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Blueshirt Banter Offseason Mailbag

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Mike: Matt Beleskey is certainly an interesting case. Right now he has a much better chance of being on the roster than Peter Holland does, although that isn’t saying much, is it? If nothing else Beleskey is a much better option for the team than Cody McLeod as a fourth liner or 13th forward. His possession metrics are pretty encouraging, especially when compared with someone like Jimmy Vesey. But it’s hard to gauge exactly where Beleskey and his game are because of his limited NHL action last season.

Beleskey really has something to prove in training camp. He turned 30 this summer and is under contract until 2020. He can be a lot more than just dead weight that the Rangers got back in the Rick Nash trade. There’s a good chance that Beleskey emerges as one of the character guys we have heard so much about from the front office.

Shayna: If the Rangers want to become a tougher opponent in the traditional sense, Beleskey is an interesting option to consider. Unlike some one-dimensional “tough” players, Beleskey actually can provide some value outside of his physical play. Before last season, his underlying numbers were fine considering his role and he was a source of secondary scoring. The problem was that contract, which looked questionable at the time of his signing. His cap hit would be a problem for any NHL team, but that 50 percent retention that drops it to $1.9 million, makes it more manageable.

One thing to consider is his age, though. Like Mike said, he’s 30 years old and as players age, it’s a challenge to maintain a high level of play. That’s particularly true for those that emulate a grinding, physical brand of hockey, so whether he can continue that and be an effective NHL-level player isn’t clear – especially after not seeing him much at the NHL level this past season. Still, it’s something to consider since he may be a superior option to one of their recent tough player extensions.

Mike: Your question made me want ice cream.

It all depends on how the kids are developing and what the team is playing like. If it’s an absolute mess for a few years and it is clear that David Quinn is in over his head, then sure, I can see him gone in three years. But I don’t think that is going to happen. If the Rangers only win 25 games next season, we shouldn’t be lining up to drag Quinn to the guillotine. The rebuild is going to be a process. Part of that process is setting realistic expectations, especially when you have a first year head coach at the helm.

Shayna: I think the goal is obviously to get back to the playoffs/contention as soon as possible, but they know that a rebuild is a process. Ideally, it’s sooner rather than later and Quinn is the coach that can help take them there, but I wouldn’t say that’s what will end his time in New York in the near-future because their success hinges on the level of talent on the roster as well. I think what would determine his future more than anything is the growth of the players and prospects under Quinn. If this team really is developing and moving along well, even if they fall short of the playoffs this, next, and possibly even the season after, then his future may not be at risk.

Mike: I am fine with Vitali Kravstov spending another year in the KHL. He’ll still be playing against men, he will be facing a lot less pressure than he would have if he made the jump straight to the NHL, and it would be asking a lot of him to plug him in right away. Remember, this kid has played a total of 38 KHL games to date. We have also heard that he’s already “anxious” to come to North America. There’s nothing to worry about.

Shayna: I agree with Mike, playing in the KHL at least gives Kravstov a chance to play among men for a season. Not only will he learn from his teammates and opponents there, but it’ll help ease the transition to the NHL since he’ll have experience playing against top competition; once here, his focus can be on adjusting to the North American game, that like Mike said, he’s already anxious about. Also, strengthening and refining his game for another season should help boost his confidence.

Mike: Mika Zibanejad is your first line center, Kevin Hayes is your second, Filip Chytil is your third, and Lias Andersson is your fourth. Move Andersson up in the lineup whenever you feel the need to shake things up and make sure that he gets special teams time. I have a gut feeling that Chytil will end up being a winger, but that’s just a feeling. Two or three years from now, he might be more valuable to the Rangers as a winger than as a third line center, which could very well be the case of Zibanejad and Hayes are still here.

If you have a prospect who plays center, it’s best to play him and test him at that position at the NHL level. As we all know, centers are more valuable than wingers. It’s hard to say how much it might hurt a player’s development to move them from center to wing, but it certainly can cause friction like it did with J.T. Miller.

Shayna: Having all four ready for NHL-minutes next season can get tricky. 1. Ideally, their prospects aren’t shifted to wing before they at least get a chance to play center at the NHL-level 2. Ideally, neither Chytil nor Andersson are stuck with fourth line minutes.

