32 Reasons the Rangers Championship Window May Not Close

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David Rogers

Editor-in-Chief at Cleared for Contact
Writer, photographer and a lifelong New York Rangers hockey fan.
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It’s a young man’s league. That’s the message that has been sent loud and clear to fans, media and players alike. Rather than waiting to lock up experienced players only after they’ve crept up on or reached Unrestricted Free Agency often at age 27 and beyond, teams are offering players in their early 20’s longer term, high-value contracts knowing that they are likely to have their best production during that span. If they don’t or they falter, there will always be another team willing to take a chance on a young player who showed the kind of promise it takes to land one of those deals.  At times, two such players get traded for each other. Tyler Myers signed a seven year, $5.5M AAV contract with the Buffalo Sabres when he was just 22-years-old, but was then traded to the Winnipeg Jets for Evander Kane, himself in the middle of a six-year, $5.25M AAV deal he signed at age 21.

If this is the new normal, and it certainly appears to be, then what of the players who have been grand-fathered into long-term, high dollar contracts in their late twenties and early thirties? More importantly, what is a team to do with these once high-end players, now paid to continue to produce at a high level as they begin their descent? Recently, the solutions have been to buy out these players, to trade them while retaining up to half of their contracted salary or to package draft picks and prospects along with them to a rebuilding team that could afford it.

The Rangers are taking a different track with two of their high priced, 32-year-old veterans. Rather than eating half of Rick Nash‘s remaining $7.8M contract in a trade or buying out the four years left on Dan Girardi‘s $5.4M deal, creating an unnecessary cap burden for future years, they’ve simply slotted the two older players into roles they are now fit for, contracts be damned.  At least for now.

Nash has found a resurgence so far this season playing third-line minutes. He has five goals and eight points through ten games on the season while averaging just over 16:00 per game. He’s found chemistry with one of the young players on the team, Jimmy Vesey, who’s controlled cap hit and stellar start to the season helps to offset Nash’s bloated salary. By playing Nash down the lineup, Vesey gets to benefit from his experience and skill set, while Nash is no longer looked at to carry the bulk of the offensive load and face other team’s top defensive pairs.

The Rangers’ defense was supposed to be this team’s undoing. The forward core was largely kept together and the players who left were replaced with better alternatives.  Lundqvist, even as he too is aging, was expected to have a couple more top seasons left in the tank.  On the back end, though, Girardi and Marc Staal were coming off their worst seasons with the team. Meanwhile, Keith Yandle’s and to a lesser extent Dan Boyle’s departure created some deep holes to fill. Many hoped Girardi would somehow be dealt or relegated to the seventh spot, only playing when injuries required it. Instead, Girardi has had his minutes and assignments reduced. He, too, is averaging around 16:00 TOI/G and he’s playing less in a top pairing role. That’s when a funny thing happened. He’s now playing better than he has in years. He’s steady in his own zone, while bringing a physical edge that is often missing from the Rangers defense. He’s not getting beaten to the outside or abandoning the front of the net. He’s even contributed offensively, scoring as many goals (2) in seven games as he scored all of the last year.

Make no mistake, neither Nash or Girardi are worth their price tag. They might still regress after strong starts. If the Rangers didn’t have younger players making far less than they’re worth filling more important roles in the lineup, these two contracts would be killing the team and be among the major reasons the Rangers window for a championship would be closed. Instead, a couple of 32-year-olds, slotted properly in the lineup, despite their poor contract values, are part of the reasons this version of the New York Rangers may still yet win the Stanley Cup.

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