Ever since the NY Rangers got dummied by the Devils earlier this month, solutions from pundits have ranged everywhere from tearing this roster apart to just giving the core another run with a new coach. The Rangers cap and contract situation most likely inhibits Drury from doing the former. However, after watching Henrik Lundqvist for 15 years, simply relying on promotions to Kris Knoblauch and Zac Jones would feel like we are playing small ball at a time when swings should be taken. As usual, the answer probably lies somewhere in between.
1) Hire a veteran coach who will bring accountability & aggressive tactics
A good portion of this fanbase is pushing for Kris Knoblauch to get hired, given his oversight of the Hartford Wolfpack’s turnaround from dumpster fire to the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals. While their turnaround shouldn’t be ignored, nor should Drury’s role in Knoblauch’s initial hiring, promoting Knoblauch to be a head coach in the biggest media market in the hemisphere seems incredibly risky, if not fool hardy given we are in our window to win.
The Rangers haven’t had a coach who follows through on accountability measures since John Tortorella. One of the reasons why the Rangers are golfing right now is because there was zero accountability for the veterans who routinely no showed in big games.
I have a hard time seeing a rookie coach come in and bench or even command respect from Artemi Panarin, Vincent Trocheck, or even Mika Zibanejad. To me, the only guys who can likely do that are Mike Sullivan, Dan Bylsma, or perhaps a Peter Laviolette. All three would be of that ilk. They have won, preach aggressive systems, and don’t come with the baggage of a Joel Quenneville or Mike Babcock.
2) Trade Barclay Goodrow
As much as I love Barclay Goodrow and the diversity of skillsets he brings, $3.64 million is a dent on a flat cap that could likely be replaced with a cheaper signing. My pick at the deadline was Sam Lafferty, who carries a third of Barclay’s cap hit.
He gets similar offensive production (12 goals, 27 points) and is much more defensively responsible. Unfortunately, he went to Toronto instead, but other players like him are out there.
3) Trade Artemi Panarin?
I’ll caveat this one with, it’s unlikely to happen. Artemi Panarin has a full no-movement clause and is coming off a 92 point season. It’s rare that those type of players are traded. With that said, there has been some rumors floating around the interweb of the possibility.
Regardless of the likelihood, it is worth exploring. There’s plenty of great players in the history of this league who didn’t have that extra gear in the playoffs to win a Cup. I don’t want the Rangers to be one of these organizations like the Sharks or the Flyers of the 2000s, who have all the talent in the world, but just can’t get it done.
Bread is a -16 in the postseason. Plus/minus isn’t the be all metric to use, but since he’s supposed to be a primary offensive weapon, it does matter. He also has fewer points per game in the playoffs than the regular season. Most importantly, he simply is careless with the puck and doesn’t have any defensive acumen to his game. To me, he’s a complimentary piece and not a core player. Perhaps a coaching change flips that paradigm, but I’m skeptical.
Can he be convinced to waive his NMC?
It’s a tough putt, but perhaps he’d be willing to go back to Chicago to play with Conner Bedard, or head to Anaheim to re-unite with his buddy Ryan Strome. Other popular destinations like Nashville, Montreal, & Florida have some cap room this summer to get creative and have been mentioned elsewhere.
However, there’s little on those rosters that I’d swap for his production. Perhaps a three team trade is the only way to make it work. Again, spitballing here.
4) Improve right wing depth
If Panarin waives his NMC and if he is traded (big ifs, I know), a top 6 RW becomes a massive priority. Right now, it’s only Kaapo Kakko and literally no one else in the system. I’d be fine handing a top 6 LW spot to Alexis Lafrenière and trying to convince Patrick Kane to re-sign on a discount and give him Panarin’s spot on PP1, assuming he has healthy hips.
If Showtime doesn’t fit the mold of what the new coach is looking for tactics-wise, I’d take a long look at UFA Alex Killorn. While he’ll be 34 this offseason, he is still a fantastic 2-way player and probably will be too expensive for Tampa to retain. Evan Rodrigues (29) is also a UFA and has a lot of north / south to his game, while also being a net positive in terms of possession & scoring chance stats.
If the UFA market doesn’t work, Dave talked about potentially trading Bread for Marner (Toronto) or Reinhart in Florida. There aren’t a ton of RWs rumored to be available this offseason, so again this is more of a longshot.
5) Sign a shutdown center
I spoke about this at length during the deadline, so I won’t belabor the point, but if the Rangers are able to get their core screwed on straight, the final piece to me is having a player that can go out and help shut down the opposition.
The Rangers weren’t even in the top half of the league the past two years in in expected goals against. Some of that is on Gallant for not playing with a ton of structure and basically just rolling four lines come hell or high water. However the Rangers are missing a guy that can go out take those defensive zone draws and help out our defense late in games.
Lars Eller could be worth taking a flyer on. Noel Acciari is someone I talked about at the deadline.
At the end of the day, this conference is going to continue to be hard to play against. Boston is still going to be a force next season. Florida’s core is all in their 20s. The Devils are young and have cap space to get better. Toronto will be aggressive. Carolina is doing some damage and isn’t even fully healthy. Chris Drury is going to have to find ways to improve this roster and make us harder to play against.