A Look at the Rangers Down the Middle

Let's talk centers.

Last night on ESPN radio Dave Maloney said that there were questions up front for the Rangers and suggested that the Rangers might not be big enough down the middle. With this in mind, and the 2014 deadline day looming, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at where the Rangers currently stand in regards to center depth and who might be in the lineup after the trade deadline and in the 2014-2015 season. Should the Rangers turn their focus to speed and skill or are the concerns about size down the middle legitimate? Who stays and who goes on deadline day and in the 2014 offseason? Let's take a look at who the Rangers have down the middle and start talking about the future.

Brad Richards, 33.

Contract Expires: 2019-2020

Productivity & Role: 44 points (1st on team), 18:59 TOI/G, most sheltered Rangers center with 67.5% Offensive Zone Start.

Current Cap Hit: $6,666,667

Status in Offseason: Under contract, strong amnesty buy out candidate.

We've said it so many times by now that I'm sure you guys are groaning when you read the words but, just for giggles, let's say it again; Brad Richards will be bought out this offseason. If Zuccarello was healthy he'd likely still be the Rangers point leader but as we stand right now Brad Richards holds that distinction. I suppose there is plenty of room for doubt and uncertainty regarding whether or not the Rangers will pull the trigger and swallow Richards' contract but I simply can't imagine a world where they don't do that so let's all just go ahead and not even think about that being a possibility. With Richards likely out of the picture the Rangers will be in a position to give Derek Stepan and the other centers on the team more ice time and more starts in the offensive zone.

Derek Stepan, 23.

Contract Expires: 2014-15

Productivity & Role: 39 points (3rd on team), 18:30 TOI/G, 51.5% Offensive Zone Start.

Current Cap Hit: $3,075,000

Status in Offseason: Under contract.

Stepan, the Rangers worst faceoff man, is under contract for one more season after this one and then he will once again be a restricted free agent looking to get paid. There's no nice way to say this so I'll put it bluntly; Stepan has been a disappointment this season. It was unreasonable to expect him to score at the pace he did last season but 39 points in 62 games feels like it just isn't enough for a guy who was working very hard to get his pay day this past offseason. It goes without saying that Stepan is in the Rangers future plans and will likely be the man in the middle on the first line for many seasons to come, the only question is will we see his regression continue or will Stepan bounce back next season and put again put himself in the position to get paid like a star first line center?

Derick Brassard, 26.

Contract Expires: 2013-2014

Productivity & Role: 36 points (4th on team), 15:30 TOI/G, 59.2% Offensive Zone Start.

Current Cap Hit: $3,200,000

Status in Offseason: RFA

If the Rangers buy out Brad Richards in the 2014 offseason Derick Brassard will become the Rangers de facto second line center unless, of course, the Rangers go after some big fish in the 2014 free agent market.

Brassard's stats might not strike us as impressive but he's an elite third line center in terms of production and the Rangers are using him in a role where he can really succeed. Brassard, like Stepan, is below average on the faceoff dot (48.5%) but is tied with Richards with the team lead in power play points. It's going to be interesting to see what kind of contract he gets this upcoming offseason and how much cap space he'll take up.

Brian Boyle, 29.

Contract Expires: 2013-2014

Productivity & Role: 13 points (12th on team), 12:54 TOI/G, 22.6% Offensive Zone Start (lowest on team).

Current Cap Hit: $1,700,000

Status in Offseason: UFA

Will we see Brian Boyle moved on deadline day as part of a package or to give a contending team a big forward in their bottom six? If Boyle isn't dealt on deadline day he'll be signing for a lot less than he made on his last contract now that there is absolutely no doubt that the pending unrestricted agent's 21 goal campaign in 2010-2011 was the fluke of all flukes. Boyle plays some very difficult and physical (4th on the team in hits) minutes for the Rangers and has been a good role player during his time in New York but it might be time for the Rangers to part ways with the 6'7" center who will be turning 30 in December. Boyle and Dominic Moore are the two best faceoff men on the team and the Rangers might find themselves missing his skill set if they part ways with him but he is hardly irreplaceable.

