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Rangers Must Make Moves To Expose Forwards Next Summer

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New York Islanders v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The hot debate surrounding the New York Rangers’ potential off-season moves, pertinent to the recently announced rules of expansion next year, has mostly been Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. The conversations over the ramifications of potentially burning two of the three allotted protection spots has been unabridged and elaborate, and for good reason.

However there’s another aspect to the impending expansion draft next June which Broadway must comply with which hasn’t been discussed much; and that’s exposing forwards.

Per the expansion draft rules:

* All Clubs must meet the following minimum requirements regarding players exposed for selection in the Expansion Draft:

ii) Two forwards who are a) under contract in 2017-18 and b) played in 40 or more NHL games the prior season OR played in 70 or more NHL games in the prior two seasons.

As of now, it would appear the Rangers do not have any forwards to expose fitting this prerequisite.

Of the seven protection spots for forwards, the current roster (which is admittedly subject to change this summer, of course) suggests all forwards under contract in 2017-18 would be protected or immune:

Derick Brassard, Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello are the highly-probable protection spots. Pavel Buchnevich will be exempt.

This leaves Jesper Fast, Tanner Glass, Marek Hrivik, Nicklas Jensen and Oscar Lindberg as the projected exposures. And not one of them are under contract beyond next July.

So in some capacity, the team has make the necessary preparations.

Here are a few possible routes to look for:

Sign Useful UFA (Bottom-Six) Forwards

This is a straightforward (and most likely) route of satisfying the quota. Replacing the outgoing vacancies of Dominic Moore, Eric Staal and Viktor Stalberg means the team was already shopping for forwards irrespective of any expansion. Not to mention the penalty kill (which was ranked 26th in the league last year) is in dire need of such amendment.

Signing helpful bottom-six forwards like Michael Grabner or Riley Nash could satisfy all of these needs, and would probably require multi-year deals to pluck them from the open market in any event.

Sign Jesper Fast and/or Oscar Lindberg to Extensions

New York Rangers v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Once it’s July 1st, players in their final 365 days of contract can officially sign extensions. This means Fast and Lindberg can indeed sign extensions at any point before the expansion draft. Once again, this avenue could potentially provide amicable utility in both meeting the forward exposure quota and tie down a young, versatile forward or two.

Sign Less-Than-Useful UFA (Bottom-Six or AHL-Caliber) Forwards

This route is a bit sneakier, but certainly exists as a possibility. Consider the following:

  • The mandate requires two exposed forwards, with each having played in 40+ NHL games in the upcoming 2016-17 season… or 70+ NHL games in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons combined.
  • Players with a cap hit of $950,000 per year or less can be “buried” in the minor leagues without costing the NHL team any cap hit

So, mixing these two rules, a tricky tactic could be signing fringe UFA forwards to two-year deals this summer, stuffing them in the minors, and still adhering to the quota.

For example?

Signing Paul Gaustad, David Legwand, Jack Skille, or even our old friend Jarret Stoll (all of whom played 70+ games last season) to a two-year, $950,000 per year deal would seem like a strange thing to do. Yet assigning them to the minor leagues in training camp and exposing them next June would do what the Rangers need to do, and without costing anything in terms of salary cap.

If the team, for whatever reason, only wanted to dish out 1-year forward deals this summer, this approach could allow them to do so without worrying about next June’s expansion protocol.

Sign Nicklas Jensen and/or Marek Hrivik to Two-Year Deals

Detroit Red Wings v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The two lower-rung RFAs this summer could be re-upped to multi-year deals with the intent of being exposure food. Both will be very economic prices, so two-year deals would hardly be a cap space hardship for Broadway. However, either would have to play at least 40 games in 2016-17 to qualify for the quota. In other words Alain Vigneault would need to be on-board should Jeff Gorton rely on either of these two in this methodology.

Acquire Those Forwards Next Season

Of course there’s no pressing need to line these ducks in a row this summer. The Rangers could very well plan on acquiring the two requisite forwards via trade during the season, at the deadline, or even in the final days before protection lists are due on June 17, 2017.

A Quick Note on Holden

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The acquisition of Nick Holden was an interesting harbinger for the team. Is he simply meant to replace Keith Yandle? Is the team planning on buying out or trading Girardi or Staal? Perhaps the first domino to fall in a series of summer trades? It’s unclear.

But the fact that he is under contract in 2017-18, thus would satisfy the defensemen quota of exposing one blueliner with such status, could be a clue.

Should the Rangers rid themselves of Girardi or Staal? The team could protect McDonagh, Klein and one of Girardi/Staal while leaving Holden exposed, keeping to the quota.

Or it could be a contingency, where they’re not sure what the defense grouping will be next June, but it can’t hurt to have a relatively affordable pointman who could be that cog if need be.

Conclusion

It’s not a particularly pressing problem or anything, but it is something to keep an eye on. As stated before, this forward issue will likely resolve itself through the natural need for UFA forwards this summer despite any exposure quota. That, and the logic of possibly extending Fast and/or Lindberg to boot, suggests this isn’t a big problem at all.