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NY Rangers Mailbag: What Happens Next?

Icon Sportswire. Getty Images.

It wasn't the Game 7 loss at The Rock itself that hurt as much as HOW the Rangers lost it. Just a complete and total no-show with everything on the line. Embarrassing. With the season a wrap now, let's get into some questions about what happens next…

 

I honestly don't understand the vitriol for Patrick Kane's postseason. He was arguably their best forward - and that's not to say he played like vintage Kane. It's more of an indictment of the rest of the roster. Still, where did he fail? He produced 6 points in 7 games. In the four losses where the squad scored just twice he had points on both while all but three other teammates posted zeros. He was instrumental in two of the team's first three goals in a big Game 6 win despite not being on the scoresheet. At 5x5 he was on the ice for a lone goal against, was tops in expected goals & shots, only Zibanejad had more takeaways among forwards…what else within reason did we expect?

If any of the other Rangers forwards came anywhere close to performing to their standards they might be in Raleigh instead of making tee times. Again I'm not saying Kane was awesome. He obviously wasn't flying out there and the Devils speed was a problem for him just like it was everyone else - but the fact that he's being singled out as the fall guy by so many fans is flat out wrong. Save it for this guy…

 

 

Artemi Panarin ain't going anywhere. 3 years left of a buyout-proof contract with a NMC he's not gonna waive & a price tag that'll be much less impactful after an expected cap jump for '24-25. And he shouldn't go anywhere, he's still an elite player. Only McDavid, Draisaitl & MacKinnon have more points since he became a Ranger in 2019. But man, it's fair to say he's singly the most responsible for their season ending prematurely. Panarin had 2 secondary assists in the first period of this postseason then went scoreless the rest of the way. 7 giveaways at 5x5 vs 0 takes while anchoring a powerplay that finished the series with a lone tally in their final 18 opportunities. Just too reckless, too predictable and too passive. That was a theme for plenty of Blueshirts against the Devils but Panarin was the pinnacle.

Last year's playoffs weren't the best the Breadman had to offer but at least he had his moments. Last year's version of the Breadman could've gotten this group to Round 2. Instead, he was a ghost. Scratch that - a ghost would've had no effect. He had such a glaring negative effect that it makes you wonder if a soon-to-be 32 year-old Panarin simply can't be relied on when the ice gets smaller & the stakes get higher. Will he take this failure personally and bounce back with a vengeance a year from now? All we can do is hope so, because he's gonna be here.

 

 

 

 

This game is so shortsighted. We want to place all the blame on a head coach for his team folding in a Game 7 (against a team that was better all year long) and ignore the big picture. Do we not remember last year? A year of zero expectations that resulted in not only a 110-point regular season but TWO series comebacks and TWO Game 7 wins? Did Gallant have nothing to do with any of that? When he was hired we were all expecting steady progress, but because the team's contention window was expedited due to a surprising level of immediate success under his guidance, he's now the problem because it hasn't expedited enough?? That's absurd. Whether or not he's the coach that'll eventually make this team the last team standing I don't know. No one knows until they actually get there. Still, the Rangers are right on course with their general expectations once Gallant took the reins.

Last year was a bit of smoke and mirrors thanks to the powerplay & Shesterkin. This year the team significantly improved at 5x5 and was able to replicate last year's regular season without the benefit of one of the best goaltending years in history. Is that all players, no coaching? The next 2-3 years were to truly be their Cup contending campaigns and there's no reason to think that's changed. If anything, Gallant got them far enough to learn more about their core earlier than they should have. Is a third coach in six seasons the be-all, end-all? What would a replacement be expected to change that's so certain to get more from this collection of talent? Is this group capable of changing quick enough not to burn next season as an "adjustment period"? I'd run it back one more year instead of making a move for the sake of it.

