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What is the most important area for the Rangers to improve in the offseason?

Bobby Bevilacqua

derick brassard and henrik lundqvist 12-6.jpg

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

Over the course of the regular season and the brief playoff run, one thing was clear with the Rangers; changes needed to be made. They were outmatched against top teams, threw away games they should have won, and went “all in” on a trade for Eric Staal that didn’t pay off.

That leaves the team in a weird spot, not ready to rebuild and not ready to win a Cup. Jeff Gorton is stuck making some really tough decisions that could shape the franchise for the rest of the Henrik Lundqvist era and beyond.

Gorton will look to make improvements, but there are quite a few areas that they need to tweak and work on before moving forward and trying to capture that elusive Stanley Cup. But which one is most important?

ELITE FORWARD/CENTER

derick brassard and mats zuccarello celebrate 3-8

Do the Rangers need someone better than Brassard or Zuccarello on their top line? Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

This is a topic that has been brought up on multiple occasions, because the Rangers have never really had that one true “star” forward for quite some time. You could argue that Marian Gaborik filled that category, but that’s about it. A lot of the best teams around the league all have one or two players that are considered amongst the league’s best; Patrick Kane, Joe Pavelski, Vladimir Tarasenko, Sidney Crosby, and others.

The Rangers don’t have that, but there’s a tiny chance that they could. Everybody knows that Steven Stamkos is going to be a free agent in the prime of his career after this season, and tons of team are going to be interested. If the team makes the right moves and frees up some cap, then they may be able to make a run at him.

I wrote an article about the Rangers and the potential need for an elite center (LINK HERE), and Stamkos could slot into that role. But Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard are both very good, very dependable defenseman that are both young and on the rise. I fully think that Brassard could be a 70 point center in the not so distant future, so it may not be all that important to drop everything, clear house and make room for Stamkos. Plus, if Rick Nash stays healthy and returns to form, there’s a very good chance that he could score upwards of 30 goals, and maybe even 40.

REVAMP THE FOURTH LINE

tanner glass skating 12-2

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

The Rangers fourth line in the 2014-15 season was AWFUL, dragged down by Tanner Glass and others, leaving Dominic Moore out to dry. The fourth line was kind of better this season, but still featured ineffective players like Glass, Dan Paille, and Jayson Megna (although he was okay at times).

With minimal cap space available, fourth liners are always a potential cheap buy with some upside. The Rangers could go after Viktor Tikhonov, who is able to play center while Oscar Lindberg is healing and can mentor Pavel Buchnevich since he is Russian.

There are also some in-house options that Gorton can look to. Marek Hrivik was very solid in his brief stint with the team, and would be an upgrade at one of the winger spots. Nicklas Jensen played very well for Denmark at the IIHF World Championships. He’s currently an RFA but could be resigned for pretty cheap.

There are some other options out there, perhaps Andrew Shaw although he would be a bit more pricey. The fourth line was a big reason why the Rangers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals two years ago, and they need to get back to that same dynamic on next year’s unit.

DEFENSE, DEFENSE, DEFENSE!

dylan mcilrath and keith yandle celebrate 12-15

Dylan McIlrath and Keith Yandle are two players that should be a part of the defense moving forward. But what about the other defensemen? Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

It’s been said and beaten into the ground. The defense was awful for a large portion of this season, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal took humungous steps back, and the team just did not function that well in their own zone. After some of the defensive debacles this season, it’s obvious that something needs to change.

First off, youth. Let Brady Skjei play. The kid is an absolute beast and showed that in the playoffs, matching up against Crosby, Malkin and Kessel and holding his own. He also can play the right side, and could create a potentially formidable pairing with Ryan McDonagh.

Dylan McIlrath opened eyes with his steady defensive play and his smart integration of physical play. He’s also earned more minutes and more responsibility than he had this season and perhaps a starting job on the third pairing.

On top of that, Keith Yandle needs to be re-signed, but if that doesn’t work, the team should look into trade options for players like Kevin Shattenkirk or Tyson Barrie. The defense needs work, the veterans need to shoulder less of a workload (or not play), and some new players need to be injected into the lineup.

COACHING MINDSET

alain vigneault on bench 12-2

Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Alain Vigneault brought the Rangers to a Stanley Cup Final and two Conference Finals, did an excellent job developing young players and getting the best out of guys like Brassard, Zuccarello, Krieder, etc, and he still gets criticized a lot for his decision making, especially after this season.

AV isn’t perfect. He has his favorites and has made his mistakes. But then again, so do many other great coaches around the league. Vigneault deserves the benefit of the doubt and a shot at trying to make the Rangers one of the league’s best teams again.

But that’s not to say that he shouldn’t make some tweaks. First off, no more favoritism, and he needs to show more accountability. No matter a player’s standing on the team, that shouldn’t make them exempt from being bumped down in the lineup or being scratched if necessary. Staal and Girardi both continued to play top four minutes against the opposing team’s best players despite a lot of struggles. Tanner Glass played over Kevin Hayes and Oscar Lindberg. And AV didn’t make adjustments to his defensive scheme or penalty kill despite both of those things failing many times.

The team also seemed lackadaisical and like they played without a care in the world some nights, looking like a lazy and disinterested team on some nights. It’s on the coaching staff to get your team in the right mentality for each game, and AV did not really seem to do that this season. The team looked like they believed that they could coast through the regular season and turn it up in the playoffs. That doesn’t work.

The Rangers need to work much harder from the get-go next season if they want to compete. No lazy plays, no letting down and a constant push to win is required, and AV needs to get his team in that mindset.

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Posted on May 28, 2016, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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