NEW YORK – Going into the off-season after a disappointing first round exit, the New York Rangers were talking big about the face of the team being changed. General manager Jeff Gorton had talked about taking calls on every player with the exception of a handful. Well, the draft came and went, no one moved. Deals were talked about – as far as we know – through Gorton, but nothing evolved.
The five-day window to negotiate with RFAs and pending UFAs came and went, with yet still no moves made. The Rangers were considered a dark horse for prized free agent Steven Stamos. In order to do that the Rangers would have had to make significant moves to clear out cap space to do that. Then, Stamkos returned to Tampa Bay and Plan B went into effect.
July 1st came around and the Rangers didn’t make the big splash they normally do. They also still had much of the team intact. All that talk and not moves. They did make two smaller moves, they got faster. They picked up Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe both players who provide speed, an area in which the Rangers lacked after giving up Carl Hagelin last off-season.
The main focus for the Rangers was to fix the blue line and losing Keith Yandle to Florida made it even worse. Many fans have already had enough of defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal after down years for both players. It’s worth noting, however, that those two players have played so much hockey that they were due for a “down” year. To blame them solely is not fair, because they have been the core of the Rangers for much of their five-year run deep into the playoffs.
The Rangers for sure will look like a different team when they open the season up against the rival New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden October 13th, but it may just take a little longer than expected since things have been quiet on their end after making noise about making everyone available.
The Rangers aren’t going to sell their players off for a discount to create flexibility. The deals need to be fair and need to help the Rangers get better not weaker. If you paid attention through the first week of free agency, teams around them have gotten better and the Metro division got stronger. In order for the Rangers to stay on top of the competition, they need to make sure they can make the right deals or go with what they have and hope for bounce-back years for many players.
The window isn’t closed just yet, but Henrik Lundqvist is going to be getting to the other side of 35 this season, and he probably has one more long run in him to go after a Cup. The Rangers are also somewhat vulnerable: the longer their notable RFAs (Chris Kreider, JT Miller and Kevin Hayes) stay out there without a deal, the better chance that a rival will swoop in with an offer sheet.
It will take time, so for now the Rangers will play it conservative. They just need to be careful not to play it too safe. After all, their fans’ expectations remain quite high.