Offseason Game Plan: New York Rangers
Over the next couple of months, I will be taking a closer look at each of the Eastern Conference teams to show what their current status is and where their offseason focus lies. Knowing a team’s strategy should provide extra assistance in any offseason trading or keeper decisions. This week I’ll take a look at the New York Rangers.
As a reference, I’ll add each of the teams I’ve covered here at the top in case you’d like to look at some of the other game plans.
The cap space above (taken from capgeek.com) consists of 14 forwards, five defensemen, and two goaltenders. Of the 14 forwards, two (Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards) have no-trade clauses, while four (Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, and Michael Haley) are on two-way contracts. None of the defensemen have no-trade clauses, and Michael Sauer is the only blueliner with a two-way contract.
On offense, the Rangers’ top-six should include some combination of Richards, Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, Stepan, Kreider, Artem Anisimov, and Brandon Dubinsky. In the playoffs, it was often one of Dubinsky, Anisimov, or Stepan that fell out of the top-six, but it could be any of them next season. While the Rangers lost versatile wingers Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust, they also brought in depth through free agency by adding Arron Asham, Jeff Halpern, and Taylor Pyatt. With these additions, the bottom-six should be made up of Brian Boyle, Mike Rupp, Halpern, Asham, Pyatt, and Micheal Haley.
With the talent brought in being mostly depth moves, the fantasy assets on this team are all going to be in the top-six. Whoever falls to the third line will have potential, but will have a difficult time producing with wingers such as Asham and Rupp to skate with. With that being said, some of the talent in New York’s top six is phenomenal, as players like Richards and Gaborik are superstars and many of the others have potential to increase their totals. If you are looking for more categories other than points, Brian Boyle could work well as a hits contributor, as his 236 hits were ninth most in the Eastern Conference last season. Rupp and Asham are also good PIM options.
In terms of players ready to make the jump to the NHL, the Rangers are going to be without Mats Zuccarello, who has signed to play with Metallurg of the KHL. After Zuccarello, the next player on everyone’s radar is Christian Thomas, a 2010 second round pick by New York, who turned pro last season and scored two points in five AHL games. He will likely spend the entire year in Connecticut, but is still a promising, rising prospect for the Rangers.
On defense, the Rangers are being quiet, but they have two big priorities – signing RFA’s Stralman and Del Zotto. While Stralman has elected for arbitration, Del Zotto has not, making his future less certain. Last year’s top-four consisted of Del Zotto, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, and a rotation of Anton Stralman and Ryan McDonagh. If the Rangers keep this blue line intact and are able to sign Del Zotto (or at least match an offer sheet), the top-four will all be fantasy relevant, with Del Zotto being the most desirable. McDonagh is a rising performer for this team, but he has not typically been a consistent offensive producer in the lower levels, so expecting him to improve beyond last year’s totals might be a reach.
In terms of players ready to make the jump, the Rangers have Tim Erixon and Dylan McIlrath. Erixon is a more offensive player by nature, and he also has one year of AHL experience under his belt, which McIlrath does not. In Erixon’s first year as a pro, many expected him to play right in the NHL. While he did end up playing 18 games for the Rangers, he had a hard time adjusting. Instead he spent the majority of his year in the AHL, scoring 33 points in 52 games and leading all Connecticut blue liners. If the Rangers are unable to come to terms with Del Zotto, Erixon will be one of the first options to fill the void. Although even if Del Zotto is brought back, Erixon still may be able to make a strong push for a roster spot. McIlrath was chosen tenth overall in 2010 and is set to make his professional debut this fall. He did join Connecticut for the playoffs last season, but this upcoming season will be his first full year, and it is expected he will play in the AHL for the full duration. McIlrath does not bring much offensive prowess to his game, but he is a strong, powerful defensive defenseman with a 6’4”, 210 lb. frame. When he finally does make the jump, he’ll be a great option to counterbalance the offense from guys like Erixon and Del Zotto.
In goal, the Rangers are set with Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron for the next two seasons. Lundqvist is undisputedly the top goalie on this team, and while Biron has had struggles in his search for a starting job, it appears he has settled in nicely as a backup in Broadway. With less pressure as a backup, Biron has been able to shine when called upon. With Lundqvist being one of the best goalies on the planet, this tandem will continue to be one of the best in the league. The only downside from owning Biron in a fantasy league is that he will only get 15-20 starts. If your league is deep enough, that might still be worth the investment as Biron’s numbers will be strong when he actually does get in the lineup.
From a depth standpoint, the Rangers’ previous third stringer, Chad Johnson, has departed via free agency. The next goalie in line, Cameron Talbot, has not yet accepted his qualifying offer, leaving his status up in the air. The Rangers do have Jason Missiaen under contract, although he spent last season in the ECHL and may not be ready to move on to the AHL yet. So although the NHL tandem is locked up, the Rangers do need to focus on getting their AHL goaltending secure.
Biggest holes to fill: Goaltending in Connecticut.
Priorities: The number one priority for this team should be Del Zotto’s contract. Although they probably have enough depth to move on without him, he is a 22-year-old with plenty of upside that should be retained. As they have the majority of their team already in place, Del Zotto should be the primary focus. Next, the team needs to decide how they want their top-nine to look. Do they carry two scoring lines and two checking lines? Ultimately the question is how much offense should be on the third line, especially if a guy like Dubinsky or Stepan ends up on that line. This will determine if they need to move more grit out and bring in one or two more talented bodies in the lineup. Lastly, they need to determine how they will fill their AHL goaltending and whether an acquisition is necessary or not (it probably is). As the Rangers have Lundqvist in the show, they don’t need a goalie who will be ready to be a superstar in a few years.
Overall, the Rangers are an elite team, but mostly due to their strong goaltending and smart defense. They scored 226 goals last season, which was seventh in the East. They have some very talented forwards, but as a team they do not produce as much offense as teams like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Boston. This team has not changed much since last season, so the production should be similar to what we saw last year. On defense, Del Zotto could be ready to elevate his game to the next level, and although his contract demands might be higher than the Rangers would like, it is unlikely that he will be moved, making him one of the top fantasy assets on this team. There are no question marks for the Rangers in goal, as they have two very strong netminders. With all of the core pieces returning next season, this team will once again be a strong squad battling at the top of the Eastern Conference.
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