Friday, May 20, 2016

Pool Outlook for New York

It was an opening round defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins that ended the New York Rangers' 2016 season and it was only a five game series in the end, where the Rangers barely even showed up to play most nights.

The Rangers are a damn fine regular season team, one that offers up plenty of options for us poolies, but other than a big push to the Conference Finals last season, they really haven't been very clutch in the playoffs.  The 2016 regular season was a good one again, as they finished 3rd in the Metropolitan Division, just behind the Capitals and the Penguins, which is a feat within itself, since it is such a difficult division to play in.

It all wasn't for a lack of trying though, as the management team tried to identify what this team needed to succeed in the playoffs, acquiring a former Cup winner in Eric Staal from the Hurricanes, but he was just as guilty as some of their other star players, for not showing up in the playoffs and now they are left with far more questions than they have answers.

Now, there's talk that the measurable window of opportunity appears to be closing on this core group of players and their competitiveness will come into question in the next few seasons, I'm sure.  For this group, it will be a case of mitigating the damage left behind from the cyclical nature of rotating rosters and trying to find some more hope in youth.

The Rangers were a popular group at the draft last September, with 14 Blueshirts drafted to pool teams, including one 1st round pick in Henrik Lundqvist, taken 6th overall.  The Rangers continued to add in the Waiver Drafts, as Week Nine added a couple of players, while Week Eighteen saw three dropped and another two picked up.  The acquisition of Staal at the deadline left the Rangers with 15 players active in the pool by the end of the year.

Lundqvist finished 11th overall in pool scoring, 6th among all goalies, winning 35 games, adding 4 shutouts and 4 assists for an 82-point season.  The 34-year old keeper was about as solid as he could be in the regular season, appearing in 65 games for the team, but the team around him could not rally to make the year any better with a good playoff run.

Including Lundqvist, the Rangers had 17 pool worthy players, which meant that there was some untapped potential in the hockey pool or at the very least, some of those players were dropped to try improve somewhere.

Up front, the Rangers had Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan, J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, Eric Staal, Rick Nash, Kevin Hayes, Jesper Fast and rookie Oscar Lindberg among the worthy players, while on defense, they stacked up well with Keith Yandle, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Klein, Dan Boyle and Dan Girardi.  Lundqvist's back-up, Antti Raanta finished 45th among all goalies, which earned him a contract extension already in this off-season.

A very good regular season/hockey pool team to pick from, but... that's about it.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

The Rangers had a lot of eggs in the 2015 basket, but certainly not all of their eggs were in there, since they have a pretty good core to work from.  The Rangers have some key decisions to make for their side for the 2016 season, but it will be a combination of who will re-sign, which youngster will make the jump up and how the team fares both in the trade and free agent market.  New York will be busy, they still have their window open, but management will have a lot to do with whether or not this team improves or regresses.  My position today, shortly after their defeat, the Rangers do suffer that regression, albeit a small one.  The Summer will be tough, the free agents will be hard to re-sign, the markets are running thin, so scoring will end up being their biggest issue next season.  They will win a lot in the regular season again, but their playoffs will end in disaster.

The Rangers certainly regressed from the President's Trophy and Metropolitan Division winner to 3rd place in the division and their playoffs indeed ended with a disaster finish.  That was a pretty solid call on this end and I don't think it will get much better for this team, but we'll get to that point here shortly.

2017 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Rick Nash 7.800 Dan Girardi 5.500 Henrik Lundqvist 8.500
Derek Stepan 6.500 Ryan McDonagh 4.700 Antti Raanta 1.000
Derick Brassard 5.000 Kevin Klein 2.000
Mats Zuccarello 4.500
Oscar Lindberg 0.650
Tanner Glass 1.450 Marc Staal 5.700 Brandon Halverson 0.803
Pavel Buchnevich 0.925 Brady Skjei 0.925 Mackenzie Skapski 0.663
Ryan Gropp 0.839 Calle Andersson 0.662 Magnus Hellberg 0.625
Adam Tambellini 0.803 Ryan Graves 0.633
Adam Chapie 0.800
Cristoval Nieves 0.755
Steven Fogarty 0.750
Malte Stromall 0.743
Chris Brown 0.575

Out of the 17 pool players in 2016, only 10 of them are signed on for the 2017 season, which means that free agency is going to be the most compelling story for the Rangers this Summer.  Even the depth of the team will be tested, as they don't have a lot of players signed on to contracts at this point, so we'll probably see their logo a whole bunch around the draft and into the free agent frenzy.

The New York Rangers just recently put pen to paper with prospect Pavel Buchnevich, who is being touted as the team's best hope moving forward.  The scouting report on this kid is speed and playmaking abilities are exceptional and there is a lot of belief that this 20-year old will be able to crack the lineup next season and succeed.  That would make him one to watch in my book, for sure.

Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft

Well, the Rangers need a lot from the draft, but they have mortgaged their future, not only moving their 1st round pick last year in the deal that brought Keith Yandle to town, but they also sent their 2nd round pick in the deal that saw Eric Staal come to the Big Apple.  The Rangers won't be able to pick until the 3rd round, which will be the 80th overall pick, unless something drastic happens.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The cap situation for the Rangers isn't very promising, especially considering the free agents they will have to negotiate with in this off-season.  I think it's fair to assume that there will be a fair number of players on the move from Broadway, in an attempt to wedge the key players back into the lineup for 2017.

The 10 pool worthy players are already in at $46.15 million and that doesn't include the $5.7 million that Marc Staal is going to take up as well.  Last season's cap ceiling was $71.4 million and they would only have less than $20 million to play with, trying to sign another 11 players.

Chris Kreider is set to see a fair pay raise, while J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast will all need deals as well, but all four are restricted free agents, so leverage isn't on their side.  Nevertheless, if they can't fit everyone under the roof, we'll either see trades or holdouts, surely.

Eric Staal, Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle lead the unrestricted free agents, but Yandle would be the most coveted by the team, as Staal was a rental coming in and Boyle must be thinking about retirement here soon, at age 39.  Even if Yandle was to re-sign, that will be a huge chunk of change taken out of the cap space and the Rangers would fall further behind.

The threat of missing the playoffs is real.  The team that is listed above will definitely be much different before the puck drops on the season and likely even more so, by the time I write this piece at the same time next season.  There will be a lot of turnover for the Rangers, which means the Rangers are in danger of hanging Lundqvist out to dry in the 2017 season and if their number one goalie can't come up with another stellar season, the overhaul will be thorough and without mercy.  I can honestly see the Rangers struggle to maintain a wild card spot next season, mostly because the Atlantic Division couldn't possibly be as terrible next season, as they were in 2016 and the wild card will get drastically more difficult at a time where the Rangers are most vulnerable.

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