Dominic Moore, 33.

Contract Expires: 2013-2014

Productivity & Role: 12 points in 53 games (13th on team), 11:36 TOI/G, 24.0% Offensive Zone Start (2nd lowest on team).

Current Cap Hit: $1,000,000

Status in Offseason: UFA

In his return to the NHL Dominic Moore has given the Rangers just what we thought he'd give them; a player on the fourth line that forechecks like a demon, has good speed, and will occasionally chip in a goal here and there. Moore has been used largely in a defensive role and has, in my opinion, excelled at it. As I said before, Moore (along with Boyle) has been the team's best faceoff man and is second in SH TOI/G only to Brian Boyle. Moore is the epitome of a journeyman in the league, playing for 9 teams (including two stops with the Rangers) in eight full NHL seasons so it shouldn't come as a surprise to us if he tumbleweeds out of town in the offseason but I can see the Rangers keeping him on. Although I doubt that the Rangers retain the services of both Boyle and Moore as there is a bit of a redundancy in their skill sets, perhaps the Rangers will opt for Moore's speed over Boyle's physicality or perhaps they'll let both players walk in the offseason.

In the System

J.T. Miller, 20.

Contract Expires: 2014-2015

Productivity & Role: [AHL] 26 points in 26 games.

Current Cap Hit: $894,167

Status in Offseason: Under contract.

We all know Miller has some work to do on the defensive side of his game but the flashes of skill and swagger he's shown us over the last two seasons have certainly got us excited about what he can do with the puck. With Zuccarello out of the lineup Miller is currently centering the Rangers third line and is looking to make a lasting impression with the coaching staff and the organization. I wouldn't be surprised if Miller is a mainstay on the team next season but he might not be used as a center. Managing to put up 26 points in as many games in the AHL and being called up to the Rangers on four separate occasions is a very impressive feat, especially for a 20 year old. I am still not sure what to think about Miller and his game but I do know that I'd love to see a lot more of this in the Rangers lineup:

Oscar Lindberg, 22.

Contract Expires: 2014-2015

Productivity & Role: [AHL] 37 points in 56 games (team leader).

Current Cap Hit: $675,000

Status in Offseason: Under contract.

Oscar, who may or may not live in a trash can, leads the Wolf Pack in points this season. Lindberg became a Ranger on May 8th, 2011 when the team sent Ethan Werek to Phoenix in exchange for the Swedish center. This is Lindberg's first season playing hockey in North America and working on the smaller North American ice surface and thus far he's looked pretty damn good. Lindberg is known for his strong two-way game, solid skating, and success on the faceoff dot so it's pretty exciting to see him leading the Wolf Pack in scoring (although his numbers are hardly breathtaking). Still just 22 years old, Lindberg and his style of play wouldn't be wasted in the Rangers bottom six if he makes a case for himself out of training camp next season. He's certainly worth keeping an eye on and keeping in our minds when and if the Rangers make some changes down the middle.

Notable Pending UFA Centers

Paul Stastny, 28


David Legwand, 33


Olli Jokinen, 35


Derek Roy, 30


Dave Bolland, 27


Mikhail Grabovski, 30


Steve Ott, 29


So, what do you think the Rangers should do at the center ice position on deadline day and in the 2014 offseason? Has Brad Richards done enough to justify not using our second amnesty buy out on him? Could Brassard be used in a second line center role? Who will the Rangers centers be in the bottom six? Will the Rangers promote from within next season, go after Paul Stastny like Larry Brooks thinks they will, or do both? Who do you want to see down the middle for the Rangers? Will the Rangers be active on deadline day and looking to get bigger down the middle or will they wait until the offseason to start making their moves?

Let me know what you guys think in the comments section.

Let's go Rangers.