A harsh truth has been revealed over the last five weeks and two-and-a-half playoff rounds: The New York Rangers were not sufficiently equipped to compete for the Stanley Cup.
Following two seasons in which they were among the NHL’s pre-eminent teams, the Rangers spent much of the 2015-16 campaign ensnared in mediocrity and inconsistency before being eliminated by the Eastern Conference Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.
The Rangers were outscored 21-10 in the 300 minutes that made up the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, while spending much of the series being out-skated by the Penguins.
While the Penguins luxuriated in eliminating the team that had ended their previous two seasons while preparing for a second round showdown with the regular season-best Capitals, the Rangers congregated at their Training Facility in Greenburgh, New York, one last time to perform a season-ending autopsy.
“Definitely a little more sour this time around,” Marc Staal told reporters on breakup day. “It’s definitely a lot earlier than what we wanted it to be.”
During breakup day--and in subsequent interviews--Alain Vigneault stressed that the Rangers need to incorporate youth onto the roster. To that end, the Rangers announced the signing of Pavel Buchnevich, who is likely to be a top-six forward next season. Buchnevich should join defenseman Brady Skjei as part of the youth movement. Skjei was one of the very few Rangers to perform well in the series against Pittsburgh.
Still, two players do not a youth movement make. To that end, the New York Post recently reported the organization is open to listening to trade offers for much of the roster outside of Buchnevich, Skjei and Henrik Lundqvist.
To that end, General Manager Jeff Gorton may find the trade market more palatable than free agency to rebuild the Rangers. Prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told reporters that the salary cap would stay “relatively flat” for next season. For the 2015-16 season the cap ceiling was $71.4 million and the floor was $52.8 million. The midpoint was $62.1 million.
The Rangers have $56.075 million in player salary outlay on the books for next season. But Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller and Dylan McIlrath are restricted free agents, while Dominic Moore, Viktor Stalberg, Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle are unrestricted free agents.
Resigning the quartet of Kreider, Hayes, Miller and McIlrath should satisfy Vigneault’s mandate for youth, and all four are home grown.
The unrestricted free agents the Rangers should target are Yandle, Stalberg, Dale Weise and Matt Martin. Yandle provided the Blueshirts an aggressive puck moving, offensive element the remaining defensive corps cannot. Weise, a former Ranger, provided secondary scoring and size to the Canadiens before being traded to Chicago at the deadline. Martin was one-third of the Islanders vaunted fourth line. Along with Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck, the fourth line provided Jack Capuano with size, physicality, defensive responsibility and was able to contribute offensively. Stalberg was solid in a bottom six role.
It’s likely that Moore and Boyle won’t be brought back.