After a disappointing 2015-16 season, the Rangers’ brass promised change, and one has to admit that Jeff Gorton and company have delivered with several big moves, including yesterday’s signing of prized free agent, Jimmy Vesey. Immediately after the announcement of Vesey’s signing, which, along with the Derek Brassard trade, is perhaps the biggest move of the summer, the chatter began–are these signings enough to make the team a contender for the Cup, and are the Rangers finished with the roster restructuring?
With the current stable of 46 players under contract for the 2016-17, plus Maxim LaPierre signed to a PTO, there is room for three more player contracts and $2 million available in cap space. With more NHL additions not impossible, lets ask some questions about the strength of the team (given what has been going on with the other teams in the Eastern Conference) and be realistic in what to expect this coming season, if no further moves are made.
Will the Rangers make the playoffs with the current roster?
Yes, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Washington should be formidable once again in 2016-17, while the Islanders, Florida, and Philadelphia will likely make playoff runs. And, lets not forget Buffalo and Toronto, both of whom have scary rosters, but are young and still developing. One of those two could break through to the playoff picture. But, absent significant injuries to Henrik Lundqvist or 3-4 key players, the Rangers should be playing in the post-season.
But are these moves enough to make a lengthy Stanley Cup run?
The short answer is no; the moves are sufficient to make the playoffs and but probably not to get through to the second round.
With the current roster, it is likely that, despite the improved situation among other teams in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers can put up lots of points in October and November, and then ride out the inevitable injuries that will occur as the season moves along.
The additions of Vesey, Pavel Buchnevich, Mikka Zibanejad, Josh Jooris, and Michael Grabner will help spark the offense (and make no mistake, Vesey and Buchnevich will be on the NHL roster). But the lack of a solid top six defense, including a proven offensive blueliner will likely make things very difficult for a deep run.
There is an excellent (maybe top?) prospect, Ryan Graves, in the wings, and he may actually be critical to New York’s success as the season moves along, but he is defensively minded. Graves will not, however, solve a major hole that the roster has –the lack of an offensive defenseman. This is not for lack of trying. For about ten years, the Rangers have tried to draft for one, see Bobby Sanguinetti and Michael Del Zotto in the first round and other longer shots in later rounds over the years, but it just has not worked out for the team.
So part of the lack of offense from the blueline is not the teams’s fault, in that had either Sanguinetti or Del Zotto worked out, this may be a Stanley Cup year. And part is the legacy of the tragic loss of Alexei Cherepanov, in that the team’s drafting and trading focus may have been different over the last seven years. but at least part of the blame has to fall squarely on the “win now” philosophy team management had for the last five years.
It is clear that under Gorton, the Rangers’ recent “win now” philosophy is no longer in play. It is also clear that at least one more move is needed to make this team a Stanley Cup contender. But this move may not be possible this season, without mortgaging the future. We’ve seen what damage that does. Hopefully, Gorton will stay the course and pick his spots. Despite what has been written recently, the window for the Cup is still open and probably will be for up to more three years. Take your time Jeff, and do it right this time.