The Rangers’ priority is to facilitate the development of their prospects, who are the key to their future; center is a more valuable position and starting at wing may not be what’s best for their development there. Unless one of them shows that they’re more suited on the wing, they belong down the middle to start. Giving one of them fourth line minutes may not be what’s best for their development either; at that point, they may be better off playing first line minutes in Hartford. One of their NHLers would likely shift to wing if that’s their line of thinking, and I wonder if it’s Hayes – especially since right wing was his natural position before evolving into a center with the Rangers. The problem is, he’s looking for top-six center money, and they may not want to invest that much in him if he’s just going to play wing. If that’s the case, they may prefer to move one of their centers to fill voids they have elsewhere in their lineup since Hayes and Zibanejad have value on the trade market. However, having one of their NHL centers switch to the wing could provide them with insurance and alleviate some pressure from the prospects if necessary, so it’s not the worst thing to have center depth as a strength.

Mike: Nope, this is what we expected after their very public declaration regarding the direction of the team. With that being said, I’m sure Slats still chewed his cigar into a pulp thinking about what he could’ve offered John Tavares.

Shayna: Jeff Gorton, no; Glen Sather, yes. I think both came to the realization that this was what was best for the Rangers at this point since avoiding a rebuild would only prolong their time in the middle and bottom of the standings. Then again, this free agent class wasn’t so inspiring that it would have been worth it to spend (although, past-their-prime-marquee-names is something Sather has been attracted to over the years, so if this was his team I do wonder how different things would be). Had someone like Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, or Artemi Panarin been available this offseason via free agency, I’d be really surprised if they didn’t at least attempt to lure them to New York with their cap space.

Mike: What a great question! My favorite one to poke around on right now is Ryan Stimson’s Player Passing Tableau Tool (made from the Corey Sznajder’s data). It’s a great tool for understanding the offensive half of the game that includes shot creation metrics and things like how often players take one-timers (looking at you, Zibanejad).

Shayna: Agreed with Mike on Ryan’s passing tool, it really is a great way to make microstats more digestible. Sean Tierney’s Tableau has continued to be an excellent resource as well – from player and team-level charts throughout the season, roster projections, to visualizations of Chris Watkin’s ICE ratings and Matt Cane’s salary predictions. And I cannot recommend HockeyViz and the work Micah Blake McCurdy does enough for data visualizations. For those looking to learn more about Tableau and experiment with visualizations themselves, I recommend checking out Matt Barlowe’s tutorials.

Mike: As a center? Very little chance. As a winger? We’ll have to see what happens in the first 20 games or so of the season and get an idea of what tricks Quinn likes to use when it’s time to shake things up. I can see him playing top-six minutes as a winger by the end of the season, but the front office might might tell Quinn to keep him at center unless there’s an injury.

Shayna: If either Zibanejad or Hayes are traded, there’s a good chance he’s their second-line center (but I’d think he gets minutes similar to those of Nolan Patrick of the Philadelphia Flyers last season), but he’ll hopefully have a play-driving winger to help him transition to the NHL. I’d guess if Chytil centers the second line (behind Zibanejad) and Hayes pivots the third line, then Hayes would maintain his defensive role and absorb more minutes. If Chytil is shifted to wing, then his chances of being in the top-six increase since the Rangers don’t have as much depth on the wings, and there’s more opportunity there.

Mike:

Pros - The shortest answer here is that it’s a safe, conservative way to retain assets. If you’re not entirely sure of what you have or if you’re not convinced a player is integral to the team’s future, a bridge deal is the right way to go.

Cons - Not paying a guy today might cost you millions tomorrow. When a team feels confident that they have something special, investing in that player at the first possible opportunity is almost always the right thing to do. Roman Josi’s contract is a prime example of a GM hitting it out of the park by avoiding a bridge deal.

Shayna:

(Short answer, since I went more in depth about that here):

What Mike said. A bridge-deal helps when a team is currently in a cap crunch, since more cap space isn’t taken up at this very moment. It gives a team the chance to see what they have in a player, and a player a chance to prove that they’re worth more in their next negotiations. If a team invests in a player too soon and they don’t meet expectations, there’s a higher value weighing on the salary cap.

