Obviously the biggest addition to the Rangers' roster this offseason is veteran right-handed blueliner (and power play sorcerer) Dan Boyle. However, the Rangers also added some interesting depth forwards to the mix this offseason and two of those signings, Lee Stempniak and Matthew Lombardi, might end up becoming moves that we look back on as ingenious in just a few months time.
Both the Stempniak and Lombardi signings are the embodiment of low-risk, high-reward moves. Even though the "high-reward" might not be anything to get too excited about (perhaps a combined ~25 goals from the pair), adding the two veterans to the team gives the Rangers back some of the depth they lost during the offseason with the departure of Brian Boyle and Benoit Pouliot to free agency. In the upcoming season we'll see Derrick Brassard assume the role of second line center with Brad "Hogs-All-the-Offensive-Zone-Starts" Richards out of the picture, so the Rangers third line is going to look very different this year. A lot of us are already guessing that it will look something like:
Hagelin-J.T. Miller- Stempniak
That is a third line that I can get excited about- lots of speed, some physicality and some great hands. If Miller gets a chance to play with Hagelin and Stempniak than it will be completely up to him whether or not he stays in that role and playing with the big club. And the chances that we'll be seeing Lombardi on the fourth line of the big club are pretty good.
Now, let's take a closer look at what we're getting out of two of the newest Rangers and why we should be encouraged about what Lombardi and Stempniak can bring to the 2014-15 Rangers.
What he will bring
Speed. Even at 32 years old Lombardi is one of those guys that is simply a cut above the rest in regards to skating ability. It is something that has been said about him since he dominated in the QMJHL and it was still true when he was better than a point-per-game player in the Swiss League last year.
What he might bring
Lombardi has scored 20 goals before but we should not be expecting that from him, especially if he's going to be playing on the Rangers' fourth line alongside Dominic Moore and Tanner Glass. However, we could look for Lombardi to add some more center depth to the equation (he's a natural center) and bring some speed and attack to the fourth line. Maybe he'll score something like 8 goals in that role, and if he does, we should all be absolutely thrilled. He could end up turning into a penalty killing specialist which is something that the club is going to need with Boyle out of the picture. Tanner Glass supposedly is a guy who can kill penalties but we've all seen his advanced stats and we know enough to know that we don't want him out there on the penalty kill.
Lombardi's NHL career was derailed a few years back when he seemingly couldn't stay healthy. He was hounded by concussions and moved over to Europe to continue pursuing his hockey dream. Signing a 32 year-old, injury-prone Lombardi to a two-year deal, even at $800,000 a season, could prove to be a bit of a risky move but I don't see this being a contract that the Rangers will regret. Lombardi will provide good, cheap depth to the Rangers' bottom six.
What he will bring
Stempniak will bring speed, physicality and some depth scoring to the Rangers' lineup. He is also a right-handed shot (gasp!) and the Rangers certainly need some more of those in the lineup. Stempniak is a guy that I think will quickly be embraced by the Garden Faithful. He has a little bit of Callahan in him in regards to his physical play and did once have 20 goals in his stick; it's now just a question of whether or not those goals are still there. Stempniak is the kind of player that will give a team and his coaching whatever his club needs on any given night. What do you need tonight? A hitter? Someone to take some shots? Someone to have a heroic shift that pins the puck in the offensive zone? Stempniak is a multi-tool that will bring what he has to bring to help his team get two points on any given night.
What he might bring
If someone in the top six goes down with injury Stempniak (much like Hagelin) is a fantastic option to plug into a wing on one of the scoring lines. He has great scoring instincts and some pretty sweet hands but has struggled with consistency and some injury issues in his career. Hoping for 14 goals or so from Stempniak (if he stays healthy) is completely within reason, but he could bury a few more than that if things go very, very well for the Rangers. Let's hope things go well.
$900,000 for one year for a guy who scored 28 goals in 2009-10 and has scored 12 or more goals 8 times in his 9 NHL seasons (the only season he didn't accomplish that was 2012-13 when he played just 47 games and scored 9 goals)? There's no real risk involved in the Stempniak signing. The more I think about it and research what Stempniak has done in his career the larger my smile grows. If Stempniak stays healthy and clicks with the third line then the Rangers got him at a great price.
So sure, neither of these moves were sexy and exciting... but they were both still great signings for the Rangers. They both addressed team needs and did so at a bargain. Do I expect both Lombardi and Stempniak to perform to their ceilings in 2014-15? Nope. I'm not even sure if Lombardi will make the team out of camp with all of the competition from kids to consider. However, I feel confident in saying that both of these guys are great fits into Vigneault's system. It's great to see that there will be speed throughout the lineup and that the Rangers addressed the loss of Boyle's center depth by getting Lombardi and addressed the loss of Pouliot's scoring depth by getting Stempniak. Both of these veterans are much, much cheaper than the players they are replacing and we should keep that in mind before we spend too much time directly comparing them to Boyle or Pouliot. Both of these guys also play two-way games and can be used in special teams if necessary or if they reveal themselves to be the best options after training camp and preseason. To me, it's just a whole big pile of upside with very little risk involved.
That is my take on the additions of Lee Stempniak and Matthew Lombardi, what do you guys think of them? What do you expect out of them? Was there someone else out there in free agency that you would have preferred for a comparable price?
Let me know in the comments.
Let's go Rangers.