Projecting the Rangers opening night lineup

Rejoice, Blueshirts faithful. Hockey is back (and so is the blog)!

The Rangers opened training camp on Thursday with off-ice testing, and strapped on skates for the first time last Friday.  A total of 56 players were invited to participate, vying for a total of 22 or 23 roster spots.

As training camp progresses, we’ll be tracking the progress of the team and updating our Opening Night roster projection.  The front office and Head Coach David Quinn will have to take a lot of factors into consideration as they begin to pencil in the skaters and goaltenders that will face Winnipeg at the Garden on October 3.  Among them:

  1. Cap space: The roster must be salary cap compliant on opening night. I am no cap expert, but the upper limit is $81,500,000 and the Rangers find themselves right up against that number, even without Tony DeAngelo signed to a contract.
  2. Development: Which young players deserve an NHL roster spot? Which ones can handle significant ice time against top tier competition? Does throwing Adam Fox or Kaapo Kakko to the wolves right away help or hinder their development?
  3. The role of veterans: Henrik Lundqvist is still the face of the franchise. Marc Staal, for better or worse, will play. Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider will be key mentors for the rookies and second year players.

The number one goal of preseason is to get to game 1 healthy.  If the Rangers do that, here’s what the roster may look like.

Goaltenders (2): Henrik Lundqvist, Alexandar Georgiev

No surprises here. Lundqvist, the consummate professional, has reportedly arrived at camp in fantastic shape, and with a renewed energy. However, all signs point to a pretty even timeshare between the King and Georgie. It’s safe to assume Lundqvist will be between the pipes on opening night.

Defensemen (7): Jacob Trouba, Brady Skjei, Marc Staal, Tony DeAngelo, Brendan Smith, Libor Hajek. Adam Fox

If DeAngelo signs a contract in the neighborhood of $900,000, the roster will be cap compliant and he’ll be on the roster. However, as Dave will go into for a future post (teaser alert!), his long-term prospects with the Rangers are certainly in doubt given the influx of talent at RD expected to arrive within the next year or two, not to mention the overlap in style between DeAngelo and Fox.  The race for the 6D and 7D spots is one to watch in training camp.  After a rough start in Hartford last winter, Libor Hajek showed some promise in a 5 game stretch with the big club before he was injured.  He has the inside track for the final spot over Ryan Lindgren and Sean Day.

Forwards (13): Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich, Chris Kreider, Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko, Ryan Strome, Lias Andersson, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jesper Fast, Brett Howden, Vitali Kravtsov, Brendan Lemieux

David Quinn has already committed to starting the season with a top line of Mika Zibanejad centering Artemi Panarin and Pavel Buchnevich.  That combination of skill and ingenuity has many Ranger fans salivating.  The remaining 9 spots are firmly up for grabs, and are highlighted by a lack of experience in the middle.  As of now, it seems that Chytil is penciled into the 2nd line center role, and will be flanked by Chris Kreider and, potentially, Kaapo Kakko.

That leaves third line minutes for the likes of Ryan Strome, Vitali Kravtsov and either Lias Andersson or Brett Howden, with one of them falling to the fourth line with Brendan Lemieux and Jesper Fast. Vlad Namestnikov would be the 13th forward in this scenario, with Boo Nieves and Greg McKegg firmly on the outside looking in.  I could certainly see the Rangers opting to be conservative with a player like Kravtsov, and err on the side of caution by having him start the season in Hartford. As of this writing however, Kravtsov projects to make the Opening Night roster.

Total Roster Cap Hit (approximate): $80,739,799, including buried and bought out contracts.

Injuries, standout individual performances and chemistry between defense pairs and line-mates will all influence the final roster, not to mention salary cap considerations.  The Rangers may even opt to go with a smaller roster (12 forwards instead of 13) in order to keep more cap space available due to a very light schedule (just 3 games in the first two weeks).  In any event, it will be an interesting few weeks in Rangerstown, and we’ll all be watching closely.

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  • The Rangers could easily offer ADA 1-1.6M on a 1 year deal and get this done while being cap compliant. I think this is just a pissing contest where Rangers management wants to take full advantage of their negotiating power … but in the end it will just hurt their ability to further develop ADA or increase his value for trade purposes.

    • I agree with you on development Tanto. On trade value I think he’s been trending up and I could see them trade ADA. Especially if you could attach an asset like Namestnikov with salary retention to buy some breathing room on the cap and open up a rooster spot. Fox appears to be a better version of ADA, Lundkvist is looking like the real deal and the dilemma of being stuck with Smith at his current contract for the next 2 seasons and it may make a lot of sense to trade him. Thinking something like ADA and Namestnikov with some salary retained for maybe Puljujarvi and a 2nd? 2 distressed assets that would fit for both teams. We’ll see what happens here, but I think ADA is making a mistake holding out. He could do much better next year contract wise with Arbitration rights if he continues to develop like he did last year. Holding out doesn’t help this cause.

      • Agreed … and yes he’s trending up, but if he were playing with this newer cast of characters I think he could trend even further up. I think it’s circa 1 year early to move him. Lundkvist is at least a year away.

