The Rangers’ 2017-18 season looks more promising than ever. However, one more move must be made.
Jeff Gorton has done everything one could ask of the New York Rangers’ General Manager this offseason. Gorton took a disastrous defense and turned it into gold, while not overpaying anyone in the process. While the Derek Stepan deal is difficult to evaluate in the moment, Gorton at the very least added to the prospect pool.
However, Gorton’s trading of Stepan, coupled with his signing Kevin Shattenkirk, leaves a murky picture. New York can no longer be labeled a “rebuild on the fly” team, but they also are not ready to compete along with the best of the best.
There’s one piece missing. One piece standing in the way of the New York Rangers and legitimate, exciting Stanley Cup contention.
The Center of Success
The 2016-17 New York Rangers were built on strong forward depth and the idea that Henrik Lundqvist could steal a game at any point. It was a risky approach to a season, and the team paid the price when they were eliminated due to poor defense.
The 2017-18 Rangers roster currently features outstanding defense, shaky forward depth, and the idea that Henrik Lundqvist could steal a game at any point. For the Rangers to return to full contender status, they must mix outstanding defense with strong forward depth.
New York appears set on the wings, though extra bottom six forwards would help. Down the middle, Jeff Gorton’s plan remains the most concerning question mark of all. Do the Rangers attempt to use Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, and J.T. Miller as their top three centers? Does New York attempt to move Miller back into the middle, fail, and place David Desharnais in a bigger role than he should be in?
Those questions can be answered now with one acquisition. Should Jeff Gorton manage to bring in a center through a trade, J.T. Miller remains on the wing. Kevin Hayes plays a more comfortable role, while Mika Zibanejad has company in attempting to fulfill the vacancy left by Derek Stepan.
Everyone moves into fitting positions, thus handing the Rangers the center depth necessary to compete for the Stanley Cup.
What Happens If Gorton Fails?
Jeff Gorton failing to acquire a top six center opens up a concerning can of worms. Suddenly Miller must play center. Suddenly Mika Zibanejad must immediately play on the top line, rather than being eased into the role. The pressure on Kevin Hayes reaches an all-time high.
Meanwhile, the wing depth decreases. Miller moving to center means an area of strength is at best an area of relative depth. With injuries, it could become an area of weakness. The trickle down effect should be cause for plenty of concern.
Thus, Jeff Gorton and the New York Rangers remain one transaction away from top competitor status in the NHL. Considering Henrik Lundqvist continues to age, Michael Grabner will leave after the season, and New York’s defense is better than ever, Gorton must find that center before the offseason ends.
Check back tomorrow for how Jeff Gorton should approach acquiring New York’s next center