The New York Rangers failed to win the Stanley Cup yet again in the 2016-17 campaign. 2017-18 can be a different story if the team follows the steps laid out here.
While the New York Rangers have a lot of work to do this summer, there is a lot of room for improvement and little room to get worse. For the Rangers to improve, they must fix their defense and keep their offensive depth. In order for New York to stumble, they would have to keep their defense as is, and lose offensive depth. I don’t see that happening.
There are many options for the New York Rangers to take. While I plan on looking into individual decisions throughout the off-season, here is the general guidelines for a perfect Rangers off-season.
Step One- Re-Sign Mika Zibanejad to a non-bridge deal
Last off-season the Rangers inked Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller to bridge deals. Rather than extending them for the long-haul, New York essentially decided to deal with the extensions later. This off-season, New York must not make the same mistake.
Mika Zibanejad must be extended on a long-term deal. He is the future at the center position for the Rangers, and already showed he can step up his game in the post-season. Additionally, knowing what he checks in at on the salary cap will aid the Rangers in making their other decisions.
New York should also consider an extension for Brady Skjei, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Step Two- Figure out the Dan Girardi/Marc Staal problem
Dan Girardi and Marc Staal cannot both be Rangers next season. If that happens, the off-season will have been a failure regardless of other transactions. However, New York has a decision to make when it comes to Girardi and Staal.
Do the Rangers try to trade one of the two? Do they buy-out only Girardi? Only Staal? Both? New York would be best served attempting to trade one of the two defensemen for Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars. If the Stars go for the deal, New York can then try to buy-out the other defenseman, saving plenty of money in the process.
We’ll go into this further in the coming days, but Dallas would benefit from ridding themselves of a goalie, while adding a defenseman they may believe can help them. New York benefits from ridding themselves of one of their albatross contracts. Regardless, one of Girardi/Staal must go.
Step Three- Trade one of Rick Nash or Derek Stepan for a defenseman
I am not suggesting this because I want one of Rick Nash or Derek Stepan traded. In a perfect world, the Rangers would be able to keep them both. However, New York has a pressing need for a top pair defenseman. Nash and Stepan are the two most obvious trade pieces in a potential deal.
A couple of examples for New York to consider are Rick Nash to the Anaheim Ducks for one of their 300 young defensemen, or Derek Stepan to the Carolina Hurricanes for Justin Faulk (in a bigger deal).
Although it will hurt for New York to move one of their star forwards, the defense must be prioritized. Rather than trading a young star in Kevin Hayes or J.T. Miller, Nash or Stepan must be the player to go.
Step Four- Figure out the Expansion Draft
New York can protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goaltender in the Expansion Draft. While it will be difficult, New York is best served figuring out their forward for a defenseman trade before the Expansion Draft.
Let’s say New York successfully makes a move for a defenseman. That leaves Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello, one of Nash/Stepan, and one of Jesper Fast, Michael Grabner, or Oscar Lindberg up front.
Of these options, New York would be best served protecting Oscar Lindberg.
On defense, New York will protect Ryan McDonagh and whichever of Dan Girardi/Marc Staal they do not rid themselves of. The third spot will be tricky. If the player acquired requires protection, that will be the player protected. If the player acquired does not, New York could re-sign Brendan Smith and slot him in there.
However also regarding the Expansion Draft, New York is a team that would benefit from dangling a draft pick to ensure Las Vegas picks a player of the Rangers’ choosing. Nick Holden appears to have value to NHL teams, so New York may be able to get away with sending a second or third round draft pick for them to take Holden. Suddenly the Expansion Draft looks a lot less scary.
Step Five- Re-Sign Brendan Smith
The timing of the Brendan Smith extension would depend a lot on the Expansion Draft, but the Rangers cannot let Smith slip through their fingers. Smith was a perfect fit on the second pairing with Brady Skjei, and fills the role vacated by Michael Sauer’s injury way back when.
Projections have Smith fitting in at four to five years and $4-5 Million. As long as other teams don’t jump in and raise the price too high, New York has no reason not to bring Smith back.
The only questions are when and for how much, but Smith should be a Ranger for the near to distant future.
Step Six- Replace Nash or Stepan
Remember, in step three, the Rangers traded one of Rick Nash or Derek Stepan. The team will need to bring in someone to help fill the offensive void left by the player traded.
My top options include Jordan Eberle (in a trade) or Joe Thornton. Justin Williams could be a fit as well, but he does not quite fit in as well as the other two.
In a perfect world, the Rangers bring in Joe Thornton on a one or two year deal. Thornton loves New York, is hungry for a champsionship, and provides an offensive game that will match that of whoever leaves. Although he is old and often injured, Thornton fits in as a bridge player until Pavel Buchnevich, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, and Mika Zibanejad are ready to dominate.
Step Seven- Rid the Roster of Dead Weight
We’re still going! This step may go hand in hand with another step depending on how the Rangers want to operate. New York must rid themselves of Nick Holden and Kevin Klein this off-season, thus removing Alain Vigneault’s toys.
Holden can be moved to Las Vegas in the proposed Expansion swap. Klein may need to be latched onto a Nash or Stepan trade, or even buried in the minors. Regardless, the two have to go. Tanner Glass cannot be re-signed, and a player similar to Tanner Glass cannot join the roster. Every roster spot is vital.
Let me note that this is not what I believe what the 2017-18 Rangers roster will look like, but better yet how I would like for it to look. As you can see this is a seven step process, so it will be difficult for the Rangers to have everything go right.
However, here is where I end up. In this scenario the Rangers move Stepan for Justin Faulk (in a larger deal,) trade Antti Raanta for a draft pick that goes to the Golden Knights for them to take Nick Holden, re-sign Brendan Smith, sign Joe Thornton, and trade Dan Girardi to the Dallas Stars for Kari Lehtonen.
Of course if the Stars will not make the deal, the Rangers keep Raanta, surrender their own draft pick, and buy-out Girardi instead of trading him. The money evens out because Lehtonen is no longer on the books.
A few minor signings are made to fill the remainder of the roster. Let’s take a look.
Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Mats Zuccarello
Rick Nash-Joe Thornton-Pavel Buchnevich
Jimmy Vesey-Kevin Hayes-J.T. Miller
Michael Grabner-Oscar Lindberg-Jesper Fast
Ryan McDonagh-Justin Faulk
Brady Skjei-Brendan Smith
Marc Staal-Alexei Bereglazov/Neal Pionk/Eric Gryba
Depth, no weaknesses, elite offense. This team could win the Stanley Cup.