Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the New York Rangers.
Over the past year the New York Rangers have been one of the busiest teams in the league when it comes to roster movement as they’ve kickstarted their rebuild. Since the start of last offseason the Rangers have dealt veteran players Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, Nick Holden, Michael Grabner, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller, and Rick Nash. Some of them were rentals on expiring contracts (Holden, Grabner, Nash), while others still had term left on their deal (McDonagh, Miller, Stepan).
In return for that group of players they acquired 16 assets, including draft picks (three first-round picks, including a top-10 pick in 2017) and players that have ranged from established NHLers like Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov, to prospects like Brett Howden, Libor Hajek, and Ryan Lindgren.
Given that the Rangers are staring down the barrel at what could be a second consecutive non-playoff season and have an eye on the future, it is possible, if not likely, that the major roster shakeup will continue this season.
There are a couple of players on the roster worth watching when it comes to potential trades.
Mats Zuccarello — Zuccarello was the subject of trade rumors this past season but when all was said and done he ended up remaining in New York.
Now that he is entering the final year of his contract it seems likely that he will once again be a player on the trade block. He is almost certainly the Rangers’ best returning forward, and has built a solid career for himself after going undrafted and beginning his professional hockey career in Europe. But he is entering his age 31 season and the Rangers have to figure out if it’s worth investing in a new long-term contract with him because by the team is ready to be a contender again, he will almost certainly be on the downside of his career.
He is by no means a superstar, but given that he averages close to 60 points every season and has been extremely durable (he’s missed just 14 games over the past five years) he is a top-line talent and would be one of the most attractive and marketable rentals that could be available at the trade deadline.
The Rangers were able to avoid arbitration with Hayes this summer by signing him to a one-year contract, meaning he is now eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season. At this point you have to think that if the Rangers were committed to him as a long-term building block they would gone for a longer commitment. At age 26 and with more than 300 games of NHL play under his belt there are probably no secrets as to what Hayes is capable of as a player.
There probably is not much more in the way of development to take place here, and his production has been consistent enough over the past four years that the Rangers know what they have — a 15-to 20-goal, 40-to 45-point winger. He is what he is — a solid, if unspectacular player that is destined to be playing for somebody else by the end of February.
Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov — Two potential wild cards when it comes to potential trades for the Rangers because both are signed for the next two seasons.
Spooner and Namestnikov are two of the more established players the Rangers acquired in their roster purge this past season, with Spooner coming over as part of the Nash trade to Boston while Namestnikov was a piece in the McDonagh/Miller trade to Tampa Bay.
They are not prospects, but they also may not be core players for the next contending team in New York.
They seem like perfect “bridge” players that can give the Rangers enough in the short-term to not completely bottom out in the standings, while also still possessing some value as potential trade chips.
At the time of his acquisition from, Namestnikov, a former first-round pick of the Lightning, was having a monster season while playing alongside Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos on the top line in Tampa Bay. It was absolutely a breakout season for him but you also have to take into account the talent he was playing alongside when looking at it. In his 19 games with the Rangers after the trade he managed just four points.
Spooner’s initial experience with the Rangers was very, very different as he immediately made an impact on the score sheet with 16 points (including 12 assists) in his first 20 games after being acquired for Nash. Given the rest of his career it was probably an outlier performance, but it was still a promising debut.
Given that both players are signed for two more years (both at $4 million per season) the Rangers have some time to get a longer look at both of them and see what they have in them. If one of them emerges into something that could be more than a bridge player they have a full year after this one to sign them to a new extension. If not, they could almost certainly be flipped to continue to add to the branches of the trade trees that began last season.
The New York Rangers had four of their restricted free agents file for salary arbitration this summer.
They have now avoided arbitration with three of them.
After previously agreeing to terms with Jimmy Vesey and Brady Skjei, the Rangers announced on Monday evening that they have signed Kevin Hayes to a one-year contract that will reportedly pay him $5 million for the 2018-19 season.
Hayes, who just turned 26 a couple of months ago, will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after this upcoming season.
