Complete Guide to the New York Rangers 2014 Offseason

Dave LozoNHL National Lead WriterJune 14, 2014

Complete Guide to the New York Rangers 2014 Offseason

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    The New York Rangers fell three games short of a Stanley Cup, losing to the Los Angeles Kings in five games. Three of the games went to overtime and two of those went to double overtime.

    While the Kings could be embarking on a dynastic run for the next few seasons, the Rangers may be seeing their window for a championship closing immediately.

    General manager Glen Sather will have some difficult decisions during the offseason regarding free agents, unrestricted and restricted, buying out Brad Richards and finding his replacement.

    With that in mind, here's a look back at the Rangers' season and a look ahead to this crucial offseason.

Season Wrapup

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    Top performers

    Mats Zuccarello finished the regular season as the team leader in points with 59 (40 assists) while Rick Nash's 26 goals were tops on the club. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh emerged as a potential Norris Trophy candidate in the coming years with 14 goals and 43 points in 77 games against stiff competition. After a slow start, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist won 33 games and had a .920 save percentage. Martin St. Louis arrived at the trade deadline and while he struggled in the regular season, he had a team-leading eight goals in the postseason.

    Biggest disappointments

    There weren't many, but Dan Girardi, Brad Richards and Nash failed to deliver on a consistent basis during the playoffs, especially in the Stanley Cup Final. Girardi morphed into a turnover machine against the Kings, Richards was demoted to the fourth line and Nash had three goals in 25 playoff games.

    Final assessment

    This may turn out to be a one-off team in terms of making another trip to the Stanley Cup. They had a great season after a rough start in October that may have one more deep run in it, but with a lot of key UFAs this summer and next, the time to win a Cup may have passed.

Biggest Storylines to Follow

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    The imminent buyout of Brad Richards

    The 34-year-old has been in decline the past two seasons, posting the lowest points per game totals of his career over that time. He has six years with a $6.67 million cap hit remaining on a nine-year, $60 million contract and this offseason is the final one in which teams can use amnesty buyouts to clear a contract off the books without leaving a cap hit behind. Should Richards retire before the end of his deal, the Rangers would be hit with a cap penalty. It all adds up to Richards no longer wearing a Rangers uniform next season after three years in New York.

    Can the Rangers keep Anton Stralman?

    The Rangers have several key unrestricted free agents this offseason, including Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore and Benoit Pouliot. But the best of the bunch is Anton Stralman, who has emerged over the past two seasons as one of the more unappreciated and effective defenseman in the league.

    The Rangers hitched their wagon to Dan Girardi during the season, signing him to a six-year, $33 million deal. It's not unrealistic to say Stralman could receive that from another team this summer, making it almost impossible for the Rangers to match.

    Raises for restricted free agents

    The Rangers have about $17 million in cap space for next season, although that would move close to $24 million should they buy out Richards. They will need that leeway to sign their talented restricted free agents who are due raises—Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and John Moore. The Rangers are notoriously stingy when it comes to RFA contracts, and they may need to be with these players in order to sign a free-agent center to replace Richards and retain Stralman.

Notable Players Hitting Free Agency

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    Anton Stralman

    As previously mentioned, Stralman has become one of the most reliable defenseman in the NHLHe has become a possession beast the past two seasons, although he lacks the gaudy offensive numbers (one goal, 17 assists in 108 games) that would allow him to stand out. That could keep his value down a bit and allow the Rangers to re-sign him.

    Brian Boyle

    The fourth-liner proved himself to be a versatile fourth-line player this season, the type of players many teams covet. He's solid in the face-off circle, an excellent penalty killer, defensively reliable and has a bit of offensive skill as well (see his shorthanded goal in Game 5 of the Cup Final). Boyle loves New York, but it may be hard to resist the offers that will come his way this summer.

    Benoit Pouliot

    An excellent possession player, his 36 points this season were a career best. He has played for five teams in eight seasons and would like a little more security with his next team. If the Rangers can't offer that, he's very likely heading elsewhere.

    Others

    Forwards Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider along with defensemen John Moore and Justin Falk are all restricted free agents. Forwards Dominic Moore and Dan Carcillo and defenseman Raphael Diaz are unrestricted free agents.

Top Free-Agent Targets

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    Paul Stastny, C

    According to Adrian Dater of the Denver Post (and Bleacher Report), there is still no deal in place for the 28-year-old center and negotiations aren't likely to take place any time soon. There would be no better replacement after the practically inevitable buyout of Brad Richards than Stastny, and he'd likely have a smaller cap hit than what Richards has now. He had 25 goals and 60 points for the Colorado Avalanche this season and will be highly coveted should he hit the open market.

    Dan Boyle, D

    The New York Islanders hold his rights as of now, but he would be a nice replacement for Anton Stralman should he sign elsewhere. He is 38 years old and there is some risk that comes with signing a defenseman of that age, but he would be a nice stopgap if the Rangers believe they can't replace Stralman with an in-house candidate (i.e. Dylan McIlrath). Boyle has a connection with Martin St. Louis, something that could make New York an attractive option for him.

