For several off-seasons running, I’ve been creating these “master plans” that talk about the future rosters of the Rangers. The purpose of these posts is to really come full circle on all of the topics and rumors we’ve been covering over the course of the season. During prior offseasons, creating these plans was pretty easy for me as John Tortorella frequently talked about the Rangers “team concept”. Based on his vision, I just filled in the blanks.
With his team template in mind, these posts were generally unified by three main ingredients for success — roster balance, strong skating ability, and making an effort in all three zones. As trade deadlines and free agency periods came and went, my plans always revolved around the idea that the Rangers should stick to those three ingredients when evaluating their own team and what’s available on the marketplace.
This offseason is obviously different in that we don’t know what Alain Vigneault has in store for this team as far their identity goes, but my guess is it will be different from the previous regime. Player’s responsibilities could change. And we probably won’t know anything until perhaps preseason when he’s had a closer look at players and prospects.
Of course having a plan and executing are two different things. No matter how AV wants this team to look and play like in the future, for now, the team is what it is. The decision to retain Brad Richards prevented this club from making any changes of significance. Although I disagreed with that decision, as I thought we could have made some upgrades in a few areas, at this point what’s past is prologue. For now, I’d expect the Rangers to roll out essentially the same roster unfortunately.
Other than the recent depth acquisitions, the only key difference I see with this lineup is perhaps the role of Brian Boyle. By signing Dominick Moore, Boyle at center becomes somewhat duplicative. If I were AV, I’d consider moving Boyle to left wing. Although he can win face-offs, I think we need more speed down the middle and more muscle along the boards. Last season we spent too much time in our own end zone. Moving Brian to the wing can help alleviate the issue of lost board battles.
Other than moving Boyle, I really don’t see AV making many wholesale changes at this point. Perhaps Life of Pyatt is traded for a pick before preseason if we are tight against the cap. However, other than that I think the team is pretty much set. Based on how the team adapts to AV’s philosophy and systems, ultimately will determine the long-range projection of this roster.
2014-15 Roster and beyond
Next offseason is where things could get interesting. I wanted Richards to be bought out this summer, which won’t happen, so my expectation is that he will be bought out next summer regardless of how he plays this season. There’s just too much risk involved in not using that last get-out-of-jail free card (aka the compliance buyout). As Dave wrote earlier this offseason, the underlying data suggests Richie has a shot at a bounce back season. But how will he play in 2016, 2018, 2020? I don’t want to find out.
Between the cap space saved from Richie’s buyout and the expectation that team salary caps could rise from $64M this season to over $70M next season, Glen Sather will have a lot of flexibility during a summer when many star players are expected be UFAs. Next year it wouldn’t surprise me to see Glen go after some big fish either via free agency or through a blockbuster trade if the current group of players don’t fit with AV’s system.
Recently, I spoke at length about the need to acquire a coveted right-handed defensemen that we could re-configure our power play around. Although our current roster has a lot of money spent on defensemen, Ryan McDonagh (a lefty) is the only player I see as a long-term fixture for us. In my opinion, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, even Michael Del Zotto are all expendable players in the long-term and could be traded for must-have needs down the road. John Moore & Stralman likely get re-upped next summer so long as they build on the strong years they had last season.
I know some of you hate to hear it, but it’s conceivable Staal walks at the end of his contract to go play with his brothers in Carolina. Girardi too could walk for more money elsewhere next summer when he’s a free agent. Plus, none of us know how he’ll adapt to a new system that might be less reliant on shot-blocking. Then there’s Del Zotto, who although made some major improvements in his own end zone last year, didn’t take that step forward we all hoped he would. I think 2013-14 is a make a break year for him to prove he’s a true PP QB under a different coach and system. If not, he’s a goner. In sum, this defense could look drastically different 12-24 months from now.
AV is a lot like Torts in that he makes many adjustments to his line combinations to a point where players need to be versatile. Point in case, Maxim Lapierre, a perennial 4th liner, spent a handful of games this past season on the Canucks top power play line. I hope to see a player like Derick Brassard really being a key cog for AV, as he has the potential to be a dynamic skill player who can go north/south or east/west depending on the game situation.
Cally, Stepan, and Nash are obviously core players and should be Rangers for a longtime. However, other than them and Brass, the rest of the offense feels like stopgap solutions for someone else. Boyle and Moore are stopgaps for Lindberg or Miller. MZA is likely a stopgap until Kreider or Miller are ready for full-time duty, though MZA could get a boost under a new coach. Hagelin is an effective forechecker, but like Girardi, may not fit AV’s system. As for Lundqvist, he’s not going anywhere. Book it.