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Looking Ahead To The 2014-15 NY Rangers

New York Rangers v Montreal Canadiens - Game One

I’m not gonna go through a recap of the entire season – we all saw it. Although it ended without a Cup, the fact that the Rangers were playing a double-OT game in mid-June to stay alive in the Final is more than most fans would’ve expected after how horribly this squad started. Henrik Lundqvist put to bed any doubts about his contract extension & Ryan McDonagh blossomed into a legitimate Norris candidate as well as next team captain. The Blueshirts certainly have a couple of anchors to rely on for the next few years of hopeful Cup contention – but there will inevitably be some change. Here are my short-sighted, semi-informed thoughts on the Rangers summer makeover.

Bye Bye Brad – This is an easy one. For whatever credit everyone wants to give Richards in the locker room, this post-season ended just like the last one did. With Brad centering the 4th line. 6 more years of an almost $7 mil cap hit for an aging player in a production free fall is simply not gonna happen. With Richards gone, the Rangers will have about $24 mil to work on keeping some of their 11 free agents in New York.

Bye Bye Benoit – Someone’s gonna give Pouliot a multi-year deal, and I hope it’s not the Rangers. With all the money they need to spend on other FA’s and new blood, there’s none to waste on the former 4th overall pick with a career-high of 16 goals. He’s a solid bottom-six option, but he proved to be such a wild card with brain-dead penalties & giveaways. I feel like he’d check out once he signs. If he’d do another 1-year deal, sure, but I think he earned himself a better payday a team other than NY will regret.

Bye Bye Boyle – This is not something I WANT to happen, but Boyle may be the biggest bread-winner (outside of Stralman) after a stellar playoff run. His beauty of a shorty in what may be his last game as a Blueshirt was just icing on the cake. He used his size & played tough, which he’s not always done, and was a force on one of the league’s best PK units all year. The problem is, Boyle thinks he’s more than just a “glue” guy. He’s already come out and said he wants more responsibility, but that’s not who he is (see Brandon Prust). I doubt the Rangers will be the team to offer him the most money, and since AV doesn’t plan on expanding his role then there’s really no reason to expect the two sides to come to terms. Plus, there’s kids like Miller/Fast/Lindberg waiting for their opportunity.

Welcome Back Stralman – Might not be a popular decision, but right-side d-men are a commodity and Stralman will be highly sought after as an addition to many teams’ top-four rotations. He’s already said he’s looking for stability – and being in his prime after the year he had, he’ll get it. My reasoning for the Rangers to give it to him isn’t just about his own performance though. It’s also about Marc Staal. He’s up for a new deal in 2015, and I’d rather keep Stralman at around Staal’s current cap hit ($4 mil) than give Staal a raise in 2015. Between concussion history & left-side blueliners being easier to come by, Marc isn’t worth the McD/Girardi money he’ll command. To me, he makes a great trade piece. Regardless, unless the NY brass is confident in sliding Klein up and filling that third slot on the right side with someone like former #1 pick Dylan McIlrath or Raphael Diaz, Anton Stralman should be the next blueliner locked up.

Welcome Back Dom Moore – No-brainer here. Moore is not only an inspirational leader-type, but also a more offensively-talented Brian Boyle who seems perfectly fine assuming his role as a bottom-six grinder. At 34, I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t stay put with a cap-friendly 2-year deal. Moore is the one who picked the Rangers when he decided to step back on the ice after skipping last season.

Welcome Back Brassard/Zuccarello/Kreider/John Moore – All are RFA’s that I doubt are going anywhere. Depending on how Sather handles improving his team down the middle, Brassard may be leaned on for more offensive production – although there’s a chance he ends up a trade chip. He’s certainly got the talent to step up though & was a top power play asset despite seeing less time than guys like Richards & Stepan. Keeping his mini linemate Zuccarello seems more of a certainty, and when Kreider’s breakout inevitably occurs in the next two years, it’ll be in Rangers blue. I’m not a huge John Moore fan, but he’s still just 23 and has a first-round pick pedigree. They could do a lot worse to round out their defensive corps.

As for new blood, the obvious need is a center. The popular names thrown out are Paul Stastny (UFA), Jason Spezza (trade) or Joe Thornton (trade) – but there’s a chance the Rangers entrust Step & Brass to lead their top two lines and either shoot for a middle-of-the-road FA or promote from within. Personally, although I like Stepan’s game, he’s just not a #1 C of a championship team. He’s horrendous at face-offs and is simply not skilled enough as a playmaker to command prime PP time or center top wings. There are arguments to be made against opening the wallet for Stastny & whether or not trading (if they even have the pieces) for a veteran on the block is a good idea – but I think it’s something they have to do if possible.

Stastny has said he’d like to stay in Colorado and I don’t blame him – so if the Avs can keep him at a good price, he’ll be out of a bidding war before it can start. Spezza has a year left with a $7 mil cap hit & a limited NTC. Who knows if he’d consider NY, but the Sens probably won’t move him in the East. Jumbo Joe will be 35, has a full NMC & carries the same cap hit as Richards – although over 3 years instead of 6 – but he may make the most sense. Their Cup hopes revolve around Hank, who realistically has about 3-4 years of his best hockey left. Thornton is still a point-per-game playmaker who dominates draws, is a PP specialist and could form a lethal duo teamed up with the underwhelming Rick Nash. Still, a trade for a big name may be nothing more than wishful thinking without a #1 pick in the next two drafts. Sather’s creativity would be put to the test & I’m not gonna pretend I know how to make it happen. Thornton just seems the most attainable of the three – and I wouldn’t hate it.