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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

3 Questions the NY Rangers Will Answer This Summer

  1. Do the Rangers have much salary cap room to pursue free agents?
   No, they do not.

(Note: If Brady Skjei is NOT ready for the NHL roster, he can remain in Hartford (AHL), and a $925k 7th defenseman can be signed in free agency)

   Looking over the NY Rangers salaries (estimates of Restricted Free Agents are in purple), the Rangers really only have a few million at most to spend on a few depth forwards. Unless they trade a major contract, which doesn’t seem terribly likely… this offseason will be quiet for Rangers fans. Which, honestly, isn’t a bad thing as this summer’s free agent class seems a bit stale compared to previous summers.
  1. Will the Rangers keep Kevin Hayes at [3rd line] center, or revert him back to his natural position of winger?

   We’re not sure, but probably not.

   Hayes struggled as center in the postseason, often losing his minutes under Stepan & Brassard to that of 4th center Dominic Moore. In fact, during the regular season, Kevin Hayes finished DEAD LAST in league-wide face-off percentage (minimum 100 face-offs taken) sporting a shameful 36.3%. While Hayes, 23, finished 7th in rookie-of-the-year (Calder Trophy) voting… it seems being a centerman is not his forte.

   Viable options?

   Oscar Lindberg

   A restricted free agent (without arbitration rights) with a qualifying offer of $709,000… we’d estimate a 1-year deal worth about $725,000 or a 2-year deal worth $800,000. Lindberg played heavy minutes (as a center) in Hartford last year, and all indications point towards a serious chance at making the NHL roster in October. Can he be trusted with 3rd line minutes? Would having a couple of youngsters like Hayes & Lindberg on the 3rd line be good enough for a team concerned with immediate contention? If the Rangers don’t pursue any free agent centers this summer, it’s a good bet they’ll be relying on Lindberg from the getgo.

   Riley Nash

   A somewhat surprising unrestricted free agent, as the Carolina Hurricanes did not offer the 26-year-old center a qualifying offer this week, making him (somewhat surprisingly) available to the open market. Nash scored 25 points in 68 games last season, winning 50.9% of his 958 face-offs. While there’s a very good chance Nash will receive offers from other teams in excess of $1 million/year (which is more than the Rangers could realistically offer), Nash seems like one of the most attractive options for a 3rd center. He averaged 16:19 minutes per game last season, and was one of Carolina’s top penalty killers, averaging 1:41 kill time per contest. A long shot, but certainly an attractive idea for Broadway to, at the very least, investigate.

   Mark Arcobello

   Another surprising non-qualification was that of Arizona not tendering Arcobello, who played 77 games for 4 different teams last season. Arcobello, 27, won 50.2% of his 939 face-offs overall last year, while averaging just under 15 minutes per game, perfect for a 3rd line center’s role. The combination of bouncing around the league AND not being offered a mere $630,000 minimum qualifying offer may raise flags as to his ability in the league. Yet if his price is that low, he may be just the type of reclamation project Glen Sather could gamble on, sporting a low-risk low-reward offering. 

   Cody Hodgson

   An unrestricted free agent who was just recently bought out by the revamping Buffalo Sabres. Hodgson, drafted 10th overall 7 years ago, had an impactful rookie year with the Vancouver Canucks before getting traded to Buffalo in 2012. While his 2012-13 & 2013-14 seasons in Buffalo were acceptable (78 points in 150 games)… his 2014-15 season was a complete abomination. Not unlike the Sabres overall team performance, he scored an abysmally few amount of goals (6 goals in 1,002 minutes), leading to his recent contract buyout.
   Should Hodgson be in a position to sign for less than $1 million/year (which seems likely), the Rangers could be an interested suitor. Additionally, if Hodgson signs for under $1 million/year and turns out to be an undesirable forward, he can be buried into the minors without effecting the Rangers cap hit with a burial fee. Or, if Lindberg is the go-to 3rd center, Hodgson’s use as a taxi squad extra forward seems like an imaginable fit.

   Brad Richards

   An unrestricted free agent coming off a Cup-clinching campaign, Richards is one of the 28 eligible UFA skaters able to sign a performance bonus loaded contract. While his net worth will be certainly over $1 million/year (he signed for double that last summer)… the Rangers could feasibly acquire his services with a 1-year contract for $1 million or less in base pay (cap hit), but offer anywhere from $1 million to $4 million in (easily attainable) bonuses. We wrote about the NHL cap-crunch likely forcing teams to rely on performance-bonuses to accommodate the salary cap ceiling this summer, and a returning Richards could be an ideal specimen for the Rangers. However his age, and his potential stamina (he’s played 206 NHL games since October 2013) could raise concerns. Unlike other candidates we’re examining, Richards’ age means if he signs, his cap hit cannot be removed from the Rangers’ book via burial. With so little cap space, this could render the potential risk more than potential reward (unlike small-contract signings under the age of 35 who CAN be buried).

