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Off-Season Game Plan: New York Rangers

Scott Cullen
6/19/2014 12:34:03 PM
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The New York Rangers made the playoffs for the eighth time in the past nine seasons, and went on a nice postseason run, ultimately losing the Stanley Cup Final in five games.

The series was close enough, with three overtime losses, that the Rangers can feel like they should be contenders, but it was also clear that there is room for improvement to match the league's best.

Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Rangers team that has a good core group, but is looking at some significant roster turnover this summer.

Having finished sixth in (Fenwick Close) puck possession during the regular season, along with one of the game's premier goaltenders, the Rangers had credentials to justify their strong postseason run and it should keep expectations high for the future.

If the Rangers return most of the same roster, with Martin St. Louis, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Carl Hagelin as the forward core, the Rangers will likely be a playoff team next year, but there are enough free agents that it can't be assumed the Rangers will have the same roster. Mix in a buyout of Brad Richards, and potential free agent departures of defenceman Anton Stralman along with forwards Benoit Pouliot, Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore and others and that will present an opportunity to make some changes.

Additionally, the Rangers are known for being big-game hunters and, in a summer in which many big names are already being floated in trade rumours, it would come as no surprise if at least one of those big names found its way to Broadway.

The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- Corsi, adjusted for zone starts, quality of competition and quality of teammates, hits, blocked shots, penalty differential and faceoffs. Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be around 70, stars will be over 80 and MVP candidates could go over 90. Sidney Crosby finished at the top of the 2013-2014 regular season ratings at 87.12.

Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.

CF% = Corsi percentage (ie. percentage of 5-on-5 shot attempts), via www.extraskater.com.

GM/COACH
Glen Sather/Alain Vigneault

Returning Forwards

Player Rating GP G A PTS CF% Cap Hit
Martin St. Louis 74.43 81 30 39 69 50.4% $5.625M
Rick Nash 73.50 65 26 13 39 54.2% $7.8M
Derek Stepan 71.31 82 17 40 57 53.1% $3.075M
Carl Hagelin 67.10 72 17 16 33 54.5% $2.25M
Brad Richards 65.55 82 20 31 51 54.1% $6.667M
Derek Dorsett 59.31 51 4 4 8 50.5% $1.633M

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating GP G A PTS CF% Class '13-'14 Cap Hit
Chris Kreider 72.68 66 17 20 37 55.2% RFA $1.325M
Mats Zuccarello 72.45 77 19 40 59 53.8% RFA $1.15M
Derick Brassard 67.31 81 18 27 45 53.5% RFA $53.2M
Benoit Pouliot 65.59 80 15 21 36 53.8% UFA $1.3M
Brian Boyle 64.97 82 6 12 18 46.9% UFA $1.7M
Dominic Moore 62.10 73 6 12 18 55.2% UFA $1.0M
Daniel Carcillo 62.08 57 4 1 5 50.5% UFA $825K

It's pretty sweet when the reigning scoring champ insists on a trade to one team, and your team is the beneficiary, but the Rangers probably hoped for more than what they got from Martin St. Louis, who scored one goal and eight points in 19 games with the Blueshirts before a little better production (8 G, 7 A in 25 GP) in the postseason.

St. Louis has a brilliant track record -- Joe Thornton is the only player with more points since 2003-2004 -- but St. Louis is also 39 and his production with the Rangers is a little troubling, with his shots on goal way down from earlier in the season in Tampa Bay. St. Louis is going into the final year of his contract, and may have more years left in him, but 0.85 points per game was St. Louis' lowest rate since 2005-2006 and it's not a given that a player in his late thirties will simply rebound offensively.

After leading the NHL playoffs with 83 shots on goal, yet managing only three goals, Rick Nash came under heavy fire for his lack of production. And yet, over the past two seasons, no one gets shots on goal during 5-on-5 play at a higher rate than Nash and his goals/60 is also best in the league. Yes, it was a bad slump in the postseason but Nash, who just turned 30, has strong enough underlying numbers to believe he can still be a top goal-scorer.

Derek Stepan got off to a slow start after signing a new contract shortly before the start of the regular season, but finished with 22 points in his last 23 regular season games. He's a strong two-way player who hasn't missed a regular season game in four years (though he did miss one game after having his jaw broken in the playoffs).

A winger whose speed puts pressure on opposing defences, Carl Hagelin is a strong puck possession player, who scored 33 points without netting a single point on the power play. He may not put up huge point totals because of the lack of power play time, but Hagelin creates chances at even strength.

Technically, at this moment, Brad Richards is under contract to the Rangers for next season, but the most likely scenario involves Richards being bought out of his contract because his play has declined and there is no earthly way to believe that he can provide value on a contract that runs through 2020.

