Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.
New York Rangers Postmortem
After coming tantalizingly close to the Stanley Cup Finals in the Spring of 2012, the New York Rangers acquired game-changing forward Rick Nash over the summer. The Blueshirts fully expected to take the next step in the 2012-13 season. Instead, the lockout-truncated 2013 campaign was a slow-motion train wreck for the Rangers, culminating in a 4-1 Eastern Conference Semifinals loss to the Boston Bruins. Where do the Rangers go from here?
Step One, as we’ve just learned, was to fire head coach John Tortorella. All season long – playoffs included – the team struggled to execute his system consistently. Several factors were in play here:
- The trade for Nash, which added a sniper at the expense of second and third line depth;
- The mid-season trade of Gaborik, to add second and third line depth;
- The need to incorporate too many new faces (Nash, Pyatt, Asham, Haley, Powe, Clowe, Brassard, Dorsett, Moore and Hamrlik) and develop team chemistry on the fly;
- Significant injuries to key players (Staal, Stralman, Powe and Clowe);
- Stunning playoff underachievment/slumps from key players (Richards, Nash, Del Zotto and yes, even Callahan); and
- The flaming disaster that was the Blueshirts’ power play.
Did the team also begin to tune Torts out? Though no one has, as of yet, come right out and said it, it’s certainly a possibility. (30 MAY UPDATE: Per Larry Brooks, that’s exactly what happened.) The fact is, every coach loses the room eventually, every coach gets fired eventually. Whether or not the bell tolled too soon for John Tortorella is debatable, though completely moot at this point. So let us move on and deal with the future of the New York Rangers, shall we?
Step Two, General Manager Glen Sather must deal with the following pending free agents this summer:
UFAs: Clowe, Hamrlik, Eminger, Gilroy.
RFAs: Stepan, Hagelin, Zuccarello, McDonagh, Sauer.
The Rangers’ Restricted Free Agents present Sather with an enormous challenge. According to Capgeek, Slats has just under $13.6mil to play with this summer. Sadly, Michael Sauer’s post-concussion syndrome issues mean his promising NHL career is likely over after just 98 games. Thus, New York has four RFAs who are all due significant raises. Ryan McDonagh has certainly earned Dan Girardi-type money ($3.325mil/year), which would more than double his salary. As a Top Six center, Derek Stepan will see a good bump over his current $875k entry-level contract. Carl Hagelin, also making $875k, could easily command twice that this summer. Mats Zuccarello, with the KHL calling, should also see a raise over his $700k salary in order to stay in the Big Apple. Expect these four core players to cost the Rangers around $9.4mil/year combined.
That leaves Glen Sather just under $4.2mil with which to sign UFAs. Roman Hamrlik – the poster child for players who try to go a season too far – won’t be back. Matt Gilroy is still suspect in his own end, but he could end up signing a two-way deal and spending next season in Hartford. Steve Eminger is serviceable as a 6th/7th defenseman, and would probably re-sign with the Rangers for $800k. Ryane Clowe made $3.625mil in 2012-13, and the Rangers are in no position to give him the raise he’ll command on the open market. Barring a significant salary dump – either via trade or a buyout of Brad Richards – Clowe has played his last game as a Ranger.
Even before his career-worst playoff slump and subsequent benching, calls for a buyout of Richards were heard here and there. Given New York’s investment in the former Conn Smythe winner, allowing him the opportunity to come back in the Fall and prove himself, then asking him to waive his NMC for a big trade deadline deal makes the most sense. Failing that, MSG will have no choice but to buy out Richards, either this summer or next, as July of 2014 will see Brassard, Kreider, Del Zotto and Moore go RFA, while Callahan, Boyle, Pyatt, Powe, Asham, Girardi, Stralman and (gulp) Henrik Lundqvist become UFAs. Glen Sather has already expressed his desire to sign King Henrik to a long-term deal, and both Callahan and Girardi merit the same consideration. Let us not get too far ahead of ourselves, however. One season at a time.
Step Three is to find a new head coach. Though Torts hasn’t finished cleaning out his office yet, Lindy Ruff, Alain Vigneault and Dave Tippett are three names being bandied about. If they’re the front runners, Ted Nolan and Jim Schoenfeld are currently just out of the money. GM Sather would like to have his new coach in place before the Draft, so “Step Three” is his top priority now. Undoubtedly, the coach he selects (and more to the point, the new coach’s system) will impact any Draft Day trades.
Glen Sather has a busy summer ahead of him. The window of opportunity for the current incarnation of the Broadway Blueshirts to win the Stanley Cup is quickly closing. How Slats navigates the rapids he now finds himself in will be interesting, indeed.