        Re: your trade proposal, I would do that in a heartbeat — both players would really add to the Oilers, they need PLAYERS that can actually play in the NHL … and play with good players. Namestnikov, despite his decreased offensive production in the last year has proven in the past that he can play with those better players — he also gives 100% max effort, something the Oilers could definitely use. ADA would also give them a potent backend player and someone who could thrive on their PP. For our part we get a talented winger who is still very young and a 2nd round asset. That said, I really like ADA the player — unless there are REAL issues in the lockerroom with this guy I would hate to trade him “early”.

    • I would be very surprised actually if ADA is any more likely to take $1M than he is to take $925K. So I think a small bump in the Ranger offer just weakens their negotiating position.

      You are right that they can pay $1.6M, but that makes it a tight fit. I think I would do $1.6M on a two year deal since it provides a little certainty, but not on a one year deal.

      With good puck movers like Trouba and Fox already in tow, I think in the short term, Morrow is a better fit than ADA anyway – and with Lundqvist, ADA is not a long termer either. He hasn’t fully proved himself yet, needs to be in camp, and his holdout shows that self interest still trumps hockey in his world – not a guy who will ever raise the Cup. He is not an asset to throw away, but neither is he one to build on.

      And $900,000 is a lot of money.

      • Tight against the cap eh? When haven’t we been tight against the cap? lol Just do it and be done with it — he’s certainly proven that he’s a quality RD with a world of talent, just watch him play — again though, if there’s something we don’t know about the lockerroom dynamic, then my tune would change.

        • When you are that close to the cap, injuries become hard to manage – so it isn’t without consequence in the short term. It also resets expectation for the long term. And remember, a big part of the recent Ranger cap woes is that they were too soft last year – shelling out $10M for Names, Spooner and Vesey.

          Also, both sides can give in. ADA is still unproven until he shows he can truly be trusted defensively and the fact that he can’t accept reality here gives a window into his character — if we still needed it.

          The Rangers played hardball with Derek Stepan when he had no leverage — and he was a proven hockey player.

          Also, who plays the right side on the PK — pick two. Certainly Trouba will be the top guy. But do you want to force Fox into that role, can ADA handle it, or would the Rangers be best off with Morrow?


          Personally, if I am Gorton, I give ADA three choices — $1M, $1.6M per for two years, sit out the year — with the proviso that if he does not show up in the next week, I reserve the right to retract the first two options. And I refuse to negotiate further.

          • Brendan Smith gives us a lot of flexibility so I’m not overly worried about being up against the cap, besides it’s cumulative and with the light schedule starting off it makes some sense to send the younger players down to play extra games for Hartford … and/or of course there’s always the IR — I would love to see them put a Staal or even Hank on the IR for a stretch during the season, a forced REST for the older players would be beneficial in multiple ways.

    • In politics they say to always take advantage of a crisis. Right now the Rangers have $1.16mm in space and that’s without Kravtsov on the squad. If they swap out Mckegg for him, then it goes down to $935k. Even with Boo gone you’d get to $1.6m and a barebones roster not generating cap space, something GMJG doesn’t do.

      His best bet is to take the QO, outperform his minutes and his contract, sign the extension he’s looking for with a fat bonus; then get dealt on July 2nd.

      Next year is going to be the year he gets dealt anyways , because in the expansion draft he’s the #4 D in a 3 horse race(unless Skjei stays horrible this year.)

      • Personally I would play with the cap some, especially in light of the first 2 weeks only having 3 games. Get him into camp and try to move him, if this has to be done — that said they already shot themselves in the foot by letting this drag on into camp. ADA’s already somewhat dubious reputation just took another little hit. They really needed to move either Strome, Namestnikov, Kreider or Fast over the summer …. or send Smith down, but I don’t really favor the latter move.

  • My roster still has Andersson and Kravtsov starting in Hartford – with Haley, McKegg, and Nieves fighting for the last two spots. Kravtsov is young and can use a few months in the AHL to learn the North American game. If the Rangers do make the playoffs, I think he will be a big part of the team by then.

    The defense is a little complicated. You certainly don’t want to use Hajek or Fox in the #7 spot, and Morrow gives them flexibility. I think it is better than 50/50 that Morrow makes the team, BUT I would not be surprised if your chosen seven is correct. The paltry five NHL games he played AND the eye test tell us Hajek is ready — hope that’s true.

  • You need to get ADA signed, or move him in a trade by opening day. We do not need the issue around all year. He is better than his replacements. He needs to understand his leverage is minimal.

    • I disagree. ADA is a minor player on this team and I do not think his holdout is really a distraction. So I don’t think the issue really affects the team. As for him being better than his replacements, I think that has to be judged in context. In a vacuum, I think most people think ADA is better than Morrow. BUT if I am trying to build a set of three RH defensemen and I know that two of my trio will be Trouba and Fox, two excellent puck movers, I think I would rather have Morrow to complete the set. A lesser defenseman, but a better complement to the rest of the unit.

      • The season starts in 2 weeks already. I don’t see ADA being here. I, too, believe Morrow makes this team and will get third pair right-side minutes possibly paired with Hajek with Smith being the 7th D slash 13th forward.

        I just hope Fox is ready for 2nd pair duty. But this is a building year.

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