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Reality Check for Rangers Fans

As we draw closer and closer to the expansion draft, entry draft and free agency, Rangers fans have begun pontificating strategies to improve the Blueshirts.

Unfortunately, there are a number of realities that may put a monkey wrench in even the best laid plans.

Here’s some reality checks for Rangers fans as we head into the offseason abyss.

Upgrading The Defense Won’t Be Easy

While there’s not much Rangers nation agrees about these days, one thing we can all unite behind is the Rangers need to upgrade their defense. However, while it’s fairly easy to identify the issues, coming up with an actual remedy will prove to be much more difficult.

Obviously, the Rangers priorities are to sign Kevin Shattenkirk and re-sign Brendan Smith, but unless they’re able to free up cap space and roster spots, this scenario is nothing more than a pipe dream.

Sure, Dan Girardi had a bit of a renaissance this past postseason, but it wasn’t nearly enough to fool even the most grit-centric GM into thinking the remaining three years at $5.5M per for a defenseman on the rapid decline is worth even the most insignificant asset. Meanwhile, any trade value Marc Staal may have had going into the postseason pretty much went up in the flames.

Despite whatever sweeteners you add to a deal for Staal or Girardi, the grim reality of their contracts remain. Even if the Rangers could find a team to swap salary dumps with, unless the terms match, I don’t see how a deal gets done. Oh, and Staal has a no trade clause while Girardi has a limited no trade clause. A buyout of one or both is the only solution, but the Rangers have been reluctant to explore that avenue with either of their veteran defensemen to this point, so there’s no guarantee it’s even an option.

Meanwhile, it’s doubtful the Kevin Klein market is very bullish after not being able find playing time ahead of Staal or Nick Holden in the postseason. And speaking of Holden, while the 11 goals may jump out at some GMs, even a minimal amount of research would uncover an unsustainable shooting percentage in the fall rearing it’s ugly head during the second half of the season. Not exactly a trait teams will be fawning over this summer.

It’s very likely that to improve the Rangers defense, Jeff Gorton will need to replicate the creativity he displayed last offseason when he upgraded the forwards with his outside the box Zibanejad for Brassard deal.

Derek Stepan Is Expendable

The value of Derek Stepan is a polarizing discussion in Rangerstown. He’s a top 30 center in points every season, while also being dependable in the defensive end. Not exactly someone who is easily replaceable. But let’s face it, Stepan isn’t a super star either and the Rangers bolster depth down the middle.

While the Blueshirts don’t possess a stand alone in-house option to replace Stepan’s point production, the collective group of Zibanejad, Hayes, Lindberg and Miller likely can. All four centers are entering the primes of their career, so it’s not much of a stretch to assume their point production will increase not only because of their natural progression but due to increased minutes and responsibility. Take Lindberg for example. Given an opportunity in the top nine with offensive minded wingers he’s all but guaranteed to improve on his 20 points last season. Now we just have to hope Vegas doesn’t gobble him up during the expansion draft because if they do, then trading Stepan is a far less attractive option.

The Rangers can also look to free agency to bolster their center corps if Stepan is dealt, as a player such as Martin Hanzal could slot in nicely on the 4th line as he adds faceoff prowess, skill and toughness.

To me, if Gorton isn’t able to improve the blueline through free agency, dangling Stepan, who is the only tradeable asset, is a must. While losing their de facto #1 center won’t be easy, going into next season with virtually the same defense is not an option.

Antti Raanta Needs to Play More

Henrik Lundqvist proved this postseason that there’s still plenty of gas left in the tank. However, it’s likely that he wasn’t on empty because he started just 55 games during the regular season due to injury and Antti Raanta’s strong play.

The biggest mistake Alain Vigneault can make is to assume Lundqvist is once again able to handle a large workload because of a small sample size performance in the postseason.

Lundqvist’s health has limited his starts in two of the last three years, and it’s no surprise that his playoff performances in those injury plagued seasons were of the stellar variety. Meanwhile, the 2015-16 season in which he started 65 games resulted in uneven play during a first round exit to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Penguins.

Raanta has proven he can handle the larger workload and should have the full confidence of the coaching staff and players.

Not only will increased playing time for Raanta serve the Rangers well during the regular season, it will provide the aging Lundqvist with the necessary rest to remain sharp come playoff time.

Similar to my concerns regarding Vegas drafting Lindberg, if the Golden Knights decide to target Raanta instead, it will put tremendous pressure on Gorton to obtain a replacement who can be counted on for 25-27 starts next season. The Penguins have demonstrated how important it is to employ two strong options between the pipes. It would behoove the Blueshirts to implement a similar strategy.

The Rangers Need Rick Nash

You’d think after his worst statistical season as a pro (0.57 points per game), I’d be begging the Rangers to trade Rick Nash and the final year of his $7.8M per contract. But quite the contrary, as he’s a key cog in any Cup aspirations the Blueshirts may have.

As I mentioned numerous times on the blog this year, the 2016-17 version of Nash was easily may favorite in a Rangers uniform. And yes, that includes his 42 goal season in 2014-15. For the first time on Broadway, Nash used his size to his advantage. Opposing defenses had no answers as Nash crashed the net with and without the puck on a consistent basis. When he wasn’t scoring on his bull rushes to the crease, he was drawing penalties or opening up space for his linemates.

While the Rangers possess substitutes for Stepan’s production, the cupboard is bare when it comes to replacing Nash. Other than Chris Kreider, there’s not a winger within the organization with the size, strength and talent of Nash.

Now, obviously if the Rangers are able to dump Nash’s salary in someone else’s lap, they’d have enough cap space to sign a Radulov, Oshie or Marleau. But how much better are those players in all three zones and how many years would the Rangers have to commit? Plus, it’s doubtful that any team would be willing to take on Nash’s entire contract, so the Rangers would likely have to retain a portion of his salary, hampering any ability to sign a top free agent.