While Derek Dorsett's calling card is his aggressive play -- he has 51 fights over the past four seasons -- he's also taken regular shifts in a defensive role, consistently starting more shifts in the defensive zone and surviving despite that tilted ice.

Chris Kreider had a very strong rookie season, with strong possession stats, he showcased his game in the playoffs, scoring 13 points in 15 games once he returned from a broken hand. Kreider doesn't have top-tier finishing skill, but he has a rare combination of size and speed to create chances.

It took some time for Mats Zuccarello to establish a regular role in the NHL, but he did last season, playing 77 games and leading the Rangers with 59 points. Zuccarello is short, but he doesn't shy away from physical play and has been high-end in terms of puck possession.

Derick Brassard has been a valuable complementary forward for the Rangers, scoring 80 points with solid possession numbers in 129 (regular season plus playoff) games since he was acquired from Columbus. As a third-line centre with offensive upside, Brassard tends to get favourable matchups.

There are definitely going to be holes to fill for the Rangers, with four unrestricted free agent forwards, and that's without counting Richards, so there will undoubtedly be some changes. Of all the unrestricted free agents, Dominic Moore may be the best bet to return. Moore was a reliable checker for the Rangers last season and played well in the postseason, so it shouldn't be difficult to find room for him on next year's roster.

Looking outside the roster, a trade for Joe Thornton -- who does have some history with Rick Nash -- would be a way to upgrade down the middle and keep the Rangers among the best teams in the Eastern Conference. It might require some financial maneuvering, but would also be worth the trouble.

Returning Defence

Player Rating GP G A PTS CF% Cap Hit
Ryan McDonagh 75.65 77 14 29 43 51.1% $4.7M
Dan Girardi 66.91 81 5 19 24 49.9% $5.5M
Marc Staal 64.22 72 3 11 14 54.4% $3.975M
Kevin Klein 58.44 77 2 7 9 46.5% $2.9M

Free Agent Defence

Player Rating GP G A PTS CF% Class '13-'14 Cap Hit
Raphael Diaz 63.21 63 2 13 15 49.7% UFA $1.225M
Anton Stralman 62.74 81 1 12 13 56.5% UFA $1.7M
John Moore 61.73 74 4 11 15 51.6% RFA $965K
Justin Falk 55.54 21 0 2 2 45.2% RFA $975K

Not only did Ryan McDonagh set career highs in goals (14) and assists (29), but he also did so while facing the opposition's best lines, starting more shifts in the defensive zone and still managed positive possession stats. The 25-year-old rising star is a terrific skater and can handle physical play.

Often partnered with McDonagh, Dan Girardi is an interesting case. He's something of an underdog story, undrafted out of junior, and only half a dozen defencemen had more combined hits and blocked shots last season than Girardi's 365, so he isn't shy about sacrificing his body. However, his critics will note that others -- particularly McDonagh -- tend to fare better when playing without Girardi and cite hit and block totals as evidence that the puck is in the Rangers' end too often when Girardi is on the ice. Maybe the solution is to find less demanding matchups for Girardi, because he has a six-year contract extension that kicks in next season, so he'll likely be around a while.

Mostly healthy last season, aside from suffering one concussion, Marc Staal had a solid season alongside Anton Stralman, though 20:31 average ice time per game was below his standard. As he gets more comfortable, and puts injuries further in the rearview, Staal could resume playing big minutes.

Once he arrived in New York, in a trade for Michael Del Zotto, Kevin Klein was relegated to the third pair, so he didn't play as much as he had in Nashville, and while Klein's regular season was mediocre, he put up strong possession numbers in the playoffs. The question for the Rangers is whether it's worth paying Klein at this rate to play as a third pair defenceman, or can he move up the depth chart, if necessary?

23-year-old John Moore hasn't yet risen above a third-pairing role, but he's been effective with that sheltered usage. There could be more opportunity for him to move up, depending on what happens with the rest of the Rangers defensive unit.

A big stay-at-home defenceman, Justin Falk didn't play much in the 21 games that he did dress last season, so his future with the Rangers, or in the NHL, could be in doubt.

Perhaps the biggest issue facing the Rangers' defence is the pending unrestricted free agency of Anton Stralman, something of a hockey nomad who finally found his game in the past couple seasons, putting up elite-level possession stats while handling a top-four role on the Blueshirts' blueline. Stralman's strong play may price him out of the Rangers' range, so his departure would leave a hole that needs to be filled.

