It has been almost two months since the Rangers were eliminated from the 2017 NHL Playoffs in the second round. Since then, we have been hearing a lot about the Rangers’ rebuilding “on the fly.” Major changes have already been made, not only on the ice, but also within the organization. And, yesterday, the first day of free agency, New York made a splash, and took a big step toward that future, with the signing of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
Shattenkirk, whose contract is reportedly for four years at $6.65 million cap hit per year, left a lot of money on the table to come to Broadway. Although growing up in Westchester, he always wanted to play in New York, he would not have passed up both the money and the chance of winning a Stanley Cup had he felt that he would have had a better chance to do so elsewhere. Looking at the changes that have been made in the organization, he had good reason to make the decision, as the rebuild that is not really a rebuild is already well underway.
It starts at the top, with the naming of Jeff Gorton as General Manager in 2015. But, there is also the very rapid rise of Chris Drury within the organization over that same two-year period. The former Blueshirts captain, who came back to the team as Director of Player Development before the 2015-16 season, worked tirelessly with the prospects in his first season, often working on the ice with the players in Hartford. Drury then was instrumental in recruiting Jimmy Vesey to sign with the Rangers last August. It is well know that Vesey had many teams after him, but as he told NHL.com at the time, “Chris Drury was someone that I was really impressed with during the meeting with the Rangers and he’s someone that I respect a lot based on what he’s done in his career.”
But its not only Vesey that has been impressed. Hockey people far and wide are impressed with Drury. So, it was no surprise that, after one season, in September 2016, he was promoted to Assistant General Manager of the Rangers. It was then that Drury’s role was expanded to include involvement with player transactions and negotiations. In addition, he continued to work with prospects this past season and ran the player exit interviews in Hartford this spring. Not long after those interviews, in early May, Drury was named General Manager of the Hartford Wolf Pack.
And, the outstanding job that Drury has done has really started to get around the league. So, when the Buffalo Sabres had a GM opening this spring, they requested permission to speak to Drury. The Rangers denied the Sabres’ request; there was no way that they were letting him go. At only 40 years old and only six years out of uniform, the players relate well to him; he is a very quick learner, and does very well with the business side of the business. To have Drury side by side with Gorton is bringing a new philosophy and style of management to the Rangers. The two of them are the first pieces of the “rebuild” in place.
The next piece occurred last month, when Keith McCambridge was named head coach of the Hartford Wolf Pack. The Rangers had relieved Ken Gernander, who had been in the Blueshirts’ organization since 1994 and head coach of the AAA affiliate since 2007, only one month before. McCambridge, who served as an assistant coach of the Wolf Pack last season, has previously had winning seasons with the AAA affiliates of the Winnipeg Jets, and worked alongside current Rangers Associate Coach Scott Arniel during the 2009-10 season. McCambridge’s coaching style emphasizes speed and skill, which is what the Rangers are looking for to take them toward the Cup.
Finally, as respects the hockey operations department, just about two weeks ago the team named former Rangers’ player Jed Ortmeyer to be the next Director of Player Development. Ortmeyer retired from hockey in 2014, after playing with effort and character on four NHL teams. He will be working with Drury and McCambridge to bring a new outlook to Hartford.
Of course, the off-ice changes are reflected in the on-ice ones. Four impactful 2016-17 Rangers are now gone from the team–Dan Girardi, Oscar Lindberg, Antti Raanta, and Derek Stepan. Girardi bought out, Lindberg taken by Las Vegas in the expansion draft, and Raanta and Stepan traded to Arizona. So, before this weekend, the team was down two centers, a defenseman, and a back up goaltender.
Yesterday, the Rangers signed Ondrej Pavelec for their backup goaltender. It was a good contract–one year for $1.3 million. Last season Raanta appeared in 30 regular season games; Pavelec will be needed for the same amount this coming season. Pavelec has never been as steady as Raanta was last season, but there is no question that Pavelec has the potential to be fine in that spot. It is a risk, but a reasonable one, and he probably will be here only one season.
The other player of note signed thus far this weekend is Shattenkirk. The Rangers bought out Girardi in part to clear the cap space to get Shatty, one of the best free agents of the year. He chose the Rangers over several other teams that really wanted his services. A right-handed offensive defenseman, Shattenkirk is now slated to play on the first pairing with captain Ryan McDonagh (will they as a pair be called “Captain Kirk”? Gosh, I hope not).
It should be an interesting 2017-18 season. Shattenkirk has great power play skills, something the Rangers have been missing for years. But he has not played on a first pairing for several (okay, more than several) years. He will be facing opponents’ most offensively talented skaters, something he is not at all used to. Last season, in both Saint Louis and Washington, Shattenkirk was a third pairing blueliner. Here, he will get the chance to play a bigger role. It’s actually a chance of a lifetime for him. Not only will he get to play for his favorite team, he will only be 32 years old when the contract ends (assuming no lockout in the 2020-21 season).
For the Rangers, who also re-upped the steady Brendan Smith for the blueline, they are okay on defense. And, if Kevin Klein retires, as he has threatened to do, the Rangers would have a decent blueline and $2.9 million more of cap space to add a forward or two.
It is up front that the Rangers need more help. Two centers are needed (top six and fourth line) and, right now, there is only approximately $8.3 million left in cap space (assuming Klein does not retire). Up until yesterday, I was hoping that one of them was Dominic Moore, but he has gone to the Maple Leafs. Still left as interesting possibilities are Mikhail Grigorenko, and the expensive guys–Joe Thornton and Mike Fisher. More likely, the team will need to make a trade to get at least one forward to play this coming season.
So, this installment of the “rebuild on the fly” is not done. The addition of Shattenkirk and the continuing changes in management get the Rangers closer to the Stanley Cup. But more needs to be done. How much more is not clear, but stay tuned, the next few weeks may be more active than usual.