The New York Rangers had their best season since 1993-1994 recording 109 points and reaching the Eastern Conference Final.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Rangers team that has talent, a strong defensive core and one of the game's premier puckstoppers. With the right moves this summer, they could be Cup contenders again next season.
Of course, the Rangers are expected to be big movers and shakers this summer because that's what they do. Last summer, they signed coveted free agent Brad Richards. In 2009, it was Marian Gaborik. Of course, they haven't all been hits as free agent contracts for Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Wade Redden turned into liabilities, but the Rangers are in a position to make moves because they have salary cap room and roster flexibility, with enough prospects to make a blockbuster deal.
The expectation is that Rick Nash would be in the Rangers' crosshairs and the Blueshirts can put together a compelling package of roster players and prospects to land Nash, a 28-year-old power forward who has 272 goals since 2003-2004, fifth-most in the league in that span (behind Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk Jarome Iginla and Dany Heatley).
A Nash deal shouldn't be considered a foregone conclusion, however, so the Rangers will be exploring options for other offensive upgrades and that will most likely involve the trade market (for the high-end talent) because there are so few difference-makers in free agency and the top one, Zach Parise, has already indicated that he's not a fit for the Blueshirts.
Despite their strong season in 2011-2012, it is imperative for the Rangers to upgrade offensively. Their shot differential (+0.70 per game) tied for 10th in the league.
Considering the strength of their defence and goaltending, any additions that would improve the attack and give the Rangers a better handle on the possession game would figure to keep them in the group of teams that enters next season as contenders for the Stanley Cup.
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) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus and the biggest stars will be over 80. Evgeni Malkin finished at the top of the regular season ratings with a 93.12.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
Glen Sather/John Tortorella
For the third time in the last five seasons, Marian Gaborik scored more than 40 goals, making him one of four players to have reached that threshold three times (Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos are the others), yet the critics emerged when Gaborik struggled in the postseason, scoring five goals and 11 points in 20 games. Once the season ended, it was revealed that Gaborik would need shoulder surgery and need six months to recover, which should cost him at least the first couple months (and approximately 20-25 games) if next season starts in early October.
Captain Ryan Callahan scored a career-high 29 goals and 54 points, while playing a career-high 21:02 per game, often facing the highest quality of competition (www.behindthenet.ca) among Rangers forwards. That high calibre of competition helps explain why Callahan is one of six players to have at least 70 goals and a minus-25 rating or worse over the last three seasons.
32-year-old Brad Richards was last summer's big free agent prize for the Blueshirts and need to finish with a flourish (24 points in his last 20 games) to total 66 points in 82 games. His .80 points per game was his lowest scoring rate since 2001-2002, his second year in the league. There are more productive years ahead for Richards, but the two-time 90-point scorer is unlikely to approach that level again.
Derek Stepan has been a productive contributor immediately since joining the Rangers in 2010-2011. He's the only player in the last two seasons that has at least 90 points and a cumulative rating over plus-20 in his first two NHL seasons.
23-year-old Carl Hagelin burst into the lineup and, with strong two-way play, earned a more prominent role, only to fade down the stretch, registering one point in the last 10 regular season games before no goals and three assists in 17 playoff games, despite logging significant time on a scoring line. Hagelin's speed helps create offensive chances and he plays a well-rounded game, but his finish suggests that he may have worn down by season's end.
It was a strange season for Brandon Dubinsky, who finished with a career-low 10 goals and 34 points, yet was a career-best plus-16 while facing tough checking assignments (www.behindthenet.ca). Dubinsky is valuable as a two-time 20-goal scorer who played more than 20 minutes per game in 2010-2011, but even when he's not scoring, he can help the cause.
Artem Anisimov's production fell back in this third season, from 44 points to 36, but the 24-year-old has size and skill to produce more if given the opportunity, which might make him an appealing trade commodity.
Checking center Brian Boyle handled the tough minutes for the Rangers, with a lot of defensive zone starts (www.behindthenet.ca) and his role increased, to more than 16 minutes per game from February through the end of the season.
Mike Rupp had a less significant role than in previous seasons -- his 6:39 per game was the second-lowest ice time of his career -- so it's not surprising that his production was so minimal. Nevertheless, Rupp contributed more in previous seasons.
Of course, the Rangers will be players in the off-season market, because it's what they do and, with Gaborik out at the start of next season, they could use an offensive boost. Maybe free agent Zach Parise isn't likely (based on his comments), but trading for Rick Nash or Alexander Radulov would be conceivable alternatives.
The Rangers owed a great deal of last season's success to the work of their top defensive pairing, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. They faced the toughest defensive matchups every night, Girardi averaged 26:14 of ice time per game, which ranked fourth in the league, and he was a career-best plus-13. Not bad for a player who was never drafted.
McDonagh emerged as a premier defenceman, playing more than 24 minutes per game in his first full season, scoring 30 even-strength points, good enough for seventh among all defencemen, while his plus-25 rating ranked fifth among blueliners.
Playing a more signficant role early in the season, while Marc Staal recovered from his concussion, Michael Sauer was playing well before suffering his own concussion and not playing after a December 5th game against Toronto. Predicting concussion returns is foolhardy at the best of times, but when a player has missed as much time as Sauer, it would suggest that the Rangers may have to count any contribution from Sauer next season as a bonus.
