New York Rangers Have Few Untouchables This Off-Season


The New York Rangers’ 2015-16 season ended poorly due to players’  considerable deficiencies.

As the intriguing New York Rangers’ off-season begins to gain steam in the press, as evidenced by this recent article by Larry Brooks of the New York Post, many potential strategies are being revealed and dissected by any and all interested parties. According to Brooks, Rangers management has indicated that there are only three untouchables in the organization currently, with Pavel Buchnevich, Henrik Lundqvist and Brady Skjei

Dec 15, 2015; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei (76) warms up before a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

being the three. Noticeably absent from the list is, well, everyone else. Derek Stepan—now rumored by Brooks to be potentially dealt to Minnesota in return for young d-man Jonas Brodin—Rick Nash (of course), Derrick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh and all of the meaningful RFA’s (Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and JT Miller) are all apparently expendable. The deficiencies are not necessarily related to skill levels but rather to a discernable lack of accountability and character. In short, the Rangers’ of 2015-2016 lacked hunger and drive, and this was manifested far too often throughout long stretches of the season where the effort level simply did not reach, much less exceed, par.

Disappointing Youngsters

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Chris Kreider, as an example, drifted through roughly 60 games or so before deciding to apply the gifts that separate him from the vast majority of NHL players. Kevin Hayes, well, he never made the decision to apply any of the assets and skills he put on display during his rookie season.

It could even be said that McDonagh, who had demonstrated capabilities that had him in the conversation for Norris Trophy consideration during the 2013-2014 season, has not contributed to the degree that was expected. He has not shown the ability over the past two seasons to influence games the way he had during that 2013-2014 campaign, and while injuries have taken a toll, no doubt, there have been long stretches where health was not a concern and his play still left something to be desired. Could it be that he is simplifying his game to accommodate for the down-tick in performance from the remainder of the team’s defensive corps? Perhaps. In the end, though, leaders lead, elevating the play of those around them, and Rangers’ fans have not seen the level of on-ice leadership from McDonagh that was anticipated. This may very well be why he has become less of a lock to return for the 2016-2017 season.

No Buyout, No Stamkos

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Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

Also mentioned by Brooks in the article cited above is that the Rangers’ will not be buying out Dan
Girardi’s contract and wont be pursuing Steven Stamkos in the free agent market. If Brooks is on point with both of these assertions then, in no uncertain terms, the Ranger’s are making two tremendous errors in judgment. Now, there is no guarantee that pursuing Stamkos ensures that he comes aboard, of course, but to not explore ways by which he could come aboard is foolhardy. There are questions about Stamkos’ blood clot issue, questions that will never go away, but that’s what insurance is for. The only way Stamkos gets signed by anyone is with insurance attached to the deal, so why the Rangers wouldn’t be able to similarly protect themselves defies logic.

As for Girardi’s cap hit, it would not exceed $3.75 million in any one season, and that number wouldnt hit until the 2018-2019 season. Next year the hit is just $1.75 million, so unless the

Rangers plan on a total rebuild this off-season they should consider absorbing the $1.75 this year and $2.75 next year if it helps to open up the possibility of Stamkos being brought in. Nash would also need to packaged in a separate deal, of course,, but if the team is able to bring in Stamkos there is less need for a significant return for Nash. This is not to suggest that Nash be jettisoned for a pittance in return but rather that he could be dealt for younger prospects or draft picks with high-ish ceilings that will not break the near term or long term budget.

Apr 2, 2015; Saint Paul, MN, USA; New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan (21) against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. The Rangers defeated the Wild 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

However things play out, the intrigue will be optimized for the next several months. If the Rangers are to compete within their division and conference for years to come, they must get grittier up front and on the blue line in addition to adding speed to the blue line corps. They also need a fourth line that can bang, night in and night out, something that has been sorely lacking for two full seasons now.

Leaving Girardi in place this season hampers any efforts to add speed and grit to the d-corps, and even if Stepan is dealt for Brodin you are essentially robbing Peter up front to pay Paul on the back

end. Stepan may not yet be what he was expected to be but he has shown signs, when fully healthy, of being a Tier 2 number one center in the NHL. You don’t find those kinds of players hiding under every rock, and there is not enough evidence to suggest that Buchnevich is capable of stepping in and contributing all of the attributes that Stepan currently does.

Next: Larry Brook: No New York Ranger is Safe from Trade Talks

The waiting game has begun for Rangers observers, and the final results promise to be fascinating as we begin to gain glimpses into the differentials between the team-building styles of second year GM Jeff Gorton and long-time team president Glen Sather. New faces are sure to come, and some beloved players will likely be dealt. The worm has turned for the New York Rangers, no doubt, and it will be quite a journey between now and October when the first puck is dropped on the upcoming season.