With Derek Brassard, Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello all
filing for salary arbitration, it is starting to look more and more like the
New York Rangers will be in pretty good shape come training camp. None of the three
players filing have had a monster season that will lead to any kind of insane
award that the Rangers would walk away from.
Asst. GM Jeff Gorton has done a pretty good job working out
new contracts that have for the most part helped to avoid the actual salary
arbitration hearing itself. The best thing about the job Jeff Gorton has done
in working out contracts has been that they have been cap friendly. John Moore isn’t eligible for salary
arbitration and hasn’t had the kind of numbers that will lead to a protracted
So if we consider the trio heading to arbitration as signed
and John Moore able to work out a new deal then the Rangers will head to
training camp with most of the roster spots already decided. The
biggest question marks will be how will Ranger coach Alain Vigneault work his
This in a way is a repeat of an earlier post but now we can
start moving players around to see who is a better fit with each other. While
on the surface the Rangers should be an improved team in their second season
under Alain Vigneault each of the lines has question marks on it.
Rick Nash/Derek Stepan/Chris Kreider is the Rangers first
line in name only but it is a place to start. It doesn’t make any sense to
break this line up at least to start the season. It will be interesting to see
how this trio performs as Rick Nash has to be more than a defensive player like
he was in the playoffs. If Rick Nash can give the Rangers 30+ goals then he won’t
have to worry when the window opens where the Rangers can trade him (after 2014-15
The biggest thing that is really holding back Derek Stepan
is his weakness on face-offs. You can’t have your first line center with an
under 500 record on face-offs. Chris Kreider with a new contract will be
expected to produce especially coming off his 5-8-13 playoff effort. It is not
unrealistic to expect Chris Kreider to score at least 25 goals next season with
the hope of 30.
If this line plays up to its potential then the Rangers will
be in very good shape. But what it can’t afford is to be overshadowed by other
lines like they were in 2013-2014. Those who get the big bucks should have the biggest
The first question mark on the Rangers is who makes up the
Ranger’s second line? Is Derek Brassard the real deal after the season he had
in 2013-2014? Together with Beniot Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello they were the
Rangers most consistent line but Pouliot has moved on to Edmonton.
Brassard showed he could produce in clutch situations and if
he is about to earn a bigger payday then expecting bigger production is
reasonable. Having a Martin St. Louis to handle the playmaking abilities on
this line will allow Brassard to attack the slot/crease area and score plenty
of those “garbage” goals.
That is if Martin St. Louis can squeeze one more year out of
that 39 year old body of his? It will help St. Louis if the Stepan line
produces allowing St, Louis to play on the 2nd or even 3rd line where he won’t have to go up against the other team’s best defenders every
night. Not having to carry a team like he has had to in the past with reduced
minutes asked of him could be the right medicine for him.
The player who needs to be under the microscope next season
on this line is Carl Hagelin who had a 17 goal season in 2013-2014. This will
be his contract year where he is arbitration eligible so there is plenty of
incentive here. As cool as it is to be
known as the fastest skater in the NHL, it would be better if Hagelin was a
better finisher on scoring plays. Hagelin just hasn’t done a good job when it
comes to finishing his scoring opportunities.
If Hagelin has a full season with St. Louis on his line then
there is no excuse for Hagelin not to have a breakout season. If Hagelin can’t
produce then don’t be surprised to start seeing his name in trade rumors as your
second line needs to produce good numbers.
But now we come to the third line with only Mats Zuccarello
as the only sure thing on this line. I disagree with the suggestion that
Zuccarello has had just one good season with the Rangers. I will say that it
was John Tortorella’s failure to trust Zuccarello out on the ice which is why
Zuccarello didn’t have strong numbers.
Alain Vigneault gave the “Hobbit” the freedom on the ice and
he rewarded his coach but what might be Zuccarello’s biggest strength doesn’t always
get noticed. Zuccarello has the ability
to play with any linemates or set up any teammate. Go look at Zuccarello’s
assists and break them down to see how many different players he has set up for
But who to play with Zuccarello is the big question? Please
no suggestions of Anthony Duclair because the young man is not NHL ready and
won’t be for at least 1-2 more years. Duclair needs polishing and remember he
plays in the offense crazy QMJHL. Michael St. Croix put up even better numbers
than Duclair when he was in the WHL and he spent last season in the ECHL.