Nash is no where near the offensive threat he was when the Rangers first acquired him, however, 23 goals in 67 games last season is nothing to sneeze at and likely something the Blueshirts are unable to duplicate with a successor.

So there you have it Rangers fans, hopefully my little reality check wasn’t too much of a smack to the face.

Disclaimer

Based on my prediction history, expect all the dead weight on defense to easily be traded away this summer, Stepan to remain with the Rangers and lead the league in scoring next year, Lundqvist to play all 82 games in 2017-18 while winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and Rick Nash to be traded this offseason for a bottom six forward who scores 50 goals for the Blueshirts.

Remember to follow me on TwitterFacebook & Instagram or e-mail me at nyrfan94@yahoo.com.

11 thoughts on “Reality Check for Rangers Fans

  1. I agree with the majority of your article like always. I’d go so far as to suggest they start Raanta in a game here and there in the playoffs as Hanks bullshit consecutive playoff starts is inconsequential if it costs them the Cup and equally so if they win it with his streak having stopped. I am not saying bench him for an elimination game, but maybe a Game 2/3. The defense plays better in front of Raanta as it is.

    The biggest issue of all remains regardless of who they keep, who they trade, who they buyout and who they acquire. AV at the helm. If his personnel decisions remain true to form (veterans over youth, regardless of level of play), we’re going to be watching history repeat itself again and again.

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    1. Agree on AV. Hopefully, the personnel Gorton brings in forces AV hand to play based on merit not years in the NHL.

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  2. Kevin I pretty much agree with everything you said. The reality is I think we are going to lose Lindberg to Vegas which makes dangling Stepan a little trickier unless there is someone ready to replace Oscar from Hartford or elsewhere. And if we don’t lose Oscar to Vegas then I’m betting we lose Antti – replacing him is key as AV was absolutely correct in his analysis that Hank should not play more than 55 or so games. Although I do think his inconsistent regular season was due in part to not being able to get into a rhythm to play himself into form, he was clearly in great shape for the playoffs (and the Worlds where he was positively stellar – now that was a defense worth drooling over!). And Nash was a beast. My only issue with him is he is increasingly injury prone. Anyway thanks for all the great blogs this year. Made for a lot of fun!

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  3. I am tired of hockey fans, specifically North American fans, thinking that teams are built around pieces. Let’s say we get rid of Girardi (who will likely have at least 1 suitor, understanding the need for many teams to reach a cap floor) or Staal or Stepan or whoever… How does that fix the main problems the Rangers have. Problems that don’t seem to get fixed by signing 2 or 3 or more players?

    (1) The Power Play
    I assume your solution is to sign/trade for a power play specialist. Okay, fine now we got last year’s PP king. if you think that immediately strips us from the fact that we are stagnant for 1:30 of the 2 minute power play, then you’re delusional. I don’t care who you sign or who you put on the ice. A team that tries so hard to set up a Box and 1 PP, then chooses to sit in that position until the end of the advantage is not going to have much success on the odd-mad advantage. We would likely have better success in playing our 4th line and tell them to just play hockey as if it were 5 on 5.

    This is where I blame AV and his 3 assistants. Enough guys on a payroll who don’t realize something needs to change with our approach. Get guys MOVING! Look at Ottawa, Nashvillle and Pitt.

    Sure, I blame the players too, but there is a reason why you hire a coach. To realize who is compatible and who isn’t.

    (2) Consistency in the Forecheck.
    Games are won by applying the best pressure to the opposing team, especially in their zone. When we finish checks and apply a strong, consistent forecheck than we seem unstoppable. We just can’t seem to keep that going for more than 2/3 of the game (and that’s a good day).

    Line changes has something to do with all of this. Can’t say I approve of many decisions AV has had.

    But it mostly has to do with getting the right guys.
    Stepan isn’t going to be the best forechecker. And yet we have many guys like him. Hayes for example. Sometimes Kreider – someone we believe can be better in this regard, and often fails. Vesey is eh in this aspect. Buch is learning. But it’s in none of these guys nature!

    And that is why we are so inconsistent in it.
    I wonder how our team would look if we got Hayes/Stepan traded for someone like Doan. Not the best deal, and I am not saying 1 for 1, but I wonder how the team would look regardless of the price is right/

    _________________
    Anyway, good write up and I learned a few things, but we can’t disregard the most important factors in sports. Team Success.

    – Stepan btw has a NTC starting on July 1st.
    I am not sure if I would trade him, but the time is now. or near.
    Las Vegas?
    With Staal?

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  4. The more I think about it, the guy that “gets it” the most, of all the bloggers, posters, twitter(er)s … is the guy in the picture at the top of this article.

    His expression is as wise as it is timeless.

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  5. If Nash had a creative center he would have scored more. How many times did we see him Going 1 on 4 because he had no support down the middle. Or how many times did we not see his center feeding him down the middle or in the slot. Not to misunderstand I think Step is a good player, serviceable as a #2, perfect for 3rd line duties but it’s a waste having him up with your top wingers.he’a a #1 center by po Nets only (being too 30 in his position) but back in the day Nemchinov was putting up close to similar points in his 3rd line slot, other than that Staal could still get better if he gets through the PTSD of almost losing an eye. It’s not just the vision, he was much more rugged before the injury. If Kreider could see a shrink and get over whatever keeps him from becoming the dominant force he should be???. There are a lot of good pieces on this team but we need a bit more plus a coach who can put it all together, then add getting the players to Play up to their potential and we could be right up there.

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  6. I know it’s Larry Brooks job to keep things interesting….but there is no freaking way the Devils are trading Kovi to us.

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