    Mason Raymond, LW

    If the Rangers can't bring back Benoit Pouliot, perhaps the 28-year-old Raymond would be a proper fit. He had 19 goals and 45 points for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season after earning his way on the roster via tryout during training camp. Raymond played his first six seasons under coach Alain Vigneault in Vancouver. If Vigneault vouches for him and the price is right, Raymond could be a Ranger next season.

Best Options in the NHL Draft

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    The Rangers dealt their first-round pick in this year's draft to the Tampa Bay Lightning to acquire Martin St. Louis. They will not make their first pick until the 59th slot in the second round, making it unlikely they will grab anyone who can impact the team in 2014-15.

    Attempting to forecast who a team may be eyeing that deep into the draft is nearly impossible, but here's an attempt to do just that.

    Ryan Donato, C

    A junior at Dexter School in Massachusetts, the 6'0", 174-pounder has committed to Harvard for the 2015-16 season. His father, Ted Donato, played 13 seasons in the NHL and one with the Rangers and is the head coach at Harvard.

    Alex Peters, D

    He already has NHL size at 6'3' and 207 pounds, but with three goals in 108 games with the Plymouth Whalers, he's not exactly the next Paul Coffey. Whalers coach Mike Vellucci has coached quite a few players that have made the NHL, including James Wisniewski, James Neal, Stephen Weiss and Tyler Seguin, so perhaps he can help Peters develop over the next couple years.

    Luke Philip, C

    At 5'10" and 177 pounds, Philip isn't exactly a physical specimen. But he had a breakout year with the Kootenay Ice of the WHL in 2013-14, posting a career best 31 goals and 77 points in 71 games. Philip's final ranking on NHL Central Scouting's rankings of North American skaters was 80, up 48 spots from his mid-term ranking earlier in the year. 

Players Who Should Be Put on the Trading Block

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    Rick Nash

    If the object of hockey was to get ridiculously close to scoring, Rick Nash would have won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2014. But after a regular season that saw him net a career-low 39 points (matching his total from his rookie season) and a postseason that yielded three goals in 25 games, perhaps the Rangers should see if there are any takers for Nash. He has four years and a $7.8 million cap hit remaining on his contract, so it would be difficult to move the 29-year-old.

    Dan Girardi

    If the Rangers are willing to admit they erred in giving Girardi a six-year, $33 million contract that begins in 2014-15, maybe they can move him and free space to hang on to Anton Stralman. The 30-year-old was a turnover machine in the Stanley Cup Final and looked two steps too slow against some of the game's top players, which he faces regularly as a top-pairing defenseman. But his toughness and shot-blocking ability are coveted by some teams who may have interest.

Top Trade Targets

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    Jason Spezza

    Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray confirmed during the Stanley Cup Final that Spezza has requested a trade and it's one the team is likely to honor. 

    "I don't want to trade the guy, really, and I know I won't get the value, in all likelihood, that I should get for him," Murray said to reporters Wednesday. "But I think that Jason feels maybe there's a change that he would like to have happen, and if that's the case we'll try to do what we can."

    Spezza has one year at $7 million left on his deal, making him a rental for whichever team acquires him unless an extension can be worked out. If the Rangers like the price, it would be hard to pass up the chance to have Spezza, Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard as their top-three centers next season.

    Dustin Byfuglien

    The massive defenseman wants to stay on the blue line while the coaching staff in Winnipeg wants him to continue playing forward. If general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff decides he wants to make a blockbuster deal and the Rangers want a right-handed defenseman, it could be a match. It would be fun only to see what his plus/minus looks like playing in front of Henrik Lundqvist instead of Ondrej Pavelec.

Prospects Most Likely to Debut in 2014-15

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    Danny Kristo

    The 23-year-old right wing acquitted himself well in his first full season in the AHL. He had 25 goals and 43 points in 65 games for the Hartford Wolf Pack in 2013-14 and could be an option to play third-line minutes next season depending on the Rangers' free-agent signings. 

    Oscar Lindberg

    The native of Skelleftea, Sweden, also had his first taste of AHL hockey this season and had a respectable season. He had 18 goals and 44 points in 75 games for the Wolf Pack and could earn a call-up with the Rangers next season.

    Dylan McIlrath

    The 22-year-old played in his first two NHL games this season but could be in line for a longer look next season. The 10th pick in the 2010 draft isn't an offensive force (six goals in 109 career AHL games) but he could find himself on the Rangers' third defensive pairing next season behind Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein.

Projected 2014-15 Depth Chart

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    The Rangers have one of the more fluid situations of any team entering the offseason with so many balls in the air. Here's a mildly educated guess as to how it will shake out for 2014-15.

    Forwards

    • Chris Kreider—Derek Stepan—Rick Nash

    • Carl Hagelin—Paul Stastny—Martin St. Louis

    • Mats Zuccarello—Derick Brassard—Mason Raymond

    • Dominic Moore—Brian Boyle—Derek Dorsett

    Spares: Jesper Fast, J.T. Miller

    Defensemen

    • Ryan McDonagh—Dan Girardi

    • Marc Staal—Kevin Klein

    • John Moore—Dylan McIlrath

    Spare: Justin Falk 

    Goaltenders

    • Henrik Lundqvist

    • Cam Talbot

     

    Note: All statistics via NHL.com or CapGeek.com.