May 23, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers players surround left wing Chris Kreider (20) after he scores the game-winning goal against the Boston Bruins during overtime in game four of the second round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Rangers win 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Five Things to Watch: Offseason Plans for Rangers

A lot may change for the Rangers heading into the offseason. It started today with the firing of coach John Tortorella. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

With the Rangers season ending prematurely Saturday night, after a 3-1 loss to the Bruins many fans were at a loss. After a team that was destined to the Stanley Cup finals, and possibly win it according to many hockey analysts, the team disappointed many this season. Inconsistent play, the complete demise of Marian Gaborik (who was traded to Columbus), and Brad Richards (scratched games 4 and 5 against Boston), and the uproar of fire Torts tweets on Twitter, made it a very difficult season for the Rangers. One that you could say was  lost, and a season that went backwards in terms of their development.

If you ask now former Coach John Tortorella (relieved of his duties early this afternoon), he saw it rather differently.

Tortorella, during the teams break up day on Monday considered this season to be a step sideways, and took the blame for a lot of the team’s poor play during the course of the season. While that’s all fine and good, the team also needs to answer for themselves. Richards had blamed his lack of conditioning for never getting into it this season, as did Brian Boyle. But that is a poor excuse, and shows the lack of effort by the players to be ready for the season, as it could of jumpstarted at any time during the course of the lockout.

Yet, the Rangers will now be soul searching. The organization will begin to figure out bits and pieces on what needs improvement so that their 2013-2014 season is filled with success. The question looms: Will they buy out Richards? Did Henrik Lundqvist drive Tortorella out of town? Those questions will be answered over the coming months, but here are some other things to look out for:

Can Marc Staal return to elite form? Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

5. The Return of Marc Staal
On March 5, Marc Staal went down with a very gruesome, disgusting eye injury that ever since then, hasn’t fully recovered, worrying not only himself but the organization. He was able to play an inconsistent 17:17 in game 3 during the team’s first round series against Washington, but right after that game it was back to him not skating, and not practicing with the team.

We did see him return to the ice after the first round series with Washington ended, but he never returned back to the lineup. During break up day, we learned that he was still having good and bad days, and that the puck hit him right in the eye tearing it, causing the pressure in his eye to be inconsistent, which caused the disorientation, and blurriness in his eye. Staal did say he understands that his sight will never be 100% again, but is certain that he’ll be ready by the time training camp comes around. But, the question will now be not when he will return, but at what level will Marc Staal be able to play.

4. Resigning the Young Core
Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, and Ryan McDonagh are all RFAs this off season, causing the need for the buyout of Brad Richards to happen, as all four will require some hefty raises. All 4 during breakup day did mention how they love being on the team, and want to be on this team for some time, citing that they love the fans and the city, while praising the class of the organization. But, can it be done?

Some may worry that Stepan and McDonagh will get hefty offer sheets from other teams, and wanting to see if the Rangers will bite. And to be quite honest with you, they should. They have two special players out of McDonagh and Stepan, and not resigning them would be silly. Zuccarello could be the odd man out again, if they can’t fit all 4 under the cap, while trying to get other pieces together.

You could see McDonagh and Stepan getting 6-7 year deals falling anywhere between 3.5-4 million per. Hagelin could see a 3-4 year deal averaging 2-2.5 per. As for Zuccarello, if he can fit, will be in the 2-3 year range of 2 million per. Yet, it will be interesting to see how the dominos fall for the younger guys to get resigned.

3. Reapplying the Glue
Losing Artem Anismov, Brandon Dubinsky, RulsanFedotenko, and Brandon Prust during the off season, the Rangers did

Losing Brandon Prust (above) turned out to be a big deal during the season for the Rangers. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

nothing to fully replace them. Lost were the guys willing to forecheck, willing to play on the penalty kill, and scoring a goal for the team every now and then.

When the Rangers realized they needed those guys, they went and traded away Marian Gaborik, and got Derek Dorsett, Derrick Brassard and John Moore. In another trade they acquired Ryane Clowe, someone who did not make an immediate impact on the team like Brassard and Moore did. Clowe was injured, with two possible concussions, and it remains to be seen what the Rangers will do in regards to resigning him in the off season. Original reports have him demanding high money for a long term contract, and at his age and health it may not be a good idea.

The trading block may help the Rangers find some of the missing glue pieces, besides free agency, and everyone’s favorite defenseman to hate, Michael Del Zotto may be that guy to get traded. When your top four is pretty much set, and with Stralman proving himself worthy in the playoffs prior to injury, and with young prospect Dylan McIlrath probably cracking the Rangers roster next year, Del Zotto becomes expendable.

2. Finding a Coach
With the surprise (or not that much of a surprise) firing of Coach John Tortarella today, the Rangers begin their hunt for a new boss, hoping to get one prior to the draft.

Right now the two top candidates to take over the now vacant position is former Vancouver Canucks coach, Alain Vigneault, former Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. Seeing some of the comments out there on Twitter also mentioned former Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher getting some love, and Mark Messier.

While I don’t think Ruff or Boucher would fit well with the Rangers, I can see Vigneault taking the helm as the team’s next bench boss. Do I want him to? No, but with who is available, it might be in the team’s best interest to get him.

As for why I don’t want Mark Messier, he’s never coached a single game at any level. And superstar NHL players haven’t fared very well coaching at the NHL level (Wayne Gretzky ring a bell?) But, with how wacky Glen Sather is, I wouldn’t be surprised if he asked Messier, to just gauge his interest. But, with how close the Rangers are to becoming relevant and winning a Stanley Cup (few pieces barring, attitudes changing) I don’t think Sather, nor Messier would want to take that risk.

1. The Henrik Lundqvist Contract Saga
If Ranger fans had a reason to get nervous; this upcoming season could be that season. This season COULD and I say that with great emphasis, and not because I think it will, or want it to happen, but this season COULD be Lundqvist’s last in New York. We all know how much he loves the city; we know his wife loves it just as much. And we do know how much pull hockey wives (Alexei Semenov’s wife says hi), so it’s as good of a lock that Lundqvist will stay in New York, and that we shouldn’t worry about it, right?

Wrong. Lundqvist is a competitor, someone who wants to win, and the Rangers while making the playoffs in 7 of his 8 seasons in New York, and the window of opportunity slowly fading away for him, you have to wonder if this will be his last hurrah on New York, if he doesn’t see any vast improvement. He made comments that made the #TwitterBlueshirts nervous regarding his contract extension and possible return as “we’ll see”. But, understand this is how a business works, and I do expect Lundqvist to return at the max contract, 8 years, with a decent salary to follow, making it once again important to buy out Brad Richards (poor guy, never will get a break here).

One thing to note, that is a positive sign that the team itself is interested in signing Lundqvist long term, stated by none other than Glen Sather during the press conference announcing the firing of John Tortarella. Some negative news to start turned into some positive news at the end.

The Rangers have a lot of changes coming their way during this offseason, and it should be interesting to watch it all unfold. We at BluelineStation promise to bring you all the details and news from the Rangers camp the entire summer. Please be sure to check us out!

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Tags: Alain Vigneault Brad Richards Brian Boyle Guy Boucher Henrik Lundqvist John Tortorella Lindy Ruff Marc Staal Mark Messier Michael Del Zotto New York Rangers Rangers

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