Well, shit. That sucked. Henrik Lundqvist has lead the Rangers to 11 postseason trips in 12 seasons and this Ottawa Senators team was, by a large margin, the worst opponent to eliminate the Rangers. I’m not going to get into how it happened, because that does not matter anymore. 2017 will mark the first year since 2011 that the winner of the Stanley Cup or the Eastern Conference representative in the Cup Final did not have to go through the Rangers (because it is laughable to think Ottawa can beat the Penguins in a series). Since this stretch of success started in 2012, no team has more postseason wins, so they have been close, but have not been able to hoist the trophy.
Ultimately, it was another hugely disappointing end to another season for Hank and the Blueshirts, but what do they do now? Here are a three moves I think they should make.
Trade For Matt Duchene
Derek Stepan was horrendous in the playoffs. Nay, most of the season. He is getting paid $6.5 million/year, which is outrageous. I remember hating it when it happened, and I definitely hate it now. He was near invisible on the ice in the playoffs. He couldn’t win a face-off, couldn’t back check or forecheck, couldn’t hold onto the puck. You name it, Stepan couldn’t do it, unless that thing was being terrible, then he could do that.
The Rangers are a very deep team filled with speed and effort guys. However, they have three lines worth of second line players, which makes for a great third line, but a subpar top line. I love Zucc and Nash, but their production rates are not top line quality.
The Colorado Avalanche are terrible and want to blow up the team and get younger. Sure, Matt Duchene is young, but if the Rangers sent over a good young player or two, say JT Miller and prospect, do they say no? Duchene has the skill the Rangers lack. A true playmaker and would slot in perfectly on a top line with Rick Nash. And Duchene is an excellent face-off man, another aspect the Rangers are seriously lacking. A huge reason the Rangers had their best postseason success in the 2014 and 2015 playoffs was because they had Dom Moore and Brian Boyle winning an outrageous number of face-offs. It is much easier to play hockey when you have the puck, that’s for sure, so a steady face-off winning center should be at the top of the list this offseason for the Rangers, whether it’s Duchene or simply another good face-off man on the market.
As a side note, TJ Oshie is a free agent and he has a great pair of hands. Not a center, but he is a solid playmaker. Also a free agent is Patrick Sharp. He is on the backside of his career, but he still has a hell of a shot and would instantly make the Rangers power play unit a bigger threat.
Dump Marc Staal or Dan Girardi
Jeez. Where to begin with these two. They were stalwarts on the back line for years. Steady as can be. And then they got paid and those contracts ran past their prime, which is where they are now. Just like with the Stepan deal, I remember disliking both these contracts as well. Paying guys past their prime is not a winning formula. The NHL is so fast now, and neither of these guys were ever fleet of foot, so one wouldn’t expect them maintain any speed as their careers progressed. Don’t get me wrong, they are still solid enough NHL players, but they are both making over $5 million a year, which is way above their worth. Buying out or trading one of these players, which is easier said than done, would give the Rangers the ability to sign Kevin Shattenkirk, who I believe will be overpaid by any team who signs him anyway, but he would still be an upgrade over either of these players.
I just need to note at the bottom here how much disdain I have for Nick Holden. Dude, was he a liability in the playoffs. Sure, he can skate up the ice well with the puck and has a decent shot, but his defensive awareness is as bad as it gets. They should make a concerted effort to keep Brendan Smith, who is an unrestricted free agent.
Add a Point Shot
Another missing aspect of the Rangers game is a big point shot from a defensemen. It can add another dimension to defending them late in games or on the power play. Ryan McDonagh might be the best shut down defenseman in the league, as his combination of skating ability and size diminishes even the likes of Alex Ovechkin, but he does not have a great point shot. And then there is up and coming d-man Brady Skjei, who looks to have all the tools and is well on his way to becoming a great defenseman, but he, too, does not have a big point shot. And the aforementioned Girardi and Staal also do not have good slap shots. Neither do Smith, Holden, or Klein.
If they add Shattenkirk, they wouldn’t be adding that sort of shot either, so the Rangers should look to add someone else. Cody Franson, a free agent, has never quite reached his potential, but he’s a big guy with a big shot and could slot in nicely as a third line d-man. And the Rangers have shown the ability to turn around guys defensively, just look at Kevin Klein and Anton Stralman. Another option to look at is Jacob Trouba, who held out some of last season and still wants out of Winnipeg at some point. He eventually signed a short two year deal, but he would be a great fit on the Rangers. He is a solid, right-handed defenseman with a good slap shot. He tallied 33 points in only 60 games, so that would be some much needed offense coming from the blue-line.