Given that it is only a one-year deal and that Hayes will be a UFA at the end of it it certainly creates the possibility for an in-season, deadline trade. Especially as the Rangers are clearly going through a rebuilding phase right now and Hayes could be an attractive target for contenders at the deadline. Hayes isn’t a superstar, but he is a solid middle-six player whose production has been remarkably consistent during the first four years of his career. You can pretty much pencil him in for around 15-20 goals and 45 points every year and strong 5-on-5 production.
If the Rangers instead elect to try and re-sign him before next July 1 it would almost certainly be an expensive investment given that his contract jumped up from $2.6 million over the past two seasons to more than $5 million for this season.
He is coming off of a 2017-18 performance that saw him record a career-high 25 goals while finishing with 44 total points (five behind his career high of 49) in 76 games. He finished second on the team in goals (behind only Mika Zibanejad) and third in total points (behind Mats Zuccarello and Zibanejad).
With Hayes, Vesey, and Skjei all signed the only remaining restricted free agent the Rangers have to deal with is Ryan Spooner, who they acquired at the trade deadline in the Rick Nash trade. He has an arbitration hearing scheduled for August 4. The Rangers and Spooner have already been working on a new contract and it would not be a surprise to see them avoid the hearing.
Mike Richter wouldn’t be surprised to see Henrik Lundqvist perform like an elite goaltender for several more seasons. But the Rangers legend also said The King’s reign could end much sooner than even he realizes.
“No one knows that, and least of all Henrik. He doesn’t know that and he can’t control that,” Richter said of the 36-year-old. “Some people can go on for another five or 10 years at a high level at the goaltending position. Other people fall off a cliff.”
Over the past two seasons, Lundqvist’s Hall of Fame numbers have dropped significantly. Two seasons ago, he posted a 2.74 goals-against-average. He followed that with a 2.98 last season — a 2.48 GAA in 2015-16 was his previous career-worst — while failing in back-to-back seasons to record a save percentage of at least .920 for the first time since 2008-09.
With last season’s veteran sell-off, Lundqvist may find even less defensive support this coming season, but Richter doesn’t see the Rangers in traditional rebuilding mode.
“Clearly the Rangers aren’t starting from scratch. They have one of the best goalies in the world in the net,” Richter said. “They felt the window close with the veterans that they had. They had to start anew. … They should be commended for saying, ‘We’re not just good with making the playoffs. We’re not good with getting to the conference final. We want to win the Cup.’
“Across the league, a lot of people are looking at what just happened with Vegas, and you can’t start more from scratch than that.”
Though Lundqvist holds several significant franchise records, he seems further than ever from holding the Stanley Cup, which Richter helped bring to the Rangers in 1994.
But the retired lifelong Ranger doesn’t think the current face of the franchise needs to leave New York to earn the elusive title.
“Take the great young talent that he’ll be surrounded with here and mold it into something that understands how to be a champion,” Richter said. “Mark Messier, Adam Graves, Brian Leetch, they all had to learn that at some point in their life, and when you have good leadership you can.”
Regarding the Rangers, I am reminded of Joe Namath’s tale of his first meeting with Bear Bryant. As a high-school recruit, Joe Willie has related many times, he was invited to ascend the tower from which the fabled Alabama coach oversaw practice.
The quarterback admitted he could barely understand Bryant through the coach’s pronounced southern drawl. Except for one word.
As in, “Mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble STUD … mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble, STUD …”
STUDS to the left, STUDS to the right, and a STUD right there in the tower standing beside the Bear in Tuscaloosa, Ala., but no studs at all on the Rangers. A new coach is coming, a new culture is waiting to be created, a blue wave of prospects and draft picks is on the way, but it’s that STUD or two the Blueshirts so desperately miss and require in order to make a quick U-turn on 2017-18.
It turns out breaking up was not hard to do for this group of Blueshirts, many of them transients who came through the door after the previous breakup days that marked the season. The Rangers pretty much started talking about the season in the past tense once management issued its decree on Feb. 9 that the deadline would be about tearing down rather than building up.
