Well, here we are. The NHL season is completely over and our Rangers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, only to loose to the Los Angeles Kings. I know it's tough to start thinking about the offseason and having to do this all again but that is what stands in front of this Rangers team. We all have this empty feeling inside of us but we shouldn't. There is so much to look forward to this offseason as the Rangers need to make very slight adjustments while keeping this core group of guys in place if they hope to build on this SCF appearance.
All year we were bashing this Rangers team for not being passionate enough or physical enough, but now its safe to say that we were wrong. The first round was a great test of this team's discipline and they came up big against an agitating Flyers team that played borderline dirty for the majority of the series. Ryan McDonough was playing poorly and the series drew out for seven games, but it was still a memorable win on home ice in game seven. Who can forget the Carcillo goal in Philly?
Round two hit the Rangers like a delayed time bomb. The team won game one with a strong performance, then slumped to lose three straight and then rally back to win in another game seven, this time on the road. Watching Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin crumble and lose their cool as the series wore on was incredible and this was really the moment where Marty St. Louis bonded with the team. The way the team responded after he lost his mother was classy and a great display of what it means to be in a team. They were there for him and came through both on and off the ice.
Round three was a change of pace for the Rangers. A 2-0 series lead heading home and a Habs team which complained to the media more than it actually played hockey. When Bourque called out Lundqvist after game five, he should've known he'd awakened a beast. Hank came out and shut the Habs out in what would become the last game of their season.
The Cup Final was a bit of a mess. The Kings won two games which they really had no business winning if the Rangers (and the refs) had handled their surges better. It was great to see the team start to rally in game four and then in game five when they took the lead, I fully expected them to bring the series back to NY but it would never be. The refs gave a bad penalty, LA tied the game, and it went downhill from there as we hit posts and missed wide open nets.
Well then, what can this team do to improve? Simple:
Step 1: Take Rich Richie off of the Salary Sheet
Brad Richards must be bought out. As much of a leader as he is, he was nearly useless by the end of the third round. The guy has somehow managed to age 7 years in a measly 4 years, starting with his final season in Dallas. His $6.6 million dollar cap hit is far to much for the Rangers to drag around for the performance that he is able to put out and their hopes of maintaining a championship calibre core.
Step 2: Resign UFAs and RFAs
RFAs: Mats Zuccarello (resign for $3.5M per for 4 years), Derrick Brassard (resign for $4M per for 3 years), Chris Kreider (resign for $2M per for 2 years), John Moore (resign for $1.2M per for 2 years).
UFAs: Benoit Pouliot (resign at no more than $2M-2.3M; if not, pursue Mason Raymond for similar $), Dominic Moore (resign for $1.9M per for 3 years), Brian Boyle (resign only if willing to take same salary; if not replace with prospect or Manny Malhotra for 750K per year for 1 year), Anton Stralman (resign at no more than $4M per year; if not possible, look at Stephane Robidas, Willie Mitchell, or Nikita Nikitin).
Step 3: Find a 1A center to complement 1B Derek Stepan
UFA Paul Stasny is not an option. As per recent reports from Denver, the Avalanche are closing in on a deal with the veteran center. Not only that, but Stasny has the potential to become another Brad Richards/Scott Gomez: a top center who got paid the big bucks then suddenly forgot how to play at an elite level. Ryan Kessler and Jason Spezza are intriguing, but with the Rangers cap situation and trying to maintain the core of players, it would be unwise to trade for either of them. Joe Thornton should also be out of the Rangers aim. He's getting old, slow and lugs around a hefty $7M per season cap hit. Guys like Mikhail Grabovsky and David Legwand should by no means be considered as the type of player the Rangers need. Joe Pavelski fits the mold. The Sharks are looking to sell high on the 30 year old center and the Rangers may have just what they are looking for. I will address this later.
Step 4: What to do about Rick Nash...
People have been calling for him to be traded or bought out since the start of the Eastern Conference Finals and his performance in the SCF only exacerbated it. I am part of the camp that thinks Nash is important to the team whether he is scoring or not BUT if the situation arises where the team stands to benefit from trading him, it should be done. I am referring to a potential deal for that 1A center like Pavelski (who carries a $6M per through 2018-19). The Sharks are looking to rebuild this offseason around a new younger core lead by Mirco Mueller, Thomas Hertl and Logan Couture. They have six centers on their depth chart and Pavelski has been relegated to wing because of their depth at the position. Him and Burns are two players that SJ might try to sell high on and they were one of the potential suitors for Rick Nash back in the summer of 2012. CBJ was asking for Coture, a first rounder, and a near NHL-ready prospect for Nash and that is when SJ stepped out. Now that Nash's point production has dropped, his trade value has dropped meaning that SJ might want to take another crack at getting the guy who already has proven chemistry with their top center Joe Thornton. SJ is looking for large, strong impact players and Rick Nash could be just the guy, while the Rangers are looking for a center to complement Stepan and alternate a first line role. Pavelski for Nash is the ideal situation for both teams and should be something both Glen Sather and Doug Wilson discuss this offseason.
Step 5: IF Rick Nash goes, who do we replace him with?
This is only in the case of Nash being traded but if the deal does happen with SJ, the Rangers need to find a scoring winger with $6M of cap space left. Who could be pursued? Jarome Iginla is a good option. He's pursuing a Stanley Cup and after the Ranger's run to the final this season, it may be enough to convince him that NY is the place to go to. The Rangers could most likely sign him at $6M for 1 or 2 seasons. Iginla would be great because he brings skill, leadership, and grit all at very high levels, something that this team may lack a bit of next season with the trade of Ryan Callahan. If Iginla isn't an option, then Mike Cammilleri could be signed for around $5M as a pure scoring winger. I would stay away from Thomas Vanek after his invisible playoffs. It's definitely a long shot, but if Gaborik doesn't sign in LA and he's willing to take another crack at playing in NY under AV, he could probably be had for around $6M as well.
Step 6: The Captaincy
The Rangers have a few candidates to choose from for their captaincy. Ryan McDonagh has blossomed into a leader on this team while Girardi or Staal have been alternate captains and could be in line for the succession. The Rangers could go the veteran route and name St. Louis as the captain, or go the unorthodox route and be one of the only teams to have a goalie as their captain in Hank (it was AV's Canucks that had Luongo as their captain for a year or two). The Rangers should be in good hands with their leadership core, no matter who they choose.
Overall, this should be an interesting offseason for the eastern conference champion Rangers. I look forward to seeing how Glenn Sather is able to patch up the team to make another run at the Stanley Cup come next season. Thoughts?