The playoffs are where your weaknesses get exposed and last summer Carolina exposed the New York Rangers’ weakness while in the bubble. One of the weaknesses exposed was a lack of team toughness. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it and sure enough, the Rangers repeated when professional clown Tom Wilson decided to try to murder Artemi Panarin. The Rangers had no one on the roster to make Wilson pay. Brendan Smith did a honorable job but he is not a fighter. This summer the Rangers need to address their lack of a physical presence on this team and they have plenty of options.
The Rangers haven’t had a true heavyweight fighter since Derek Boogaard. This season the Rangers only had one true fighter and then traded him at the deadline leaving their young stars and elite players unprotected. In order to get to back to the playoffs the Rangers need to have tough guys to protect their skill players.
In my opinion the Rangers shouldn’t just get one tough guy but multiple. They cannot put the burden of standing up to the other teams’ goon on just one player. While everyone is going to want the Rangers to trade for Ryan Reaves, its not really a realistic option. Reaves has been a staple on the Vegas roster since their inaugural season. Reaves could be available since Vegas may look to shake things up after another year of coming up short and his boneheaded hit that got him suspended for two games against Colorado. But at 34, how much longer will he be willing to fight and have over 300 hits a season.
Vegas’ Ryan Reaves has been suspended for two games for Roughing/ Unsportsmanlike Conduct on Colorado’s Ryan Graves. https://t.co/26pAMLIJW5
— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) May 31, 2021
In the system
First, Mason Geersten deserves a shot at the NHL level. The Rangers have been working on converting him from a defensemen to a winger down in Hartford. He is 26 and is 6’4″ and 205 pounds. I thought he should’ve been called up this past season even before the Wilson incident especially after they traded their only true fighter in Brendan Lemieux to Los Angeles.
The Rangers have had success with this before. Stu Bickel was a defenseman that would play the wing and was one of the teams enforcers. Geersten has had 14 fighting majors in his career with Hartford.
In this free agent class there is one enforcer the Rangers should target. The Rangers need to target Kurtis Gabriel from the San Jose Sharks. The 28-year-old who is 6’4″ 200 pounds, was a finalist for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, and had four fights in 11 games this season. His four fights were against some of the toughest players in the NHL. His opponents were Ryan Reaves, Nicolas Deslauriers (who led the NHL in fighting majors this season), Kyle Clifford, and Kurtis MacDermid.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 6, 2021
The Rangers are lacking a physical presence on the ice. While they need an enforcer who can fight, he also must be able to throw the body. Gabriel can be that for the Rangers. Not only is he not afraid to fight some of the toughest players in the league but he is willing to throw the body around. This season in only 11 games he had 46 hits. He was on pace for 234 hits had he played the full 56 game season. That would’ve been good for second in the league last season.
The next two Rangers enforcers should be Mason Geersten and Kurtis Gabriel. Neither one of them will cost much. Geersten still has one year left on his deal at $725,000. Gabriel is an unrestricted free agent who is coming off a one year deal at $700,00 with San Jose. Having only played in 11 games he will most likely command a similar deal on the open market.
The Rangers need an enforcer and they won’t have to search far to get one or spend that much to get another. The Rangers have just acquired the rights to Barclay Goodrow from Tampa which is a great start to adding team toughness. If the Rangers add a center like Blake Coleman or Casey Cizikas along with signing Goodrow and Gabriel and calling up Geersten, the Rangers can finally have that elusive team toughness.