New York Rangers: Potential end of an era for several Rangers’ veterans

Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports /

The New York Rangers have relied on several key veterans to carry them in the postseason during Alain Vigneault’s tenure as the head coach. After falling short of glory once again, it is likely that several veterans will not return next season.

The New York Rangers have made several deep postseason runs in the last five years, due mainly to their veteran players. When the Rangers need a clutch goal, they rely on their veterans to produce. When the Rangers have the lead late in a game, they rely on their veteran defensemen to block shots and play solid defense.

This year’s team featured several Rangers’ all-time leaders in playoff games skated in. Despite all of their postseason experience, the Rangers once again fell short of the ultimate goal, winning the Stanley Cup. Because of this, it is likely that the Rangers will look to shake up the roster.

Looking at the Rangers roster as it stands, the Rangers will need to cut several million dollars from their payroll before next season starts. The Rangers have several key players on expiring contracts. Mika Zibanejad, an RFA, is eligible for Arbitration and Brendan Smith is a pending UFA. Both are going to receive major pay raises.

And then there is also the possibility that the Rangers try to sign Kevin Shattenkirk this offseason, which will require even more cap space to pull off.

All signs point to the Rangers looking to get younger, faster, and cheaper. General Manager Jeff Gorton has been signing young, undrafted players to compete for NHL roster spots and to help add to the Rangers’ barren prospect pool.

In order to open up roster spaces and cap space for these players, it is likely that several veterans will not be coming back next season.

Here’s a look at some of the veteran players who may have played their last game as a Ranger and why the Rangers might move on from them.

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Dan Girardi

Defensive defenseman Dan Girardi has been a mainstay on Broadway for as long as most fans can remember. Girardi is a gritty warrior who isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body to block shots and will often lay crushing hits on his opponents.

However, over the last few seasons, his play has diminished at a rapid pace. The years of blocking countless pucks have come back to bite Girardi. His skating ability isn’t like it used to be. Because of this, he is no longer able to keep up with opposing players and is often out of position.

His cap hit for the next three seasons in $5.5 million, which is a lot to pay for a player who cannot keep up with the pace of the game anymore. The Rangers will likely look to trade him or buy him out this offseason. His buyout cap hit (by year) is broken down below:

2017: $2,611,111

2018: $3,611,111

2019: $3,611,111

2020: $1,111,111

2021: $1,111,111

2022: $1,111,111

Interesting note about Girardi’s contract is that on July 1st, 2017 his No Move Clause becomes a Modified No Trade Clause which allows him to be traded to 15 teams (of his choosing). This means that the Rangers will likely try to trade Girardi before deciding to buy him out.

The savings that the Rangers get from buying out or trading Girardi should be enough to allow the Rangers to afford the raise that Zibanejad or Smith will need and then some.

Related Story: Who’s more worthy of a buyout, Girardi or Staal?

Kevin Klein

Kevin Klein was traded to the New York Rangers in exchange for former Rangers’ first-round pick Michael Del Zotto. Klein was a pivotal part of the Rangers teams that made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2014 and the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015.

Klein’s success in New York was largely due to his abnormally high shooting percentage (sh%). He had an 11.8 sh% in 2014-15 and a 13sh% in 2015-16. For reference, Erik Karlsson had a 7.2sh% and 6.5sh% respectively in those seasons (and happened to win a Norris trophy in that span).

Now that Klein’s sh% has regressed to its normal percentage, the Rangers are able to see the real Kevin Klein, a defenseman who’s on the wrong side of 30, is dealing with nagging injuries, and is only going to get worse.

Klein spent a good portion of the season dealing with lingering injuries. This and his diminished play led to him being a healthy scratch in the playoffs for all but one game. In other words, Klein lost his starting position on the Rangers and is at most the seventh defenseman going forward.

Klein carries a cap hit of $2.9 million for another season, which is too large for a seventh defenseman. Buying out his final season doesn’t make much sense cap wise. Because of this, it is likely that he will be moved for a late round pick or two at the draft.

Related Story: I Was Wrong About Holding Onto Kevin Klein

Marc Staal

Marc Staal was the Rangers’ top pairing defenseman in the years prior to Ryan McDonagh becoming the top two-way defenseman that he is today. Staal was a promising player who many thought would become the next Brian Leetch.

However, Staal has faced several injuries that have derailed his career. Take a look at this article to get a quick recap if you are unfamiliar with his past injuries.

After an absolutely awful 2015-16 campaign, the Rangers’ front office was hoping Staal could rebound. Staal started the year off playing like an NHL caliber defenseman, but as the season played on, he regressed back to the Marc Staal of last season.

Because of this, it is clear that Marc Staal is not going to be able to rebound and is likely someone the Rangers will look to move on from. He carries a cap hit of $5.7 million for the next four seasons, ouch. The buyout for Marc Staal is outlined below.

2017: $2,133,333

2018: $2,133,333

2019: $3,133,333

2020: $3,933,333

2021: $1,433,333

2022: $1,433,333

2023: $1,433,333

2024: $1,433,333

The Rangers could also try and retain money on his contract and trade him to a team, but with a No Move Clause, it is unlikely that the Rangers will find a suitor for him.

Related Story: Removing Marc Staal’s Free Pass

Rick Nash

Rick Nash was acquired during the 2012 offseason via a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Nash’s time in New York has been filled with trade rumors, especially after the 2015-16 season.

Rick Nash has been a key contributor over the last few seasons. In 2014-15 alone, Rick Nash put up 69 points. However, Nash has been injured several times in the last few years. These injuries have set him back. Nash has only played more than 70 games once in the last four full (82 game) NHL seasons.

While Nash is not in the same boat as the players mentioned before, as he is still an extremely good NHL player, he is still a player that the Ranges might look to move on from. His cap hit for the remaining season on his contract is $7.8 million. If the Rangers move him they would be able to make room for several players they need to sign.

Since this is his last season, the Rangers can retain a little money to increase his trade value. Buying out his contract makes absolutely no sense as this is his last season and the Rangers would get nothing in return.

The Rangers have a few options for trading Nash. The Rangers may look to move him for draft picks and prospects at the draft. They may try to bundle him with a bad contract, like Girardi or Staal, to free up a good chunk of cap space. And lastly, the Rangers may move him for another player as a way to “shake up their core”.

Either way, there is a chance that Rick Nash might become a victim of the salary cap.

Next: 2017 step by step off-season plan

Going Forward

New York’s front office has several ways to approach this offseason. No matter which way they decide to go, the Rangers’ 2017-18 roster will likely be a veteran player or two lighter than this season’s roster.

If that is the case, the younger players on the roster will have to be up for the task. And Alain Vigneault will have to find new players to rely on going forward.