Returning Goaltenders

Player Rating GP W L OTL GAA SV% Cap Hit
Henrik Lundqvist 77.88 63 33 24 5 2.36 .920 $8.5M
Cam Talbot 76.24 21 12 6 1 1.64 .941 $563K

Pretty much from the time he arrived in the NHL, in 2005-2006, Henrik Lundqvist has been among the top puck-stoppers in the game and though he struggled in the first half of last season, posting a .908 save percentage through the end of December, he was lights-out after that, right through the playoffs. Since they signed him to a seven-year contract extension, the Rangers had better hope that 32-year-old Lundqvist ages well.

Undrafted out of Alabama-Huntsville, Cam Talbot had three-plus years in the AHL when he was summoned to New York after Martin Biron's sudden early-season retirement. Talbot enjoyed a phenomenal year, one that he can't be expected to duplicate, but he's an inexpensive backup for Lundqvist.

Top Prospects

Player Pos. Team/League Stats
J.T. Miller RW Hartford (AHL) 15-28-43, +10, 41 GP
Brady Skjei D Minnesota (Big 10) 6-8-14, +15, 40 GP
Jesper Fast RW Hartford (AHL) 17-17-34, +14, 48 GP
Conor Allen D Hartford (AHL) 6-25-31, -4, 72 GP
Anthony Duclair LW Quebec (QMJHL) 50-49-99, +19, 59 GP
Dylan McIlrath D Hartford (AHL) 6-11-17, +2, 62 GP
Danny Kristo RW Hartford (AHL) 25-18-43, even, 65 GP
Oscar Lindberg C Hartford (AHL) 18-26-44, +2, 75 GP
Pavel Buchnevich LW Cherepovets Severstal (KHL) 7-11-18, -1, 40 GP
Ryan Haggerty RW RPI (ECAC) 28-15-43, +7, 35 GP
Mat Bodie D Union (ECAC) 8-31-39, +28, 40 GP
Mackenzie Skapski G Kootenay (WHL) 2.70 GAA, .916 SV%, 53 GP

The 15th pick in the 2011 Draft, J.T. Miller has established that he can produce in the AHL, but has 10 points in 56 career NHL games and has taken some criticism from new coach Alain Vigneault. If he sticks around, Miller should have a good shot at a top-nine role next season.

Picked 28th in 2012, Brady Skjei is a strong skating defensive defenceman who is still working on the offensive side of his game with the Golden Gophers.

A sixth-round pick in 2010, Jesper Fast had a solid showing in his first season in North America, earning 11 games with the Rangers and impressing with his skating. If he gets stronger, improving his physical game, he'll have a chance to make the jump soon.

Signed as a free agent out of UMass-Amherst, Conor Allen was solid in his first pro campaign, solid enough to get a three-game look with the Rangers and the 24-year-old is as likely as any defenceman in the organization to get called up.

Drafted in the third round last summer, Anthony Duclair erupted offensively last season, raising the ceiling on what he might be expected to become once he turns pro. If he can show that his 50-goal season wasn't a fluke, well, that offers interesting potential in the long term.

Towering tough guy defenceman Dylan McIlrath was the 10th pick in 2010, and while he's not going to do anything flashy, he's a tough customer who scrapped with Flames heavyweight Brian McGrattan during his two-game trial in the NHL last season.

Acquired in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens, Danny Kristo is a fast winger who can score, but needs to get stronger if he's going to handle the rigors of NHL action.

Picked up in a 2011 trade with Phoenix, Oscar Lindberg is a two-way centre that had a solid showing in his first North American season. It would not be a surprise to see him get some time in New York next year.

A third-round pick last summer, Pavel Buchnevich is a skinny skilled winger who had a nice year on a poor team in the KHL. There's no rush to get him to North America just yet.

Signed as a free agent out of national-champion Union College, Mat Bodie is a puck mover who lacks ideal size, but is a good skater and passer who can play an offensive role.

Taken in the sixth round last summer, Mackenzie Skapski has played well under a heavy workload over the past couple seasons in Kootenay.

Rangers advanced stats and player usage chart from Extra Skater

DRAFT
No first-round pick.

FREE AGENCY
According to www.capgeek.com, the Rangers have approximately $54.0M committed to the 2014-2015 salary cap for 13 players.

Check out my possible Rangers lineup for next season on Cap Geek here.

Needs: One top nine forward, four more forwards, one top four defenceman, depth defencemen.

What I said the Rangers needed last year: Two-three top nine forwards, depth defencemen.

They added: Chris Kreider, Benoit Pouliot, Dominic Moore, Taylor Pyatt, Jesper Fast, Justin Falk.

TRADE MARKET
J.T. Miller, Kevin Klein, John Moore.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.



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