During the draft weekend, the New York Rangers’ front office made moves that made some question the mindset of the General Manager. With tight cap space and players needing to be signed, fan favorites are often the ones to go. While trading Hagelin made sense, they do lose valuable speed but gain size and skill. With the Talbot trade, the Rangers gained prospects who will help the club in the future and received a proven backup from the Chicago Blackhawks, Antti Raanta.
This off-season may not be the busiest one for Glen Sather and his team, it will be the most crucial. After losing in five games in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2014 and being one win away from making it back to the Finals in 2015, Sather must find the missing piece to the puzzle that will bring New York back to the promise land.
Here are some predictions on moves the Blueshirts may make this off-season:
1. Re-Sign Key Free Agents
With players such as Derek Stepan and other important crucial players to the team’s success about to hit the market, Sather must wisely choose who to extend qualifying offers too. As of Monday, June 29, the team has extended qualifying offers to Derek Stepan, J.T. Miller, Emerson Etem (who came over in the Hagelin trade with Anaheim), Jesper Fast. They also extended offers to players from the Hartford Wolfpack such as Mat Bodie, Dylan McIlrath, Oscar Lindberg, and Marek Hrivik.
Stepan will be the first person the Rangers must sign. After coming off a fantastic season, he will be looking for a long-term deal worth $5.5-$6 million. Secondly, they must retain Miller, Fast, and Etem. Miller and Fast have shown that they are able to contribute to the club’s success and can each take deals that will comfortably fit the cap situation. Then there is Etem. He is a big body who has speed, but more importantly, skill. He likes to be in front of the net and can definitely play a big role on the third line this season.
The players from Hartford will more than likely resign, and some may even get a good look come training camp. The Rangers need some young players to step up next season and become healthy contributors on a nightly basis. With Martin St. Louis not coming back, there are big shoes that must be filled.
Finally, the Rangers should look to bring back Matt Hunwick as a solid seventh defenseman. He was solid all season long when needed and can easily step into the lineup and be responsible in his own zone.
2. Bring in a Cap-Friendly Free Agent
The Free Agency period starts on July 1 and teams will be making calls left and right to bring in the best talent for their success. While the Rangers do not have that much space to work with, there are a couple of free agents out there who can add depth and be noticeable every night.
One player the Rangers have taken notice in is former Los Angles Kings’ player Justin Williams. He is a three-time Stanley Cup winner, but is getting older. He will turn thirty-four and is hitting the market on a deal that paid him $3.65 million. He is a proven playoff
player and former Conn Symthe winner. He can fit into any role and if the deal is right, can be a huge asset this season.
Shawn Matthias would be another great addition that the Rangers should target. He brings much needed size (6’4″ and 223 pounds) who is a great two-way center. The Rangers have been known to love having centers who can take key face-offs on all ends of the ice and can be a valuable resource in a top nine role. He is coming off a $1.75 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks and can easily take a cap friendly contract to sign with a contender.
3. Give the Young Guns A Chance
During the 2014-2015 season, the Rangers called up several players from their AHL affiliate. However, the player that seems the most likely to make the big jump will be center Oscar Lindberg. The twenty-three year old from Sweden has turned heads in Hartford and will be the player that the coaching staff will be the most interested in come September.
He put up fifty-six points in seventy-five games with the Wolfpack this season and sixteen points in fifteen playoff games. Lindberg has certainly improved every season and can easily contribute on the third or fourth line for New York.
Another player who may get a more in depth look this preseason will be defenseman Brady Skjei. The Minnesota Native had an impressive college career is looking to make the opening night roster. He is 6’3″ and 206 pounds. He could add size to the backend, but also a little offensive touch.
No matter how this off-season plays out, the Rangers roster will not have any extreme changes. With Mats Zuccarello making a full recovery and the top two lines mostly set, there are spots to be won in the bottom six. If the Rangers can add a little more size and a scoring winger who can replace Hagelin and St. Louis, New York may finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and bring the Stanley Cup back to New York for the first time since 1994.