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Mailbag – Offseason predictions, the potential of trading Lundqvist, and a lack of heart?

Bobby Bevilacqua

Welcome back to another mailbag article, where I answer reader questions and give my honest opinion on the topic. With the Rangers being knocked out of the playoffs much earlier than usual, I might be doing more of these to fill the gap between now and the start of the season.

Check on Facebook and Twitter for an announcement for the next edition, and ask me questions about anything Rangers or NHL.

With that in mind, let’s get started!

What are your predictions for Staal, Girardi and Nash in 2016? Will they be kept and will they improve? Or will they be dealt and if so, what do you see coming in return? – Kevin Kelly

dan Girardi and marc staal and kreider

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

I’ve somewhat tackled this topic, but I really gave my opinion on what I want to happen, not what I think will happen. First off, I think Jeff Gorton is a smart man with a more modern outlook on the game than Glen Sather. So I think he’s smart enough to realize that the team has a real problem with these Marc Staal and Dan Girardi contracts.

But when it comes to what I think will happen, not want, I think we will only see one defenseman move, and that’s probably Marc Staal. He is just 29 years old and around the league, respected as a defensive defenseman. He still has value and played better than Girardi did, so I think teams would take him. It all depends on if he would waive his NMC.

The Dallas Stars overvalued Kris Russel and took on his contract, so that’s a potential landing spot. If that happens, I’d like to see the Rangers try and get Valeri Nichushkin’s rights and a draft pick. That might take a package deal, or taking a bad contract in return though. Colorado is supposedly shopping 24 year old defenseman Tyson Barrie, and looking for a defensive defenseman in return. The Rangers could probably package Marc Staal and Rick Nash, assuming everything lines up, and get Barrie in return.

I don’t see Girardi going in a trade because lately he’s been injured, worn down, and ineffective, and I don’t see any team taking that contract on without salary retention. Plus, in an article on FullTilt NYR, he pointed out that if the Rangers wait a season, Girardi’s NMC becomes a limited NTC, making it easier to trade him.

Rick Nash is still a great player and I think the team believes that as well, so I don’t see him going anywhere unless it’s in some blockbuster trade like a Barrie deal. But Nash dealt with injuries this season and is expected to bounce back just fine. He also has 18 points in his last 24 playoff games, so he’s improving in that department as well.

To sum it all up, I expect Nash and Girardi on the roster next season, and I think Gorton will try to move Staal and make room for Brady Skjei, while recuperating draft picks in the process.

Do you think the Rangers are looking to keep Chris Kreider, and vice versa, or will he be interested in free agency? What would his contract look like if they offer him one? – Luanne Duncan

chris kreider full body 9-30

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

I think the Rangers are going to keep all of their RFAs, or at least attempt to. That means that I believe Kreider, Miller and Hayes will all be Blueshirts next season. JT Miller may have surpassed him in terms of ceiling and expectations, but Kreider’s unique combination of size and blistering speed is still a huge asset.

This marked the second consecutive season that he scored 20+ goals, but he also had very long stretches of ineffectiveness or games where he just wasn’t an impact on the ice. That’s concerning, but he does have a ton of talent.

I think the Rangers will offer him another bridge deal, somewhere in the range of $3.7 to $4.3 million, and anywhere from two to three years. But with the emergence of JT Miller and the signing of Pavel Buchnevich, I don’t think they would back down from including him in a package deal for someone else they really want.

Is Lundqvist overrated and should the Rangers look to move him while his value is high? – Mike Giuffre

Henrik Lundqvist around the world save 10-10

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Henrik Lundqvist is not overrated. Lundqvist was left out to dry on many nights with a terrible defense in front of him. It wasn’t just the personnel though, the defensive system was atrocious. Missed assignments, wide open players, turnover after turnover, constantly being pinned back in their own end, and poor positioning. All of those problems were doubled when trying to kill penalties, where they finished with a 78.2% penalty kill.

Despite all of that, Lundqvist managed to guide his team to the playoffs yet again, where his team was exposed and split apart by the Penguins skilled and speed. When the Rangers went on their nine game win streak, they still played really poorly. They scored on an insanely high percentage of their shots and forced Hank to make 30+ saves every night, many of those chances being high danger.

Without Lundqvist and his tremendous play, the Rangers likely would not have been a playoff team. Antti Raanta played well, but if he was in net for the entire season, I think the team would have really struggled to make a wild card spot.

Lundqvist is still the backbone of this team and still one of the best goalies in the NHL when put in the right situations with a properly functioning team in front of him. Antti Raanta proved that he’s capable of handling his workload, so I think Vigneault needs to give him more starts, somewhere in the range of 25-30 starts to allow Hank to take a breather and be well rested for the playoffs.

What should be the focus for next season’s team? Grit, scoring, defense or something else? – James Mills

keith yandle and ryan mcdonagh hi five 4-7

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

This is a nice segue from the last question, and the biggest problem is defense. Out of everyone, Keith Yandle had the best and most consistent season on both sides of the puck, with Kevin Klein sitting in a pretty close second place. Klein continues to impress me, logging a respectable 26 points while being arguably the most consistent defensive defenseman on the team. Yandle showed that he deserves to be re-signed and should be a Ranger for a long time.

Ryan McDonagh dealt with injuries, again, but will factor into the top four defenseman again. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi either need to be removed for the lineup or given significantly less playing time, and the team needs to put someone in place of Dan Boyle, who is almost definitely going to retire.