On the other hand, it could cost more down the line. A long term extension, particularly if it’s immediately after their entry-level contract expires, ensures that player is being paid that high value through their prime, and that the team is paying for future performance, not past performance.

Mike: I expect the Ottawa Senators to be a complete disaster next season (regardless of what happens with Erik Karlsson), but their first round pick belongs to Colorado, so I will go with the Avalanche.

Shayna: SENATORS, SENATORS, SENATORS… but for whatever reason, they opted to give the Avalanche that pick instead of giving up this year’s. Decisions like that are exactly why I’d want their 2019 pick. So, I’d want the Senators’ pick from the Avalanche as well. If not that pick… the Vancouver Canucks probably are not going to be good, especially not after investing as much as they did in bottom-six players, so I wouldn’t be opposed to that pick either. Or Montreal’s; I really don’t anticipate them being any better than this past season.

Mike: Yes, he will be. We’ve heard that Brendan Smith is hard at work this offseason and that he wants to prove to the Rangers that they didn’t make a mistake by investing in him. There’s no way he comes into camp out of shape again. He knows he has a fresh chance with Quinn. There’s also a pressing need for some stability on the blue line next year, which should work in Smith’s favor.

Data via Corsica.hockey

Shayna: Yes, and he should be. Smith’s biggest problem was that he was out of shape to start the season and that was an awful impression after getting a four-year extension. He has a clean slate and if he doesn’t make the most of it, then no, he doesn’t deserve to be.

Here’s the thing – as bad as Smith was last season, and he had his moments of being pretty bad, it’s not as if 1. the entire defense wasn’t a disappointment as a whole and the coaches didn’t have an answer to improve their poor execution 2. he was put in a situation to succeed 3. some of his underlying numbers were that far off from the rest of his career.

He actually could play on his natural side, the left, if the right side is filled by Kevin Shattenkirk, Anthony DeAngelo, and Neal Pionk next season, which could be more conducive to a bounce back season. But I’d also want to see him get a look alongside Brady Skjei to see if there is any chemistry to build on. But the bottom line is that Smith should be playing opening night and be more like the player the Rangers’ acquired at the 2017 deadline.

Shayna: I think it’s Alexandar Georgiev’s position to lose. Originally I was thinking that more playing time in Hartford would be best for his season, but Juuse Saros did backup Pekka Rinne at the same age in Nashville, and he’s developing into quite the goaltender, so I’m really not opposed to him playing behind Henrik Lundqvist now. I think playing behind Lundqvist is an experience any goaltender should cherish, and he’s one of, if not the best, to learn from. Also, it would be give him an opportunity to train with coach Benoit Allaire, which is important since their coaching below the NHL level could be better. I also wonder if the Rangers could split the season between goaltenders, giving Georgiev a chance to play as a starter in the AHL – since he did struggle in that role in Hartford, which is why he lost the job to Marek Mazanec before his injury – and a chance to backup Lundqvist at the NHL level.

Mike: I feel like its Georgiev’s job to lose and the Rangers should want to see a younger guy who can help bridge the gap between Hank and Shestorkyin. All things considered, he was great last season. It’s also worth mentioning that Mazanec got hurt in Hartford last year.

Shayna: Hmm, this is tough. I put at least Ottawa, Vancouver, and Montreal behind the Rangers. Maybe Detroit too. If Corey Crawford isn’t healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chicago struggled again this season. Edmonton’s chances also hinge on Cam Talbot bouncing back (and I maintain, was it really worth it to run him into the ground the season prior? And how could you not see this happening @ Oilers). The New York Islanders and all of their fourth liners may end up lower as well. I move Buffalo higher than their 2017-18 season (which isn’t saying too much, but I’m still unsure of how much higher), and I undoubtedly move Arizona higher (into the wild card mix in the West).

So… with that being said… I guess a bottom-10 team, but I’m leaning towards them being higher than the bottom-5 (but I totally would not be surprised if they ended up there). Henrik Lundqvist (yes, at 37), new coaching, and growth from young players make me think they can finish higher than the bottom-five.

