It has been almost two weeks since Erik Karlsson and his Ottawa Senators bounced the boys of Broadway out of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 6 games. I really thought that there’d be late game heroics and tie up the series at 3-apiece, but alas, the boys couldn’t execute. It’s another year wasted for franchise Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, and the window for him to bring a Stanley Cup to Manhattan is steadily closing.
The Rangers offseason will be dictated first by the inevitable expansion draft, as the newly-minted franchise in Las Vegas will be drafting unprotected players from the rest of the NHL. Speedy forward Michael Grabner, shifty and versatile forward Jesper Fast, and the best backup goaltender in the league in Antti Raanta are prime candidates for the Las Vegas Golden Knights ripe for the picking.
Each NHL team are required to “protect” 7 players, and that includes players that are just about to finish up their entry-level/rookie contracts (defenseman Brady Skjei, forwards Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey). Now, I don’t know if any of my readers were watching the New York Rangers’ Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it’s become apparent that the right side of the defense needs a complete makeover. Time and again throughout the playoffs, the right side of the defense led by, veterans Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Nick Holden and Kevin Klein committed such defensive atrocities that I believe they are 50% responsible for their team not competing anymore. Ideally, the Rangers will be protecting forwards Mats Zuccarello, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Rick Nash; as well as defensemen Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. Unfortunately, G and Staal both have No-Movement-Clauses (NMC’s) in their contracts, so it’s going to have to take a lot of convincing and possibly a buyout in order to get G’s and Staal’s bloated contracts off the books.
That said, forwards Jesper Fast, Michael Grabner, Kevin Hayes, and defensemen Nick Holden and Kevin Klein, and goaltender Antti Raanta will be ripe for the picking right off the shelves for Las Vegas. The only two players that I can see the Rangers have trouble replacing is the versatility of Jesper Fast, where he can be used anywhere on any given situation and he’ll make a play. And as well as Michael Grabner, whose speed really offset the Canadiens’ game plan time after time, in the first round. Another name that is technically “protected”, but could be sent to Las Vegas sweetened with an early-mid rounder draft pick in next year’s draft, is Marc Staal. GM Jeff Gorton will have to do a whole lot of convincing to Marc Staal, persuading to him that perhaps a new change of scenery will jumpstart him back up. Who knows?
After the expansion draft, it’s only a matter of days that each time has to re-sign deserving players and sign free agents from other teams. The New York Rangers have a few of moves here they should do: if I were GM Jeff Gorton, I’d immediately re-sign former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith. In the entire playoffs, I don’t think there was one game where Smitty was overwhelmingly out of sorts. In fact, he was one of our best defensemen, He not only stood up for his teammates and threw haymakers, but he played smart hockey and never lost a position battle against an opposing winger. That said, Brendan Smith will get signed to an four-year extension at $4.5M a season. On the other side of the coin, there is one obvious choice who the Rangers should sign as an unrestricted free agent…elite defenseman of the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals, and New York-native, Kevin Shattenkirk. With “Shatty” in the fold, left-handed defenseman and New York Rangers’ captain Ryan McDonagh wouldn’t have to be dragged down anymore by long-time defensive partner Dan Girardi. Instead, Ryan McDonagh will have the luxury of playing elite defensive hockey on the right hand side of the blue-line with Kevin Shattenkirk. Only problem is, Kevin Shattenkirk will be demanding a hefty amount of sum over an extended number of years…but I have full confidence that the Rangers’ brass will convince him to take a hometown discount and sell him the opportunity to play at the “Most Famous Arena In The World”…Shatty signs a five-year contract at $6.75M, giving the Rangers another elite defenseman they haven’t had since the mid-90s.
As for household free agents, Derek Stepan headlines them. Parting with a talented center, who’s been a vocal leader on and off the ice, and who’s also one of the better assistant captains, is never easy. You’d think that the New York Rangers would never let go one of their A’s, but the fact is, is that everything is based on performance. And Step under-performed in the playoffs. Teams like the New York Rangers who have not a lot of young talent, have to depend on their big guns to propel them in the playoffs and beyond. And Step was supposed to be a big-gun, and he failed to deliver. No diggity no doubt, Derek Stepan will go to a team that needs a talented center that can press the gas pedal and make plays whenever need be. And I hope he’ll find that consistency again.
That said, GM Jeff Gorton trades Derek Stepan to the Minnesota Wild for a late first and an early second pick.
As far as the rest of the offseason goes, I expect the New York Rangers to fill in the blue-line on the backend from within. That means promoting players from the AHL and other talented newcomers from other hockey clubs, foreign and domestic, like Ryan Graves, Alex Berezgalov, Neal Poink, and Steven Kampfer (showed great promise during the Canadiens series)
Projected Lines for 2017-2018 Season
Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Rick Nash
Mats Zuccarello, JT Miller, Pavel Buchnevich
Jimmy Vesey, Oscar Lindberg, Kevin Hayes
Boo Nieves, (Player from FA), (Player from FA)
Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk
Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith
Ryan Graves, Dan Girardi
Steven Kampfer, (Instigator from Free Agency)
**By the way, congratulations are in order for Henrik and fellow Ranger teammate Oscar Lindberg for finally winning gold against Canada in the World Championships.