Rangers Head Into Expansion Draft With No Surprises
First things first – a couple of important dates/times upcoming. By Wednesday @ 10am Vegas will have their team selected – it’ll be announced with the NHL Awards at 8pm (good luck not having anything leaked for 10 hours). Regular trading resumes Thursday morning before the regular draft Friday & Saturday. Free agency begins July 1 at noon.
The Rangers official protected list includes Hank, McDonagh, Staal (due to no-move clause), Holden, Nash, Stepan, Kreider, Zuccarello, Miller, Hayes & Zibanejad. Only semi-surprise is Nick Holden but realistically speaking, his protection is irrelevant. Some fans say they should’ve just protected Brendan Smith’s UFA rights & left Holden exposed – but there’s a .00001% chance Vegas would select Holden over other players up for grabs (namely Raanta, Grabner, Fast & Lindberg) without a side deal of significant proportions. Vegas is trying to stockpile assets & build the foundation of a franchise. They’re not going to take a 30 year-old mediocre defender in the final year of his contract without a prospect or high pick coming along. A few teams are rumored to be coughing up first-rounders to steer the Golden Knights in a preferable direction. While the Rangers 4 top exposed options are all important players, none of them are worth a first-round pick.
So who ends up with their name announced Wednesday night? It’s genuinely a toss-up. I’ve seen Raanta’s name a lot & I’d be OK with that. Raanta could very well go on to be another Cam Talbot, but the Blueshirts & Benoit Allaire have groomed excellent backups for years. I’d have faith in them doing it again. From Vegas’ perspective, he’d be a valuable selection to flip immediately to a squad like Winnipeg who’s hoping to land the next Talbot. Another Rangers loss I’d be OK with is Michael Grabner. I understand the impact felt when they shipped Hagelin away (just before Cam) a couple years ago. Regardless of how fluky you think his 27 goals were (only 6 in last 31 games), his speed creates scoring chances most aren’t capable of & he’s solid in his own end. I would just rather part ways with a 30 year-old player due a raise after this season over either of the 25 year-old RFA’s the Golden Knights would be smart to select. From their perspective, Grabs would be an exciting vet for the fanbase to watch before flipping him as a rental at the trade deadline.
The bad-but-good thing about Jesper Fast is the fact that he’ll spend at least the first month of the upcoming season still recovering from hip surgery. That could be a blessing in disguise as it’d be surprising to see Vegas pick a guy who won’t be ready to play out of the gates & will most likely need a while to get his legs back. That’s good for New York as Fast is an extremely valuable part of this squad while being young, cheap & under team control. If healthy, Fast might’ve been the obvious choice. So if the Golden Knights are going to pluck an asset they plan to keep, it’d most likely be Oscar Lindberg. He’s the guy I’d take. He’s another inexpensive, controllable kid but what separates him from Fast is Oscar plays up the middle. He’s physical, was excellent at the dot last year & has gone on mini scoring binges with limited minutes. Considering mock drafts are listing Marcus Kruger as the top center in Vegas, why not roll the dice & see what Lindberg can do with expanded ice time? No, he’s not going to be a superstar but reliable 3Cs with 40-point potential are important too.
Unless Jeff Gorton surprises with a side deal (Vegas GM has told teams today is the last day for trades), the Rangers are going to lose an important piece. I know Hank’s got his question marks & father time breathing over his shoulder but if that piece ends up being his insurance policy, they got off light. Perhaps the reason they didn’t deal Raanta prior to the expansion freeze was for exactly this reason – to protect their skaters. We’ll see if it works out. This will just be another small part of a major offseason for New York. Girardi was bought out & Klein is rumored to be retiring. That’d be a free $5.8M on top of the $2M all teams are getting from a cap increase. That totals around $15M to play with.
In a perfect world, that’s enough to re-sign Zib & Smith (along with hopefully Fast & Lindberg) while adding Shattenkirk & potentially Raanta’s replacement – but it’s certainly not. Not unless the Rangers are once again short-sighted and play the “bridge game” with Zibanejad. The Stepan trade winds are swirling with less than 2 weeks before his no-trade kicks in, but unless he lands a slam-dunk partner for McDonagh (or clears the cash to sign one) it’s not a move Gorton is looking to force. These next couple weeks could shape up to be a wild ride in Rangerstown. Buckle up.