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Blueshirt Banter End of Season Mailbag

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You’ve got questions and we’ve got a cute dog and some things that resemble answers.

A lot has happened since our post-trade deadline mailbag. The New York Rangers finished the season with a lot of new faces, were eliminated from contention, ended their season, and dismissed their head coach. Now that the 2017-18 season is officially over, we figured it was time for another mailbag! Via Twitter, readers supplied us with some really interesting questions, so let’s dig into the third installment of Shayna and Mike’s Blueshirt Banter Mailbag!


Mike

Great question, Eric! I have to go with the Rangers coming back from a 3-1 series deficit in the second round of the 2014 Playoffs to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers won Game 7 by a score of 2-1 thanks to goals from Brian Boyle and Brad Richards and a 35-save performance by Henrik Lundqvist.

Another amazing moment from that series was Hank spraying Crosby with his water bottle. I’m not sure which moment I cherish more... it’s probably Hank with his Super Soaker.

Shayna

Hmm, it’s tough to think of just one! I agree with Mike on the comeback against the Penguins, and the way that the team rallied around Marty St. Louis really stands out. Also, Henrik Lundqvist’s back-to-back shutouts against the Washington Capitals in Games 6 and 7 were amazing to watch.

Another moment came in the 2015 Semifinals against the Capitals. Ryan McDonagh scored the game-winning goal in Game 5, then it was Derek Stepan’s overtime game-winner in Game 7 to clinch the series. To me, that was just an incredible moment.

Later this summer, we’ll have a series reliving some of the best moments of the “Golden Era,” so we can go more in-depth about those moments then.


Mike

Note: Shayna and I are going to split those four prospects.

Interestingly enough, we have already seen a little bit of Ryan Lindgren in the AHL. Lindgren played 10 games with the Wolf Pack and put up two goals and two assists (both secondary) in that span. If he gets a lot of ice time in Hartford next season we could see him show some unexpected offensive upside; not unlike Brady Skjei’s offensive game developing after his NCAA career.

Before all of the Rangers’ deadline deals Sean Day was the most promising blue line prospect in the organization. He put up 47 points in 50 OHL games this season with the Windsor Spitfires and the Kingston Frontenacs. Day has good size and has all the tools necessary to become a top-four NHL defenseman. His first year as a pro is something that every Rangers fan should be keeping a close eye on.

We should expect Day to feature on Hartford’s power play and step into the role that John Gilmour filled last year. And we should expect Lindgren to play bone-rattling, physical, defensive hockey with the Wolf Pack. Hopefully, he will be able to improve on his discipline this offseason.

Shayna

Brett Howden’s projected to develop into a middle-six center. Depending on the centers the Rangers have in Hartford could decide where he slot, but at the NHL level he isn’t expected to play higher than the second line. He’s a power forward that’s known for his two-way play and penalty killing. With the Moose Jaw Warriors this season, he collected 75 points in 49 games. His 51 assists stand out in particular, as it reflects his playmaking and passing abilities.

Howden’s been praised for his on ice versatility, as well as his leadership and character. His upside though, is one aspect that has come into question despite his impressing WHL scoring.

Libor Hajek was also a part of the McDonagh/Miller trade to Tampa Bay. He isn’t expected to play at the NHL level next season, but is considered to be one of the closest to the NHL of their defensive prospects. He started this season on the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL this season, where he earned 25 points (8 goals, 17 assists) in 33 games, and finished the year with the Regina Blades with 14 points in 25 games (four goals, 10 assist).

The left handed defenseman is known for his skating abilities and shutdown play. Like Howden though, he isn’t expected to headline a team; rather Hajek is projected to become a second- or third-pair defenseman.


Mike

All things considered McCambridge did an admirable job as the Wolf Pack’s head coach. The team won 10 more games than it did last season and McCambridge accomplished that while he watched the Rangers pluck key players from his roster like they were a determined kid at a claw machine. It’s also important to note that Marek Mazanec missed games and that Alexandar Georgiev was in New York for over a month.

With all of that being said, it’s too soon to consider McCambridge for a coaching job in New York. It’s not that he’s too young — Shelden Keefe is 37 and McCambridge is 44. There are just too many other candidates that have more going for them and more impressive résumés.

Shayna

Basically, everything Mike said. As challenging of a season as it was in New York, it may have been just as tough – if not tougher – in Hartford. The Wolf Pack needed help this season, and McCambridge provided that, even as their roster was constantly changing as the Rangers recalled player after player.

Down the line, he could be in line for a promotion for the NHL level, but I’m just not seeing it yet. That shouldn’t takeaway from what he’s done in Hartford and what he’ll continue to do, as development of their prospects is crucial moving forward. If the organization is comfortable with his developmental tactics, then he’s exactly where he should be for now.


