outliers
            There’s minimal correlation
            There’s other causation (like talented players)

            You don’t need possession to win, but it helps.
            You don’t need great goaltending, but it helps.
            You need great talent, everything else is gravy.

          • Extra tall and extra short people exist. They are both outliers on a normal height distribution of humans on planet earth. Fat tails exist on both ends.

          • I guess I missed the word routinely… however you slice it any correlation that exists is a thin one, I’ll agree. By no means are shot attempts the end all be all, but I scratch my head when people do anything in their power to combat the validity of them.

            I see it like telling a child to study. No they won’t always get good grades or the best grades, as smarter classmates exist. But studying (shot attempts) are a good thing for students (hockey clubs) trying to do well in school (win hockey games).

          • If a sizeable % of shots attempted are unscreened from the point, isn’t that like studying Chaucer by reading Fun With Dick And Jane?

            I didn’t find out about it until late, but the SM Ligga in Finland has gone all in: sensors in the uni, some sort of trackable puck that is just like a regular puck and costs the same.

            If they can plot a season with their metrics against the new data will be quite enlightening.

          • I think the problem is one of what people refer to as objectivity. Some believe that stats are more “objective” than what people deduce from their own perception. That’s debatable. Some will deride subjectiveness, but those of us who were trained as scientists know that what we proffer as the “truth” is always subjective, because it comes from us, i.e. subjective beings.

          • Read Malcolm Gladwell’s interesting tome OUTLIERS & one can see that there are often reasons that are not readily apparent for the success of outliers who are successful.

        • Scultore’s regression analysis makes exactly that case. The most important stat in hockey is goals against. If you play really well defensively, you’ll win a lot of games. And what stat do you use to demonstrate the potent effect Mike Sullivan had in winning that Cup. I’ll not forget him talking earnestly on the bench to Crosby at the end of a period against the Rangers and then giving him a pat on the back. It’s like Espo said in 79, that when Shero patted him on the back, he would kill to win for his coach. That’s what leadership from the top does.

      • I love this post Roger.

        If the Rangers’ PK wasn’t a steaming pile of trash last year, they would have had home ice in the first round and might have beaten the Pens in the first round, at the very least they would have taken that series to 7 games.

        Let’s not forget, of the 21 goals the Pens scored that series:
        8 were on the PP
        1 was SH
        2 were EN

        It’s a shame, that was the first year the Rangers had a bad PK since the early 00s.

        As for the Rangers ‘inflated’ SH%, I think it’s pretty clear from watching this team the past three years that the unusually high SH% has more to do with not shooting enough and only looking for high quality shots. The Rangers offense is the personification of Quality over Quantity.

      • Because Scott Arnell is the least creative offensive coach and PP designer in the league. Yes he needs players, but he had players, he just didn’t use them correctly. Maybe it was him and not AV who didn’t have AV on the PP – ever think of that?

  • As of now the team should be $15mm under the cap, so barring a walk away number, they should get everybody signed. They have the full 10% off season overage as of now, bottom 3 makeup will depend on how close to the cap they want to be. Only player for now headed to LTIR would be Lindberg.

    They have enough cap space to sign Vesey if arbitration comes in under $14mm total, $13mm better.

    In theory you could sign Wisnewski now, but won’t happen until August or the arbitration cases are resolved. i don’t really see him signing anywhere unless a team really hard up to get to the salary floor.

    I’m okay with where the team is. Only 2-3 new F in lineup & only 1D so integration shouldn’t be a problem; it’s just roster management & deployment that is where I hope AV improves & Beuk steps up. Because last year was a joke from Thanksgiving on.

  • The team is a good team. In my opinion I think they are a great team. What needs to be done is Leopold should see a shrink. The driver of the team does not know how to shift. Maybe he took a puck in the head. His attitude determines everything. His evaluation is poor. He needs help do decide when to take a time out. If you are not fair with the players, they will not play for you. Play the best players you have.
    First get rid of Glass.
    Second Don’t put Kreider with Fast.
    third Fast is not a top 6 player.
    forth get your self a girl friend or boy friend.
    fifth learn to change a little.
    sixth repeating what is wrong does not fix the problem.
    seventh (many may not agree) play Nash on offense not penalty kills.
    eighth let the young guys play even if they make a mistake.
    ninth get off of Millers back.
    Last put an electric dog collar on your neck and when you make a mistake some should press it.
    Do this and I will be happy.

  • No free-agents really interest me other than maybe Justin Schultz. He may do well under Vigneault; he may not — possibly worth a 2-year look?

    My glass half-full outlook for this upcoming season is Vigneault is replaced around the December/January timeframe and Rangers management fully embraces a multi-year restructuring agenda, if they have not already. Vigneault is not the coach for what this team needs; let another half or full year expire on his contract then get on with the business of rebuilding.

    The most improved team, for me, is Florida, and Tampa Bay. Both GMs at those clubs have done a masterful job.

  • Trenchant post, Kevin. Thank you.

    As for young D-man Paliotta: believe he was a number II choice of Chicago. Logic says the kid’s gotta have upside to be drafted that high by one of the smarter organizations in the NHL. Let’s hope for a sleeper Mike Sauer in the wings.

    Re James Wisniewski. He might prove to be a serviceable piece, obviously on The PP. But wasn’t he–as an Islander–on the receiving end of a gob from no less than Sean Avery? Eack gads. Hope Wis had his rabies/PARVO shots up to date…

  • Wisniewski I put in the same category as Gryba & Weircoch, the please shoot me category. There are absolutely no free agents left I would spend a dime on. My half full scenario echos AD above. Please give me a coach with leadership skills who can analyze situations cogently & can adapt his strategies to change game momentum when needed. Most improved team will be Buffalo this year.

  • I frankly do not care how AV feels. His stubborn attachment to his preferred defensive system, which is a terrible fit for the roster at hand, is a big part of the problem. His deployment is at times mind-boggling. He doesn’t call timeouts when he should. In many situations it seems he is distributing minutes to the guys he likes personally over the guys who deserve the minutes statistically. I’ll start to feel bad for him when he starts being a smarter coach. We might not have such a dire need to move Girardi/Staal if they were given bottom pair minutes. We might not have lost so many games in the third period last season if he didn’t insist on constantly having the 4th line on for long stretches and key moments (like right after the opposition just tied it and is bringing their top line out for more). Etc. etc.

    1. None, really. Not for an NHL only deal, anyways. I think they all have big asterisks at this point.
    2. As the roster stands right now…honestly, making the playoffs and winning a series.
    3. I don’t necessarily track other teams enough (especially West teams) to be able to give a complete answer, but the Sabres I think will be a much better team next year, for one. Panthers seem to have gotten better also. I think the Oilers got hosed in the Hall deal, but nonetheless, they seem to have gotten better overall I think. One thing I’m positive of: the Rangers so far would be very near the bottom of the list.

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