As for my current roster, I still think Ryan Spooner gets moved. So, I’m guessing KZB (although I wouldn’t be shocked if Buchnevich started on the second line, and I’d be super interested to see him with Chytil and Hayes on a line), some combination of Hayes and Chytil on the second line (not sure who is wing/center) with Zuccarello, Namestnikov-Andersson-Vesey, Fast-Nieves-Beleskey/Michael Lindqvist/Ville Meskanen (depending on who impresses most in training camp). On defense, I lean Skjei-Shattenkirk, Smith-Pionk/Claesson, Staal-DeAngelo. Either Gilmour/Kampfer in 7th spot. Lundqvist/Georgiev.

Mike: Whether or not the Rangers end up being a lottery team depends on what the defense looks like this upcoming season. Lundqvist is still a great goalie, the forwards are really not that bad, and Zuccarello and Spooner will likely be here until deadline day. I think Ottawa is definitely worse on paper, the same goes for Montreal, Vancouver, and the Islanders. Jan Kovar is not John Tavares.

Current roster?

Kreider - Zibanejad - Buchnevich

Zuccarello - Hayes - Spooner

Namestnikov - Chytil - Vesey

Lindqvist - Andersson - Fast

Beleskey, McLeod

Skjei - Shattenkirk

Staal - Pionk

Claesson - Smith

DeAngelo

Shayna: Artemi Panarin > Tyler Seguin. If Seguin makes it to free agency and the Rangers wouldn’t have to lose any assets, I’d consider it. Panarin I’d be willing to move assets for because he’s that good. But if I had to choose between them, the clear answer is Panarin. It’s not easy to get that kind of elite talent and the Rangers could use a winger of his caliber (as could really any team).

I think Panarin’s want to join the Rangers would depend on the state of their rebuild. That’s what stopped Ilya Kovalchuk from wanting the Rangers, and while they’re at different points in their career, why would Panarin want to join a team that is that far out of contending after being on a team that didn’t make it past the first round in the Blue Jackets, while he’s close to the top of his game? No matter where he goes, he’s going to get offered a great contract, so it’s all about where he wants to play. There’s allure to the Rangers – playing on Madison Square Garden Ice, being on an Original Six team, being Lundqvist’s teammate, playing in New York, and so on – so it wouldn’t be a shock if he had his eyes on the Rangers in general.

He really takes the Rangers further along in their rebuild – but he doesn’t suddenly transition them from a rebuilding team to a contender, there’s still more work to be done. Unless the Rangers can get a young player like Shea Theodore or Jacob Trouba, who are that young, with that much skill and potential, I’m not sure they go for a first-pair defender without first figuring out what Skjei’s ceiling is (if they don’t already know). So, even with Panarin, the rebuild isn’t quite over, since the rest of their prospects have to develop and they still have holes elsewhere in the lineup that have to be addressed, and it’s not clear how Quinn’s system will change their level of play. And, the assets lost to acquire Panarin (if it’s via trade) will still have to be replenished, or the Rangers risk putting themselves back in the situation they had to rebuild from in the first place with right-now moves that jeopardize their future. But the process really moved along with the addition of a player as dynamic as Panarin.

*Chart by Ryan Stimson

Mike: I absolutely agree with Shayna. Panarin is the better target for the Rangers for a multitude of reasons. Not only is Panarin just flat out better than Seguin, he’s also an elite scoring winger — which is something that the Rangers have not had since Marian Gaborik and Rick Nash had their big years in New York. If I was starting a team from scratch, I’d take Panarin over Seguin every time.

Even if the Rangers can add Panarin and a first pair defenseman next offseason, it would still be premature to call the rebuild over. We really have to see what happens with the kids next season, especially on the blue line. There’s also the question of which d-men will be there in free agency to compliment someone like Shattenkirk. Karlsson isn’t going to be there, and after him there isn’t really a first pair guy. The rebuild is a process, it’s going to take a little bit of time, but it will be worth it. Developing your own talent is the surest way to have continued success in this league.