Grading the New York Rangers' 2013 Offseason
The summer of 2013 wasn't a traditional offseason for the New York Rangers. The organization had minimal cap space, fired its coach and didn't have a draft selection until the third round.
Needless to say, general manager Glen Sather and upper management had to make the best of a bad situation.
Fortunately, they may have.
As time has passed, we've gotten a better look at some of the new players and prospects, as well as the philosophy of new coach Alain Vigneault, and it looks like Sather successfully navigated through the rough offseason waters.
But we’ll break it down further and take a look at and grade the four stages of the Rangers’ offseason: the hiring of a new coach, the draft, unrestricted free agency and restricted free agency.
Hiring a New Coach
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It was simply time for the Rangers and John Tortorella to part ways.
Torts did a great job with the Rangers during his time in New York. He was exactly what the team needed following the rather mellow reign of Tom Renney. The American led the Rangers to an Atlantic Division title and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2011-12, and there’s no doubt fans will not soon forget that season.
But 2013 proved Tortorella’s time was up. He simply took the team as far as he could with his boring, grinding, defensive system. Not only was he getting on the fans’ nerves, but he was reportedly getting on the players’ and management’s nerves.
Tortorella is a great coach, but he’s stubborn, and his refusal to waver from, what he believed to be, the best system for his team is why he’s out in Vancouver now.
Sather and the fans believed that the Rangers needed a coach who would allow them to play an attractive, offensive style.
Heck, they've got the best goalie in the world, and one of the league’s best defenses, why not throw the dice offensively?
And Sather brought in probably the best candidate for the job.
Alain Vigneault is a coach who’s known for allowing his players—offense and defense alike—to use time and space to create offense. All parties concerned understand that you need to play a puck-possession style of hockey to win in this league.
Now the Rangers have a coach in place who will encourage that type of hockey.
Although it’s early and there are a lot of kinks in the system, we've seen some big changes in the Rangers’ style of play. Marc Staal and John Moore have been encouraged to join in on the offense in the preseason, and in all honesty, they have looked the best in the first few games.
Derick Brassard, Mats, Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot, too, have taken advantage of Vigneault’s run-and-gun system and have impressed in the early going.
I’ll be the first to admit, though, that the Rangers aren’t the most talented team in the league. But they do have some skill and more importantly, speed. Under Vigneault, they will benefit from a more liberating system, but it’s going to take time.
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When you've only got five draft picks—none of which come in the first two rounds— you've got your work cut out for you.
The Rangers conceded their first two draft selections in a couple of trades made over the 12 months before the draft back in June. Their first was sent to Columbus as a part of the Rick Nash trade, and the second was shipped out to San Jose when the organization acquired Ryane Clowe.
So the Rangers waited until the third round where they had three selections, and they took the opportunity to address an organizational need: talented forwards.
First up was Adam Tambellini (C/LW, BCHL), a lanky, versatile 18-year-old who knows how to use his frame and has a natural goal-scoring ability. He’s committed to the University of North Dakota and will feature for them this season.
Next was Pavel Buchnevich (LW, KHL), a highly talented Russian forward with blinding speed, slick hands and sublime passing ability. He has two years remaining on his contract with Cherepovets Severstal of the KHL, where he’ll get the chance to develop his top-end talent while playing against men in the second-best league in the world.
The Rangers’ last selection in the third round was Anthony Duclair (LW, QMJHL), who is another highly-talented forward with the potential to be a real gamebreaker. Though he battled injury in 2012-13, Duclair put up decent numbers—50 points in 55 games—but if he can add bulk to his 5’11”, 177 pound frame, he could end up being a great grab for the Rangers.
In the fourth round, the Rangers nabbed Ryan Graves (D, QMJHL), a towering shutdown defenseman with an edge. He’s got a long road ahead of him, but Graves has the tools to make him a worthwhile project.
Finally, the last selection addressed another organizational need: goaltending.
Mackenzie Skapski (G, WHL) was chosen in the sixth round, and even though he won’t be expected to make an impact anytime soon, he appears to be a quality netminder who could one day see NHL action.
It wasn’t an ideal situation for the Rangers this year at the draft, but the three third-round selections the organization made are high-risk, high-reward, with the potential for serious payouts. The Rangers have done well selecting in the second and third rounds under Sather, and he’ll be hoping these three turn out to be gems too.
Unrestricted Free Agency
Benoit Pouliot (center)
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The best way to start this conversation is to talk about Brad Richards.
The Rangers had an opportunity to use their last compliance buyout on Richards back in early July before the unrestricted free-agency market opened.
But Sather decided to hold onto the veteran center in hopes that he could justify his mammoth contract under Vigneault, who is known to get the best out of his top offensive players.
Still, even if Richards succeeds in 2013-14, the Rangers are still taking a risk by keeping Richards around given all the dangers the cap-recapture clause presents. Plus, not buying out Richards handicapped the Rangers in the free-agency market.
I felt the Rangers would have been best off buying out Richards, eliminating his disaster-waiting-to-happen contract and signing—and maybe even overpaying—a player like Val Filppula or Stephen Weiss.
Think about it: The Rangers would have then shed at least $1.6 million in actual cap, eliminated the cap-recapture risks and would've acquired a player better than Richards.
Clearly this was something Sather felt was not in the organization’s best interest.
Instead, the Rangers decided to keep an overpaid, declining 33-year-old and effectively eliminated any additional cap space they could have used to sign able and ready unrestricted free agents, as well as someone from their ever-growing list of restricted free agents.
The Rangers did bring in a few depth players and quality ones at that.
Dominic Moore is an ideal fourth-line center who gives the Rangers options, and Benoit Pouliot adds additional second- or third-line offensive talent. Both good additions.
There were some other options out there for Sather to explore, but he chose not to. And judging from what we've seen out of Richards in the preseason, it may have not been the right choice.
Restricted Free Agency
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The Rangers began their obligatory, two-year resigning-every-player-on-the-team process this offseason.
Ryan McDonagh, Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello and the newly acquired Justin Falk all became restricted free agents once the 2013 season ended.
McDonagh, Hagelin, Zuccarello and Stepan make up a vital part of the team, and all had to be resigned.
McDonagh was the first to get a deal done, and did he ever get paid. At $4.7 million for six years, McDonagh is now the highest paid defenseman on the Rangers, and he deserves it. He may be the team’s best on the backend.
Hagelin was up next, and he signed himself a bridge deal, which was best for all parties concerned, especially the Rangers. At $2.25 million for two years, Hagelin makes a modest wage while trying to earn himself top dollar in his following contract.
Zuccarello and the Rangers initially didn’t see eye to eye—the 26-year-old Norwegian even filed for salary arbitration—but in the end the two sides reached a deal before Zuc’s arbitration hearing.
Then, there was the Stepan saga.
The Rangers wanted to sign the team’s leading scorer last season to a bridge deal, mostly because they didn’t have the cap space, but also because Sather believes his young players need to prove they’re worth the big bucks. Stepan was looking for a long-term deal, but understood the Rangers' inability to offer him one.
He was comfortable with signing a bridge deal but was looking for somewhere between $3.5-4 million a year, a number the Rangers couldn't satisfy.
As a result, Stepan declared he wouldn't report to camp without a deal, and up until Wednesday, he was still a holdout.
Nevertheless, a two-year, $3.075 million deal was agreed upon.
Although all parties hoped the deal would get done earlier, it’s good to see the Rangers have arguably their best forward back in the lineup.