Patience with the prospects please.
A friend wondered if Alain Vigneault would seriously
consider playing an all European line so why not for argument’s sake build one.
Put Jesper Fast on the left side and add Oscar Lindberg to play center with
Zuccarello on the right side. While Fast
is the better known of the two, it has been Lindberg who has developed into a
more complete player.
Lindberg was originally projected as a defensive center who
is a whiz at face-offs but over the last two seasons has developed an offensive
game. The thing about Lindberg is that his game is still developing and
eventually he could wind up as a second line center. As for Fast, it almost
sounds cruel to the other teams to put the high energy Fast with the mini
battering ram that is Zuccarello. This line could just be the surprise of the
The newly resigned Dom Moore will have two new linemates for
the upcoming season starting with Tanner Glass who comes over from the
Penguins. Glass replaces Derek Dorsett
and in his own way Dan Carcillo. With the advantage of already knowing what
Alain Vigneault expects from his players then Glass won’t need much of an
adjustment to the Rangers.
Glass will give you sound defensive play, he will fight if
need be and chip in the occasional goal. Now who plays with them is a good question but if I am the coach then I
go with J.T. Miller who despite his talent hasn’t matured enough to claim a
regular spot in the lineup. The hope here is for Dom Moore to take Miller under
his wing and hopefully mentor Miller on how to be an NHL player.
If it works then the Rangers have themselves a player from
their 2011 first round pick. If it doesn’t then Miller who is entering his own
contract year might find himself riding a bus in the AHL making $70k rather
than a chartered jet missing out on a chance to earn as much as $1.36 million.
The leading choice to be the 13th forward would
be Chris Mueller who split last season between the Dallas Stars and their AHL
team. The Rangers aren’t going to have any of their younger prospects pulling
press box duty when they can be playing regular shifts in Hartford.
Just because a prospect is playing in Hartford does it mean
that the prospect is a bust. Having him playing regular shifts in Hartford
under all conditions will do more for his development than sitting in the press
On defense the first pair is easy as it is Captain Ryan
McDonagh and Dan Girardi. Girardi’s play down the playoff stretch did raise
some concerns about whether the years of shot blocking might start catching up
to him. McDonagh if he plays like he did in the playoffs will be heading to an
It is with the second pairing where the questions begin as
sorry despite what the Rangers may think, Dan Boyle at 38 is way too much of a
defensive liability to punish Marc Staal with. So the question is do you move
Kevin Klein who is the stronger defender up to second pair or see if Conor
Allen is ready to handle the job?
On my roster I give Allen the shot because I really do
believe Dan Boyle at even strength no longer has the foot speed to be a top 4
defender. Klein being the stronger defender as well as able to play the left
side despite being a right handed shot. If you ask why Allen and not McIlrath
then the answer is about foot speed as if McIlrath improves his foot speed then
he would be Boyle’s partner with Klein moving up to play with Staal.
The only dark cloud in the air is Staal’s contract status as
the concern has to be if Staal and Sather can’t come to an agreement by the
trading deadline, would Sather trade Staal as he did Ryan Callahan? Think it is
pretty safe to say if Sather could trade the team captain then Marc Staal isn’t
The extra defender for the Rangers will be a battle between
Matt Hunwick and Mike Kostka. Give the edge to Hunwick who has 292 NHL games on
his resume versus Kostka’s 63.
Do I really need to say anything about Henrik Lundqvist and
Cam Talbot other than here is hoping that Henrik earns a trip to the all-star
don’t think Sather is done making moves as he is going to want to see how much
free space he has left to work with. Sather loves to tinker with his roster so
I think by training camp if not sooner that Sather will give an UfA a chance to
rescue his NHL career.
I expect it to be a forward most likely someone who’s career
has stalled but under the age of 30. Pretty sure Sather is not going to waste
his cap money on someone whose game has gone AWOL (and that means Ville Leino). I will leave the guessing games and
rumors for you guys.