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If they decide they need a new voice and someone to come in giving all players a legitimate clean slate it won't be Messier, Knoblauch or Valiquette (that's funny though). It will be exactly who'd you expect it to be. A big name coach like Quenneville & his baggage (assuming the NHL clears him) or the ultimate disciplinarian Darryl Sutter. Someone of that ilk. I'd love to see Andrew Brunette be the guy based on his success not only in Florida last year but this year as Lindy Ruff's associate in Jersey. There's no doubt he's had an impact there, but he simply doesn't have a long enough resume. I don't see how the Rangers make a move after just two years under Gallant unless it's for a name that's gonna make headlines. Any sort of "risky" hire puts Blueshirts brass under the direct microscope of responsibility and they're too chicken shit to do that.

 

 

Brennan Othmann represents the last bastion of "help from within" this organization has to look forward to in the immediate future. There's a few with NHL potential, but Othmann is far and away the one who could have the most significant impact. The biggest issue with that has nothing to do with his talent but everything to do with the fact that he plays the Rangers most overloaded position. They've tried Kreider, Panarin and Lafreniere on the right side a few times and it's never panned out - so how can they create a top-9 spot for the young left winger? Would Othmann be pushed to the off wing?

They need as many bargain-bin players as possible and it's very realistic to believe the 2021 16th overall pick will be given every opportunity to make the squad next year. His scouting reports are littered with terms this team could absolutely use a shot of - "skilled agitator", "strong skater", "relentless", "aggressive forechecking", "nasty in-your-face competitor". He's got plenty of offensive tools as well but it's those traits that'd likely make him a high-floor player right off the bat and considering how hamstrung the Rangers will be in their ability to sign new pieces, I think he's the perfect new addition. But having no clear path to the lineup might be reason enough for NY to be patient with his development and let him prove himself in the AHL first.

 

He's still just 21 so I'm hesitant to say "he stinks", but we can at least say he stunk this year. That's fair. It was a struggle for Lafreniere for most of the season and putting up zeros against the Devils was the turd on top of his '22-23 shit sundae. Let's not forget I hypothetically tried to trade him in January after he made the news for being a healthy scratch despite his Rangers being the hottest team in hockey at the time. He caught fire shortly after being scratched (smart coaching move, no?) with 9 goals in 21 games but for the other 75% of the season & playoffs he was a flat out disappointment. I don't care what else he's doing right or wrong on the ice, his lack of production otherwise (7 goals in 67 regular season/playoff games outside of his hot streak) simply won't cut it. 

He's added physicality to his game, sure, but he hasn't shown any dangerous offensive attributes like his linemates have. Kakko is showing improved hands and is a menace on the walls on top of his defensive acumen. I don't see a situation where he's not in the top six next year considering how light they are on the right side and in their wallet. You can foresee his production rising with more opportunity while bringing an element of responsibility the top of the lineup lacks. Chytil has speed, creativity & drives play. He's capable of producing regardless of who he skates with. Lafreniere…I dunno. Nothing stands out and that's what's scary. You had a feeling with Chytil and Kakko they just needed to mature physically & learn to play a less timid game. That's what was holding both of them back the most - but that doesn't seem to be Lafreniere's problem. I don't see "timid". But I also don't see any weapons of his we're getting glimpses of & simply waiting on to bust out. He's got a lot to prove in Year 4.

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Bleak? Purgatory? What are we talking about here? I know we're bummed about getting bounced in the first round but this team is unquestionably one of the best in the league. It's HARD though to go from "one of the best" to the last team standing. They've been a top-five regular season team over the past two years combined. They'll be one of only 4 teams to play in the ECF since last year. The majority of their defense is 25 or younger (Trouba is the elder statesman at 29). Their all-world netminder is 27. Three fixtures in their top-nine are 23 or younger while their oldest forward (Kreider) JUST turned 32. This is far from an old team at the end of their careers. This isn't the end of the road. These next couple seasons were the "winning" targets all along. They're right on schedule.

