The Rangers announced their protection list for the expansion draft yesterday, and there were no surprises. Any rational mind knew the Rangers would protect Nash, Stepan, Zuccarello, Kreider, Miller, Hayes, and Zibanejad up front. With the Dan Girardi buyout final, protecting McDonagh, Staal (NMC), and Holden were the obvious choices by the front office on the blue line.
While I disagree with protecting Holden, it was evident that the Rangers were going to protect him. The coaching staff loves him, and a defenseman that puts up 11 goals and 34 points is tough to find. But with the protected players noted, it’s almost a certainty that the Rangers lose a forward from the NHL roster. In fact, it’s a foregone conclusion.
The above players are the ones that the Rangers will expose in expansion. If I’m Vegas, I’m looking at this list and the first thing that jumps at me is that there are no good defensemen available from the Rangers. Kevin Klein is retiring. Brendan Smith is a UFA, and not worth the selection. After that, there’s no one.
There are major rumblings that the Rangers are going to strike a deal with Vegas to hold on to Antti Raanta. I disagree with that move, mostly because Benoit Allaire can turn any goalie into a decent backup in the short term, but I can understand the logic. Henrik Lundqvist isn’t getting any younger, and having a solid backup that can play 25-30 games is a necessity. Or, on the flip side, the Rangers can land significant value for him at the draft. The cost of one draft pick to keep Raanta to ensure they can flip him for a pair of picks is tempting.
So with this, the Rangers will lose a forward. The key ones exposed are Michael Grabner, Oscar Lindberg, and Jesper Fast. Grabner is going to be 30 years old when the season starts, and not a young piece that can/will be with Vegas for the long term. I personally don’t think Grabner is the “obvious” choice that most make him out to be. In fact, I don’t even think he is a realistic option for Vegas. This is a team that is going to need youth. Grabner is doesn’t fit that definition.
That leaves Fast and Lindberg. Both are comparable players, with the only real difference being position. Lindberg is a center, Fast is a winger. Both can play bottom-six roles effectively, and can fake it as a second line player for a short amount of time. Both are smart, smooth skating, two-way players that do the little things right to help win games. If you only looked at scouting reports, and not position, they’d be the same player.
But the major difference is just that. Centers are tougher to come by in this league, and significantly more valuable than a winger. Factor in Fast’s injury, and that may sway Vegas into taking Lindberg. While losing Lindberg will stink, it’s probably the one forward they can stomach to lose. They have legitimate options in Hartford, with Boo Nieves impressing. Plus an effective fourth line center can be had for cheap on the open market.
When the Rangers bought out Girardi before the expansion draft, it was well reasoned to believe they would be losing a forward in the expansion draft, simply by logical chain of events. That chain of events has led to the strong possibility that Lindberg is the player selected by Vegas. But either way, the Rangers are going to plan to lose a forward. Such is life in expansion-era hockey.