Their play did all the talking necessary most of the rest of the way.
By the time the official breakup day arrived, it felt as if the Rangers had been through a number of these already, like when Rick Nash left, and Michael Grabner left, and Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller left. They seemed traumatized by the whole experience. That, I think, explains the players’ utter lack of emotion in reaction to the firing of Alain Vigneault three days earlier. By the time Tuesday rolled around, Vigneault seemed like old news and most of his guys — Nash, Grabner, McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Dan Girardi, Derick Brassard — were long gone.
Kevin Shattenkirk produced the most noteworthy take on the season, suggesting the room had lacked veteran voices demanding accountability while admitting that his early-season issues regretfully had prevented him from assuming that leadership role.
Shattenkirk, who was out of the room for good after the Jan. 18 match that preceded knee surgery, is one of the Rangers who is least likely to be traded this summer. Make a list and it is: 1. Henrik Lundqvist; 2. Filip Chytil; 3. Chris Kreider; 4. Lias Andersson; 5. Brady Skjei; 6. Pavel Buchnevich; 7. Shattenkirk; 8. Mika Zibanejad; 9. Kevin Hayes.
But if somehow a STUD becomes available — if somehow, some general manager is looking to move, say, the equivalent of Taylor Hall — then everyone on this list excluding Lundqvist and Chytil would become fair game. If a top-pair right defenseman becomes available — say maybe Jacob Trouba or Dougie Hamilton — again everyone other than the Swedish goaltender and the Czech kid center would be on the board.
There is, of course, a Nine Percent Solution to the Rangers’ issues, and that is the nine percent chance the club has of winning the April 28 lottery drawing and coming away with the grand prize in projected franchise defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble, STUD.
The last time the Rangers had this good of a chance to emerge with the first-overall pick was 2005, when the team had a 6.3 percent chance to claim Sidney Crosby. The Blueshirts had the same chance as the Penguins, Sabres and Blue Jackets in the universal lottery that followed the canceled 2004-05 season. Nobody had as good or better chance than those four teams.
The Rangers came away with the 16th choice in the first round (before trading up to 12 to snare Marc Staal), Buffalo 13th, Columbus sixth, and, Pittsburgh, grumble, grumble, grumble, grumble, STUD.
Shattenkirk, whom the Rangers desperately need to be the player they believed they were getting when they signed him July 1, cited the Devils, Maple Leafs and Bruins as examples of teams that were able to pull off dramatic turnarounds. But New Jersey missed the playoffs for five straight seasons before this year and the Maple Leafs missed 10 out of 11 until last season.
Boston, out twice in a row before last season following a run of seven straight qualifying seasons that included a Stanley Cup victory in 2011 and a losing trip to the final two years later, probably is the template for the Rangers. But they struck it rich only after replacing successful veteran coach Claude Julien with young Bruce Cassidy out of the AHL and only after
Brad Marchand turned into a, mumble, grumble, STUD beside another one in Patrice Bergeron.
So the mandate for 2018-19 is for the Rangers to find one or develop one of their own, so that next year breaking up is harder to do.
The New York Rangers were without assistant coach Lindy Ruff for the team’s Wednesday night game after he suffered a concussion during Tuesday’s practice.
Ruff was injured when he fell and hit his head on the ice. In addition to the concussion, the veteran coach also had a gash on the back of his head.
“We’re not sure if he stepped on a puck or a puck hit him, but he hit his head on the ice,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said. “We had to take him off the ice. He went to the hospital. He’s got a pretty big gash with some stitches in the back of his head. He’s been diagnosed with a concussion, so he’s going to be out for a couple of days. He should be back (Thursday) and fine. I talked to him (Tuesday) night, I talked to him again (Wednesday). He’s back to his perky self. He was just a little dazed yesterday. It was just an unfortunate accident.”
Ruff, a defensive assistant with the Rangers, has previously spent 15 years as the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres and four years as the Dallas Stars‘ head coach.