The New York Rangers had themselves a good day on Monday when they signed Ryan McDonagh to a long-term contract.
McDonagh, 24, could have opted for a path that would have eventually led to free agency. Instead, he inked a six-year, $28.2 million contract that will keep him on Broadway as the anchor of the team's defense.
The Rangers' backbone is their ability to play defense. Thanks largely to goalie Henrik Lundqvist, McDonagh, Marc Staal (when healthy), Dan Girardi and Anton Stralman and their defensive-minded forwards, the Rangers excel at stopping opponents from putting the puck in the net.
But the Rangers have learned that defense is not enough. They had the best record in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 and were favored to win the East in 2013 when the truncated season opened, but they have failed to come through in the playoffs.
That was one of the reasons Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather fired head coach John Tortorella shortly after the team was defeated by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference semifinals in the 2013 playoffs.
Sure, Tortorella is well-known for his arguments with the media, but that would have been a sidelight that the Rangers would have gladly endured if they had won a Stanley Cup during his tenure.
Tortorella preached a hard-nosed, tight-checking game at the expense of offense. The Rangers were too one-dimensional, and that's one of the reasons Sather hired former Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault to take over behind the bench. Vigneault should be more creative and give the Rangers a better chance to play more of an attacking game than they ever did under Tortorella.
Vigneault will most likely ask for more from McDonagh on the offensive end, and the defenseman is relishing the challenge.
“I have to get it in my mind where [getting up on the play] becomes natural,” McDonagh told Larry Brooks of the New York Post. “I know being responsible in my own end comes first, but it’s so important to be involved at the offensive end to create second and third opportunities, keep the puck in the zone, or maybe create a turnover in the neutral zone from being up the ice.
They had the perfect opportunity to go after offensive players at the start of free agency. Instead of going after snipers like Michael Ryder, Jerome Iginla or Vincent Lecavalier, the Rangers went the bargain-basement route in free agency.
They brought in Dominic Moore ($1 million), Benoit Pouliot ($1.3 million) and Aaron Johnson ($600,000) to fill out Vigneault's bench. Moore is a nice story, as he is attempting a comeback following the death of his wife to a rare form of liver cancer earlier this year. He is a well-liked player around the league, but the 32-year-old has only scored 10 or more goals four times in his career and has never reached the 20-goal mark.
Pouliot was the fourth pick in the 2006 draft, but he has never lived up to the hype in the NHL. He had a career-high 16 goals in 2011-12 with the Bruins, but he is not a major scoring threat. Johnson is a depth defenseman.
Unless Sather is planning to make a major trade, he is not going to give his new coach anything extra to build a more explosive offense.
That doesn't seem like it's enough. The Rangers have enough talent on hand to build a better offensive attack, but if Sather wants Vigneault to take this team to a new level, he needs to give him better offensive personnel.
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