New York – Did the headline get you? I’m sure it did. It’s definitely true. It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for the New York Rangers as general manager Jeff Gorton, in his second full off-season has work to do to make this team better for October. The Rangers were not good enough to win it all we know that and we won’t go revisit the dreadful early exit. Instead we will look ahead as this is crunch time for the Rangers to get better.
We had gotten a taste of what the off-season was going to be like a week before the draft when the Blueshirts made tough decision number one – buying out Dan Girardi. A warrior for sure, left everything out on the ice and did anything he could to help his team win. We thank you for the hundreds of blocked shots and durability you provided during you’re Rangers career. Times are a changing though and as difficult as it was, it was something that needed to happen. That began the cap shredding move for Gorton as he geared for the draft.
The expansion draft took place and the Rangers lost Oscar Lindberg. Talented for sure and had a wonderful season but expendable as the Rangers can find help else where. The draft came and the Rangers knew they needed to shed more salary and somehow stock the farm system. This was the first time in almost four years that they had a first round pick. They were set to pick 21st overall. Hours before the draft the Rangers got to work and shipped veteran and staple Ranger Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes along with back-up net minder Antti Raanta for Anthony DeAngelo and the 7th overall pick in the draft. Mind blowing for sure to some Rangers fans but a move we sensed would happen prior to the draft with the rumors that were swirling. It was no surprise he landed in Arizona because the Yotes’ had been looking at Stepan for a year and it seems that’s a usual trade partner with the Rangers.
They drafted two highly touted prospects with their two first round picks – forward Lias Andersson was their first pick and forward Filip Chytil with the 21st overall pick. Andersson, 18, skated in 42 games with HV71 of the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) this past season, registering nine goals and 10 assists for 19 points, along with a plus-21 rating and 18 penalty minutes. He established SHL career-highs in several categories in 2016-17, including games played, goals, assists, points, and plus/minus rating. Andersson ranked eighth in the SHL – and led all junior players (younger than 20 years old) in the league – in plus/minus rating this past season. He also ranked second among all junior players in the SHL in goals and assists, and tied for second among all junior players in the SHL in points in 2016-17.
Chytil, 17 (turns 18 years old on September 5), skated in 38 games with PSG Zlin in the Czech Extraliga this past season, registering four goals and four assists for eight points, along with 16 penalty minutes. Chytil was one of 21 players younger than 18 years old who played in the Czech Extraliga in 2016-17, and he ranked second among players younger than 18 years old in the league in games played, goals, and points during the season. He skated in two relegation games with PSG Zlin, recording two points (one goal, one assist). In addition, Chytil played two regular season games and one playoff game with PSG Zlin’s junior team in 2016-17.
With Stepan and Raanta gone it cleared even more space – $20 million according to capfriendly.com giving the Rangers flexibility heading into their off-season plans. There is a plan, there has to be right? You don’t make these moves unless Gorton has something brewing. With that added salary cap space, he was able to lock up defensemen Brenden Smith to a four year deal and roughly $4.35 million on a cap hit. That was a fair market price for the d-man who came to the Rangers from Detroit at the deadline back in March and was vital on the back end. There are reports that Kevin Klein, whose health wasn’t as good this year might be hanging the skates up which would free a little over in $2 million in space.
As lucrative and as salivating as it may seem with the cap space, the Rangers and Gorton need to be smart about what they are embarking on come Saturday’s open market. Rangers fan since last season have been calling on the team to pursue big time defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk who, would be huge on the blue line for the Rangers, but by no means should they throw the world at him. The Washington Capitals had gone “all-in” last season and acquired him at the deadline only to see another disappointing early exit from the playoffs and he wasn’t as productive as he should have been. So again, by no means should the Rangers throw the boat load of money at him that he could command on the open market. The Rangers need to be smart, they need to fill out this team, they need a couple of centers and some bottom line help along with blue line help. They should be cost efficient for sure but an opportunity with the money to make this team a bit more whole.
Some are forgetting they still need to resign Mika Zibanejad and Jesper Fast and by all accounts are working to do that but that will add some more money on that wonderful $20 million in cap space. To then throw anywhere from $6.5 – $7 million towards Shattenkirk would be idiotic to say the least. Yes, the window may be closing or could be closed on aging net minder and franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist, but he still has a few good years left and the Rangers shouldn’t squander it by not filling the team out the way they should. In the age of salary cap, everyone can be expendable while also cost efficient. The Rangers can “win” this off-season if they play their cards right and Shattenkirk isn’t the ace in the hole. If and that is a big “if” he is willing to take less money to play here since it would be close to his native home of New Jersey then by all means pursue him but the price has to be right.
Some notable guys who would intrigue the Rangers would be a guy like Joe Thornton who, over the years has been linked to the Rangers, and at some point in almost everyone’s career want to play for the Rangers. Again this would have to be for the right price, there is no need to over spend on a guy who is the twilight of his career. The Rangers of course would not be the only team looking to bring the experience Thornton in. Another potential is center Nick Bonino fresh off a Stanley Cup victory is the smartest way to go for the Rangers, he is a player who can certainly fill in and can play in almost any capacity and would add a decent dynamic to the team. Not to mention win a few critical face-offs when needed. Everyone also knows the Rangers have been looking for a quarterback on the point on the power play since Brian Leetch so again just another one of the gaping holes the Rangers would need to fill.
Long story short, the Rangers need to be extra smart and play this off-season right if they stand a chance at competing in the ever growing talent in the Metro division. They need to not be enticed into temptation with the money they have and make this team as Gorton said “rebuilding on the fly” as competitive as possible and try to win. Saturday for sure will be an interesting day as free agency opens and the ever so busy, critical off-season continues for the Blueshirts.