Shayna

I think in his second stint, we were actually getting a better look at the player DeAngelo could be. His offensive talents and puck moving abilities are clear. Yes, he still needs to refine his game in his own zone, and I think with the right coaching and partner he can do just that. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he has some of the more sheltered minutes of the defensemen next season either.

The fact remains, the Rangers invested a lot in DeAngelo, and it’s in their best interest to help him reach his potential. If he makes a mistake or is on the ice for a goal against, they’ll have to build on that instead of shifting him to the seventh defenseman, to the press box, or back to Hartford. To lose the puck, a player first has to possess the puck. DeAngelo’s really good at possessing the puck, and building on those skills has to be the priority, even if it comes with risks.

NHL: New York Rangers at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Pionk made enough of an impression in training camp and preseason that many wanted him to start the season at the NHL level. It unfortunately didn't happen, but once he did make his NHL debut, he made it a memorable one. I don’t think he’ll end up as a first pair defenseman, but I think he could he great in the bottom-four. I’m interested to see him in a more offensive role, but I was encouraged by his play in that shutdown role that I wouldn’t mind seeing them give that another look as well. I think the Rangers have options with Pionk, and it’ll be exciting to see what they do with them since he has potential.

Gilmour I think showed that he can play at the NHL level, and some of his best talents were on display – like his speed and skating. He’s a pending restricted free agent, and I think it’s safe to assume he’s extended this offseason, and is back to compete for a lineup spot next season. I don’t think he’s necessarily a lock for the top-six like Pionk though, and that’s somewhat because of handedness. I could see Gilmour playing at the NHL level on the third pair, and grow from there, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if he’s relegated to the role of the seventh defenseman, or starts in Hartford. He’ll be 25 when next season starts, so if the Rangers aren’t sure what they have in him now, they may want to find out as soon as possible.

Mike

DeAngelo - I think that the Rangers getting a new head coach is just what DeAngelo needed to hear after having his season cut short with an injury. DeAngelo may be on his ninth life, but he still has exceptional puck skills and is damn good in the offensive zone. If he doesn’t make the team out of training camp it will be bad news for the Rangers. If he does make the team the Rangers need to embrace the fact that he’s going to make mistakes and make big plays. That’s the kind of player he is.

Pionk - Most Blueshirt Banter readers already know that I’m a bag fan of Pionk. The right-handed prospect looks like a solid option as a bottom-four defender and that is where I see him next year. It would be great to see what his possession numbers look like when he’s not being buried in defensive zone starts and tasked with a shutdown role.

Gilmour - I have a feeling that Gilmour will get lost in the shuffle next year in training camp. He has fantastic skating ability, but that might not be enough to make him stand out when he’s measured against the team’s other promising left-handed defensemen. With that being said all I’ve done to date is underestimate Gilmour and his potential. Like Shayna, I can see him ending up as the team’s seventh defenseman.


Mike

Great question, Bernie!

It’s difficult to know which prospects are available on other teams, but we can try to connect some dots by looking at teams that are projected to have limited cap space and RFAs to sign. And after we have that list we need to ask which prospects on those teams would be worth a late first.

The Maple Leafs are going to have all kinds of cap space open up on July 1 to re-sign William Nylander, so that isn’t likely to happen. Still, this is a phone call you have to make if you’re Gorton. Also, if Gorton can find a way to pry Jacob Trouba away from the Winnipeg Jets, he should go for it.

Pittsburgh Penguins’ prospect Daniel Sprong would be near the top of my list. Sprong put up 32 goals in his first AHL season in 2017-18. It wouldn’t be easy to make a trade with the Pittsburgh, but Sprong represents something that the Rangers need. He’s a right winger with top-six potential. Also, he was born in the Netherlands, so that’s fun.

Shayna

Over the last few seasons, there have been some trades that feature a first-round pick being moved for NHL-ready players. In June 2015, the Senators moved a first-round pick (21st overall, from the Islanders) for Robin Lehner and David Legwand. Griffin Reinhart was acquired by the Oilers the same day for a first-round pick (16th overall) and second round pick (33rd overall). Just before free agency that year, the Sharks added Martin Jones from the Bruins for Sean Kuraly and a 2016 first-round pick.

There were a few instances last season as well, including a trade that sent Ryan Reaves and a second-round pick (51st overall) to Pittsburgh for Oskar Sundqvist and a first-rounder (31st overall). And of course, there’s the trade that got the Rangers the seventh overall pick and DeAngelo, sending Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta to Arizona.

So, first-round picks can have a lot of value and bring back NHL ready players. And I agree with all of Mike’s suggestions.

Depending on how valuable of a player they may want to add, it may be in the Rangers’ best interest to look to restricted free agents instead of a player that’s already signed.