Staal's return was gradual, playing 17 minutes per game when he started playing again in January but, by playoff time, he was playing more than 25 minutes per game. With Staal healthy, the Rangers have another shutdown option when opposing teams manage to avoid the Girardi-McDonagh pairing.
After a sophomore slump in 2010-2011, Michael Del Zotto was back on track last season, as one of five defencemen to have at least 40 points and a plus-20 rating. Del Zotto is the Rangers' most capable puck-mover and power play quarterback from the blueline, but he's also a willing physical presence on the back end, ranking second among Rangers' defencemen in hits.
Anton Stralman fits in a depth role with the Rangers, playing 17 minutes per game. He can move the puck and, with less responsibility, managed a career-best plus-9 for the Rangers last season.
There could be several departures via free agency. Perhaps tough guy Stu Bickel would return after showing okay in limited duty, but the Rangers may need to seek out additional depth options. Even if prospect Tim Erixon makes the jump, the Rangers could use another veteran or two in the organization to make up for inevitable injuries.
Free Agent Goaltender
||'11-'12 Cap Hit
While defence played a big part in the Rangers' success, so too did goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who turned in a career-best 1.97 goals against average and .930 save percentage while playing 62 games, his fewest since his rookie season of 2005-2006. Over the last seven seasons, Lundqvist has posted a save percentage of .915 or better six times. Tomas Vokoun (with seven) is the only other goaltender to maintain that level of consistency.
Lundqvist has benefitted from having a strong backup, as Martin Biron is more accomplished than most second-stringers. If Biron moves on as a free agent, the Rangers will have to find another backup via free agency, which could mean a look at Josh Harding, Scott Clemmensen, Chris Mason or Jonas Gustavsson.
||Boston College (HE)
||23-22-45, +9, 44 GP
||3-30-33, +5, 52 GP
|Michael St. Croix
||45-60-105, +40, 72 GP
||25-37-62, +8, 61 GP
||Moose Jaw (WHL)
||3-20-23, +7, 52 GP
||34-33-67, even, 55 GP
||HV71 Jonkoping (SEL)
||5-11-16, +9, 21 GP
||41-37-78, +8, 66 GP
||29-41-70, +13, 54 GP
||33-49-82, 60 GP
Chris Kreider was already considered a prime prospect coming off his senior season at Boston College, but five goals in the playoffs made his place in the spotlight a little brighter. Now, the trick will be managing expectations as Kreider can be a very good two-way forward, but it's not fair to expect offensive stardom from the 21-year-old.
After getting some early-season playing time with the Rangers, Tim Erixon went to the AHL for more ice time.to enhance his long-term development. He's a sharp puck-moving defenceman who should crack the NHL lineup for keeps next season.
A fourth-round pick last summer, Michael St. Croix is an offensive dynamo, who has improved steadily throughout his three seasons in the WHL. With a couple more seasons of development, St. Croix could be ready for a scoring role on Broadway.
The 15th overall pick last summer, J.T. Miller scored a point-per-game in his first OHL season then joined Connecticut for eight playoff contests. The 19-year-old has good size and projects to be a two-way centre, capable of contributing on the offensive end while providing responsible defensive play.
2010 first-rounder Dylan McIlrath is an imposing figure who can scrap his way to a spot on the Rangers' roster, but also has a chance to be more than that; with some refinement in the AHL, he could play a reliable defensive role by the time he reaches the NHL.
Christian Thomas scored 54 goals and 99 points in 2010-2011, but wasn't as productive last season, finishing with 34 goals and 67 points. He's ready to take his game to the AHL to determine if his offensive skills will translate at the next level.
A speedy winger whose season was shortened by a broken ankle, 20-year-old Jesper Fast has signed with the Rangers, but will reportedly remain in Sweden for another season before trying the North American game.
A fourth-round pick in 2010, Andrew Yogan has good size and could be a bit of a late bloomer. He's also played six AHL games over the last couple of seasons, so he should be ready for a full season in Connecticut in 2012-2013.
Signed as a free agent by the Rangers on May 30, Marek Hrivik put up nine points in nine playoff games with Connecticut, a small sample size, but enough to generate interest for a winger that scored 204 points in 179 games over three seasons in the QMJHL.
A third-round pick in 2011, Steven Fogarty put up big numbers in the BCHL, like many of his teammates on a powerhouse Penticton team, so the test will begin next season when he attends the University of Notre Dame and deals with the CCHA schedule.
In addition to this group, some more veteran prospects include Casey Wellman, Mats Zuccarello (who has signed in the KHL) and defenceman Pavel Valentenko, any of whom could help in a pinch, though Zuccarello may be gone for good.
28th - Stefan Matteau, Colton Sissons, Malcolm Subban
According to www.capgeek.com, the Rangers have approximately $49.2M committed to the 2012-2013 salary cap for 15 players. Check out my potential 2012-2013 Rangers roster on Cap Geek here.
Needs: Two top nine forwards, two defencemen, backup goaltender.
What I said the Rangers needed last year: One top line forward, one top nine forward, two defencemen.
They added: Brad Richards, Mike Rupp, Michael Del Zotto, Tim Erixon.
TRADE MARKET Derek Stepan, Brandon Dubinsky, Carl Hagelin, Artem Anisimov, prospects.
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.