   Stephen Weiss

   Another UFA via buyout, Weiss’s career has been in a tailspin since his time with the Florida Panthers where he notched 394 points in 654 games from ages 18 to 30. After a season-ending injury in 2013, he never returned to his calibre after signing with the Detroit Red Wings that following summer. His injury problems have lingered, and questions of his remaining role in the NHL are rampant. Weiss, 32, would likely sign a relatively cheap 1-year deal with a team, should any team want him, to try and regain his previous form. Unlike expectations in Florida & Detroit, Weiss would clearly be expected to play sheltered minutes, likely playing between youngsters J.T. Miller, Emerson Etem, Jesper Fast and/or Kevin Hayes. 

  1. Do the Rangers need to pursue a 3rd-or-4th-line forward specializing in penalty killing to fill Carl Haglein’s departure?

   This is an interesting question… here’s why:

   Hagelin (1:57 per game) was the Rangers’ premier winger to kill penalties, ranking just below Dominic Moore (2:07 per game) in shorthanded situations. Broadway finished 3rd in the East (and 6th in the league) in penalty killing, due in great part to Hagelin’s speedy defensive prowess. Etem, whom Hagelin was traded for last weekend, only averaged 0:27 of kill time per game. In other words, all else equal, that’s a full 90 seconds per game of “lost” kill time amongst forwards heading into July.

   To exacerbate this deficit: we have to seriously wonder if Moore, who turns 35 next month, can sustain over 2 minutes per game effectively, let alone call on him to increase his kill time any additional time. So the case may very well be the Rangers needing to replace as much as 2 full minutes from forwards.

   Does Broadway have options?

   Enter: Jesper Fast, current restricted free agent whom cemented his regularity on the roster as a full-time NHL’er last season. Fast marveled in defensive roles, averaging 1:06 penalty killing time per game. And at the ripe age of 23, Fast is an ideal candidate to (realistically) play more penalty kills without causing detriment to the team. 

   So let’s say Fast’s PK time-per-game jumps a full minute (from 1:06 to 2:06, which would be 1 second less than that of Moore’s).

   That still leaves (perhaps) a full 60 seconds of PK time per game to be sourced from somewhere.

   Stepan & Nash averaged 1:35 & 1:20 per game respectively. Considering both play top minutes during even strength as well as power play, it seems unlikely they could have much more to give. 

   Tanner Glass played 1:01 per game, and could feasibly have his time increased in this capacity. But a full minute more? Doubtful.

   This leaves Hayes (0:26), Zuccarello (0:22) & Brassard (0:14) as other PK’ers… of which are also unlikely to make effective jumps.

   So the real question is: how much will the current Rangers supplement Hagelin’s departure & Moore’s aging downslope?

   If the Rangers believe the deficit can be reduced to only 30 seconds of time missing, it won’t be a huge priority to seek assistance on the market. Conversely, if the Rangers are counting on a depth signing to make a relevant impact… the names of potential 3rd line centers we mentioned above may be pursued in order of PK ability. (Riley Nash with perhaps the most valuable PK skill set, playing 1:41 per game… and Brad Richards with the least valuable PK skill set, logging only 1 second on the kill per game).


   These 3 questions will be answered, one way or another, this summer. If Broadway makes a trade, say an exodus of Kevin Klein ($2.9 million per year cap hit) or Tanner Glass ($1.45 million per year cap hit)... that should indicate a potential change in cap space, let alone whatever the return should indicate. If the Rangers pursue a free agent center, it could indicate an insurance policy should Oscar Lindberg not be able to handle 3rd line minutes in October (though it would definitely indicate intent to place Hayes back on the wing). And finally, the franchise's faith in stepping up its penalty-killing depth amongst forwards (again, hedging against Lindberg's hit-or-miss role) should tell us how badly it views Hagelin's absence for shorthanded scenarios.

   Personally, I suspect a quiet off-season for New York, without any more trades or "big" names entering our headlines. However, given the topics we've discussed, there'll major team logic to infer from even the depthiest of depth signings. 

   Let free agency begin!


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