With that being said, at least in terms of next season with a minimal cap increase coming, it's likely we're gonna see pretty much the same group we saw opening night in October. No one's waiving their NMC so we can forget about moving any big-money contracts. The likelihood of moving a kid like Lafreniere, Kakko or Miller is slim to none simply because they need small AAV's to fill out the roster & you're not gonna get exceptional upgrades at any position for similar price tags especially considering there's still upside (whether you wanna believe it or not) for all of them. The only legitimate trade candidate is Barclay Goodrow but he's got some protection in the form of a 15-team NTC. Logic dictates that'd rule out a lot of the basement-dwellers who'd be happy to add a veteran presence while getting to the cap floor so it's no sure thing they can cut bait via trade. A buyout though could make some sense. Via CapFriendly.com:

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I'm not saying this is the right thing to do - but with all dead money finally coming off the books, the Rangers are in a great position to kick a new can down the road. A buyout clears his AAV fully the next two seasons where it matters most and, outside of Year 4, leaves minimal money on the books the rest of the way. And by the time that happens the cap ceiling is expected to jump significantly so it'll sting even less. If Drury can't find a taker on the trade market I wouldn't be surprised to see this happen. Clearing $3.6M would leave the Blueshirts around $16M for next season. Figure something like $7M for Miller/Lafreniere bridge deals and a backup goalie which would leave $9M to round out the roster. Let's assume they re-sign Motte for $1.5M & round out the 4th line with Brodzinski/Leschyshyn-types and we're down to $6M. Cross your fingers for Zac Jones or Matthew Robertson to make the jump and we've got $5M left in a best-case scenario to fill the yet-again glaring hole on the right side of their top six via free agency.

The immediate name that jumps out to me on the 2023 free agent list is Tyler Bertuzzi. The ultimate pipe dream. But coming off a 2-year/$4.75M deal pretty much solidifies he'll be out of the Rangers price range. JT Compher is an all-situations staple who can play pivot or wing. He's got some skill but does the dirty work for guys like Mackinnon & Rantanen. The beauty of potentially adding Compher is that he'd give NY the option to bump Chytil to a RW spot in the top six where I think he'd take off. Colorado might not let him go though - he plays a major role for them - unless he's asking for a silly amount which would put him out of the Blueshirts reach anyway. Ivan Barbashev is a more likely option. The 27 year-old winger brings a physical 200-foot toolbox and had a 26-goal/60-point season just a year ago. He's been excellent for Vegas since being moved at the deadline & will be looking to cash in, but I don't think he'll push $5M. 

Outside of them you're probably looking at short-term veteran options. Alex Killorn is an interesting name in the likelihood he becomes a cap casualty in TB. Yeah he'll be 34 and has a lot of extra playoff miles lately but his production has improved each of the last three seasons (27/37/64 this year). No question he's looking to win one more time before calling it quits and his pedigree & versatility would be a great fit. As a lifelong Bolt though, he may very well sign for peanuts to stay put. How about a bargain-bin flyer on the health of Max Pacioretty? I can't imagine tearing the same Achilles twice within a calendar year bodes well for a 34 year-old NHLer but that simply makes him a one-year low-investment/high-reward option if the expectation is he'll be ready to go for the start of the season. Same goes for Patty Kane if he wants to play for Corey Perry money. 

If I had a strong idea as to how Drury was gonna handle this offseason I'd be running a team myself - but these are the surface names that make sense to me while also being realistic possibilities. I'm confident in saying there won't be any significant shakeups to the roster though. The core, both young and old, will still be here and we'll have to rely on Rangers brass to make the subtle improvements to supplement them. There's no savior coming and quite frankly they don't need one. This team is good enough to compete again and if they fail it won't be for a lack of talent. It's the same for any other contending squad - stars have to be stars while others have career years. The time is up for the kids to rely on youth as an excuse. Their veteran forwards simply have to be better when it matters most. If everything comes together they can absolutely bring a Cup to Broadway in the next couple years. If it doesn't, then this team was always more than a couple transactions away from making any difference.

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VIVA LA BLUESHIRTS!!!