If the Rangers are looking to strengthen their defense, like Mike said, Trouba is a standout option – but he may not be as realistic because of his value to the Jets. They all have to extend Josh Morrissey on defense too, so maybe the Rangers could target him – plus, the Jets traded their first-rounder to the Blues at the deadline, so one of their late first-rounders could replenish that.

Vegas has 11 expiring contracts to deal with this offseason, including Shea Theodore’s. And the Golden Knights are without their first-round pick, as they sent it to Detroit in the Tomas Tatar trade. It may take more than just a first-rounder to acquire him, but the 22-year-old may be worth exploring as well.

This is a really good question and I feel like I could write an entire story on this... so I may just do that. Keep your eyes peeled for a more in-depth answer.


Shayna

Yes. As important as selecting a coach is, it’s also important to make sure he has a skilled roster to work with. Of their RFAs, extending Kevin Hayes and Brady Skjei first is probably the first priority, and I think the Rangers see them as a part of their future regardless of who the next coach is. They also need to assess whether they see a future with all of their RFAs sooner rather than later; whoever they don’t plan to extend could be moved at the draft and it’s not clear if the next coach will be chosen by then.

General manager Jeff Gorton didn’t put a timeline on their coaching search, and noted that they may not necessarily have one by the draft. If that’s the case, they can’t afford to wait until a coach is hired to deal with their RFAs. Gorton did note though, that he’d prefer to have a coach in place before free agency.

Mike

Gorton has already said that he doesn’t believe having a head coach before the draft is important, so I think we’ll see RFA signings come together before there’s a new Rangers bench boss. Of course, that all depends on the timeline and checklist that Gorton has in his head.


Shayna

Since Vigneault’s been relieved of his duties as head coach, it’s been stressed that his treatment of J.T. Miller wasn’t a reason for his firing. Gorton also mentioned that their plan at the deadline was to have him behind the bench; it wasn’t until the end of the season that the plan changed. So at the time Miller was traded, this was still foreseen to be Vigneault’s team.

I don’t agree with a lot of Vigneault’s developmental tactics, or his handling of skilled players. I think things could have been different with Miller this season had different decisions been made. And Miller even acknowledged that they weren’t a great fit (via Larry Brooks) “

However, I don’t disagree with the decision to trade Miller.

I think a lot of it came down to retaining Miller or Hayes; in my eyes, Miller was more expendable because the Rangers couldn't afford to lose another center – especially not one that could handle shutdown minutes like Hayes. Had Miller been used at center more this season and thrived, it could have been a different story. Still, Miller’s next contract was concerning to me. I thought he’d look for an extension with a cap hit upwards of $5 million, which would be more than the contracts of Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, and possibly even Mika Zibanejad, and I didn’t think that was the best investment of their cap space despite his scoring over the last few seasons.

Mike

  1. Your typo made me think that the Rangers’ general manager is Gotham Police Commissioner James Gordon.
  2. I think Miller’s off-the-ice issues played a role in Gorton’s decision. From Larry Brooks:

The Rangers had become convinced J.T. Miller’s coachability issues were not linked to Vigneault and they were concerned he had regressed in his work habits and off-ice preparation, according to individuals familiar with the inner dynamic.

We also heard a lot about Miller’s frustration with playing wing. Perhaps Gorton didn’t like the idea of having a squeaky wheel in a locker room that is going to be defined by its youth moving forward. It’s also worth mentioning that the Rangers did get a pretty good haul in return for McDonagh and Miller.


Mike

Do you have a coin on you? Because if you do, flipping it might give you just as good of an answer as I am capable of providing.

Spooner turned everyone’s head with his play after becoming a Ranger — including the heads of other NHL general managers. I don’t think he has a future as a center in New York with Chytil and Andersson clawing to make next year’s roster, but he does make for an intriguing option as a versatile middle-six winger who can get it done on the power play. So, if Gorton is comfortable with the idea of Spooner at wing for three or four years, we will see him back.

NHL: New York Rangers at Washington Capitals Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Shayna

I think it comes down to Spooner or Namestnikov. Namestnikov plays center more than Spooner, which gives him an advantage, while Spooner made more of an impression in his time with New York. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if both were flipped at the draft.

Like Mike said, he has potential as a middle-six winger in New York. Whether or not the Rangers are interested in exploring that may come down to his contract. He’s 26-years-old now and will be 27 mid-season. If the Rangers only sign him to a one-year deal, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent next offseason; if that does happen and the Rangers aren’t destined for the playoffs, he’d probably become a solid deadline rental for a contending team. A longer contract would be more beneficial to the Rangers, and possibly Spooner depending on the salary, but if the Rangers do want to go younger, they have to consider whether signing him to a longer-term contract is worth it and if there’s anyone in the pipeline he could block.


Thanks for reading and thanks to everyone who sent in questions for this mailbag! We will be collaborating again for at least one more mailbag this offseason, so start cooking up your questions now.