New York Rangers Most Likely to End Up in Minors to Start Season
The New York Rangers currently have a packed roster at 22, but it will be filled at the max of 23 once John Moore is signed. This means the Rangers will need to make some moves in order to remain cap compliant, and avoid having talented players waste away as a healthy scratch.
Jesper Fast was on the roster during parts of the 2013-14 season, but he's a top candidate to start in the minors because of the influx of veterans this summer.
There are a number of others who could be in the same situation as Fast, and here are the top-five candidates to end up in Hartford to start the season.
Honorable Mention: Tanner Glass
Derek Dorsett was traded, Daniel Carcillo is still a free agent and it seems that Sather wanted to have a tough guy in the organization for protection. Since the signing of Glass, the Rangers have added Matthew Lombardi, Lee Stempniak and Kevin Hayes to the roster.
These players are all better options for the Rangers, because each brings offense, speed and hockey skills, whereas Glass is pretty much a goon.
Glass really doesn't deserve to be in the lineup for the Rangers, but it is hard picturing a world where Sather demotes his expensive enforcer before he even pulls on his Rangers' sweater.
5. Matthew Lombardi
Matthew Lombardi should make the Rangers' roster out of training camp because of his NHL experience, but there's a chance he could start in the AHL because of his salary.
Under the CBA, players making the league minimum plus $375,000 can be demoted without penalty, and Lombardi's $800,000 salary would apply in this situation since the 2014-15 minimum plus $375,000 is $925,000 (h/t McSorley's Stick).
He is the least likely player on this list to start the season in the minors, because the Rangers signed him early in the summer because of his ability to play each forward position, his two-way ability and speed.
Lombardi is an ideal candidate to start in the Rangers' bottom six, but there's an outside chance he ends up in the minors to start the season to enable the team to become cap compliant.
4. Kevin Hayes
The Rangers won the Kevin Hayes sweepstakes, but there's a chance their new prize will start the season in Hartford. There is a ton of competition on the roster, and Hayes may not be able to win a spot over someone like Matthew Lombardi because of a lack of experience.
Hayes was signed because of his talent and potential, but the Rangers may want to see him produce at the AHL level before they trust him in an NHL role.
It is unlikely that he will be automatically sent to the minors right away given the efforts the Rangers went to sign Hayes, but he certainly will have to do more in training camp when it comes to securing a roster spot.
3. Jesper Fast
Jesper Fast is a 22-year-old speedy winger that could be sent back to Hartford to start the 2014-15 season.
He's a very talented player that has a decent two-way game and some upside, but there is no room in the top nine currently. It makes more sense to send Fast to the minors where he could play top-six minutes every game, because that would allow him to continue his development.
There is a chance Fast makes the team because he played well during his time on the roster last season, but from a development standpoint it doesn't make sense to keep him on the Rangers as a fourth liner.
Fast is more likely to be demoted than Kevin Hayes, because he lacks the size and offensive prowess that the Rangers' newest winger has. Hayes is being looked at as a potential top-six winger who will add some size and offense, and that simply isn't a game Fast can play.
2. Chris Mueller
When it comes to forwards, Chris Mueller is the most likely forward on the current roster to be demoted. He has been an AHL mainstay for the better part of his career, and he is coming off a Calder Cup victory with the Texas Stars.
Mueller was signed to bolster the depth in the AHL, and his contract of $600,000 indicates that he wasn't signed to be a major NHL option.
He could be promoted in the event of an injury during the 2014-15 season, but anticipate Mueller being a top-six forward on the Hartford Wolf Pack for the majority of the upcoming season.
1. Mike Kostka
Both Mike Kostka and Matt Hunwick have spent a lot of time in the AHL the past few seasons, and one ultimately will become the Rangers' extra defender. Both really would be competent as an extra, but the extra $50,000 Kostka makes over Hunwick could be enough to demote him.
The Rangers could be in for a tight squeeze against the salary cap once John Moore is signed, and having an extra $50,000 off the books is something that general manager Glen Sather will likely consider.
Neither defender is really better than the other, so in this situation it would be a simple business decision.