Luckily, the Rangers have two great in-house options on defense named Brady Skjei and Dylan McIlrath. I’m convinced we found our defensive stalwart of the future in Brady Skjei, who played extremely well in the regular season and the playoffs. Not only is he good in terms of positioning, strength and keeping the puck out of the net, he’s a tremendous skater who can transition the puck. Dylan McIlrath showed that he can make up for his slower foot speed with the way he takes his angles to the puck and his high hockey IQ, never really making any big mistakes. Vigneault needs to trust the both of them, and not give McIlrath 12 minutes a game while Girardi logs 20+.

I also think the defensive system itself needs to change, because we saw some awful defensive plays from the forwards as well. The forwards, with some particular standout players, were out of position a lot, left someone wide open, or didn’t pressure the puck carrier and that also effected the defensemen, making life much harder for them.

Is this team lacking talent or lacking heart? – Nikita Nicolakis

derick brassard and mats zuccarello celebrate 3-8

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Normally I never question a team’s effort or heart, but certain times this season made me really wonder if everyone was giving their all. Obviously they all want to win and succeed, but the Rangers just seemed disinterested at times, taking some nights off and coasting along. Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and a few others really stuck out as some of the more ‘disinterested’ players on the team.

I wonder if all of the success got to their head, and they figured that they could win most games by coasting along and asking Henrik to do all of the work defensively. They were such a good team in the two seasons prior, and that may have effected how they played or viewed themselves compared to other competition.

I also saw this when the team was trailing. In the 2014-15 season and the 2015-16 season, the Rangers never backed down when they were trailing, completing miraculous comebacks like the one against the Minnesota Wild, with two players given match penalties and a 3-0 deficit to start the third period. But when the Rangers were down this season, AV threw out the fourth line, didn’t always put Yandle on the ice, and the team sometimes would hardly muster a shot on goal.

Hopefully this early exit serves as a slap in the face and a wakeup call to the team, making them realize that they can’t coast along and expect to win. They need to get back to their hardworking roots of the 2014-15 Stanley Cup team, because the talent is there.

If any, what other free agents other than current Rangers will the team seek? – Tony Abruzzese

andrew shaw

Photo courtesy of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Rangers don’t have a lot of cap room to maneuver under and sign new players, especially if they plan on retaining all of their RFAs (Kreider, Hayes, Miller, McIlrath, Jensen). So I think the team will look to in-house options to solve some of their current problems.

One thing I do see the Rangers doing is adding a bottom-six option. Preferably, Gorton can find a way to trade Glass to some team looking to hit the salary cap floor, because he needs to be out of the lineup. Stalberg, Lindberg, Fast, Hrivik and maybe even Nicklas Jensen would be better options on the wing than him.

The injury to Lindberg does throw a wrench in the plans however, because he may not be game ready until December. The team seems to be moving on from Dom Moore, so they need to look elsewhere. With the Blackhawks in salary cap hell, they might need to move on from fourth line center Andrew Shaw.

I’m not a big proponent of toughness, but the good thing about Shaw is that he’s a brute that still knows how to play hockey. This season he finished with 34 points (14-20-34), adding another four goals and six points in six playoff games this season. He has 35 points in 67 playoff games too, and has a 53.8% CF, which is great for his role.

Shaw is also tremendous in front of the net, and surprisingly effective on the power play, scoring seven of his 18 goals this year (regular season and playoffs) on the man advantage. The Rangers are lacking that net front presence, and I would love to see Keith Yandle firing shots on goal with Andrew Shaw in front of the net. His current cap hit is $2 million and the team may have to give him a bit of a raise, but it would be worth it.

I don’t see the team doing much in the way of signing new players from other teams. If anything, they’ll keep what they have, maybe sign some depth forward and possibly make a trade. Personally, if they can move/buyout Staal and Girardi on defense, I’d like to see them bring in Brian Campbell on a one year deal, and I’d also like them to get a Russian player to help out Pavel Buchnevich, perhaps Viktor Tikhonov, Nikita Nikiten, or someone from the KHL. You can read my article on that topic HERE.

What do you think the next five years will look like for the Rangers? – Joseph Reda

Rangers celebrate a goal (great shot) 10-30

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

I can’t really say what the next five years will look like until I see the results of this offseason. If the team decides to field the same lineup for the next few years and not correct the glaring problems on defense and the fourth line, then we could be looking at a team that wastes the rest of Henrik Lundqvist’s strongest years.

But if Jeff Gorton makes the right moves, infuses youth into the lineup, surrounds Lundqvist with the right players and the right system, then we could see the Rangers be contenders again soon. The Penguins expertly re-tooled their lineup rather than scrap and rebuild, and they’re likely going to be in the Stanley Cup Finals (my prediction).

It’s tough to say. Give me another month or so and I can answer this question better.

Do you think the Islanders will overtake the Rangers as the best team in New York? – George Denti

The Islanders were better than the Rangers this year for sure. They swept the season series and had more depth offensively and defensively. Boychuck, Leddy and Hamonic were better than McDonagh, Girardi and Staal, and their fourth line really outclassed the Rangers fourth line.

The Islanders are going to have to spend some money in order to keep their team together. Kyle Okposo is a must-sign for them, and they have to try and keep guys like Franz Nielsen on the team. But they do have some questions in net, like whether Thomas Greiss is a long-term answer.

This question has a similar answer to the previous one – it’ll be easier to say yes or no in a month or so. The Islanders have better prospects and a better defensive corps, so it looks like they could be the better team. But if the Rangers fix their defensive problems and start the youth movement, they could be primed to retake that best team in NY status.

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Posted on May 19, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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