Chris Drury by Bridget Samuels
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Time Chrisis: Drury on the Fast Track

Anyone with a pulse on the Wolfpack this season probably wasn’t surprised by the news given the especially poor result of the season. However, Drury’s promotion, specifically, was surprising given how quickly he’s been climbing the rungs of the Rangers’ management ladder. Frankly, I’m hard pressed to name a faster-rising star among the front office ranks of the NHL. For all the praise heaped on up-and-comers and soon to be’s like Mike Futa, Kyle Dubas, Paul Fenton, Claude Loiselle, and Julien BriseBois, Drury’s rise has been meteoric by comparison.

Drury retired, as a Ranger, from the NHL after 12 seasons in August of 2011 after accepting a buyout of the final year of his contract. It was an unceremonious ending for a heart-and-soul player who was also the Rangers’ captain. However, in just three short years since being hired to the Rangers front office, beginning in September of 2015, he’s gone from being named Director of Player Development, to Assistant General Manager of the New York Rangers, to General Manager of the Hartford Wolfpack (while retaining his AGM title with the Rangers). Those aren’t just significant leaps. They’re significant leaps made within a very short length of time.

His successive promotions give a clear indication not only of his value to the Rangers, but his value to the league, especially when you consider the permission request to interview him regarding the then open GM position in Buffalo was blocked by the Blueshirts a month ago. He certainly appears poised and on the fast track to an NHL General Manager’s position. The question is, will it be with the Rangers?

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That Raanta is So Hot Right Now

The Flames aren’t especially pressured by Vegas expansion, but they do need a goaltender to protect as their starter, with both Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson being UFAs this summer. Raanta and his especially easy to digest $1M AAV for next season would be an ideal financial scenario for a Flames team with nearly $30M tied up in six forwards (Gaudreau, Monahan, Brouwer, Frolic, Backlund, Stajan) and another $20M-plus in four defensemen (Giordano, Hamilton, Brodie, Engelland) next season. Like was the case with Talbot and the Oilers, too, acquiring Raanta with a year left on his contract would give them the added benefit of taking him for a test drive as a starter for the first time in his career before committing to a long-term extension. This is an advantage they simply wouldn’t have should they wait to see if he makes it to Unrestricted Free Agency in the summer of 2018.

Perhaps the Rangers might try to take another run at Dougie Hamilton, who found his name churning through the rumor mill last season, who would no doubt compliment Ryan McDonagh’s flank like nothing he’s experienced thus far through his Rangers career. Raanta won’t accomplish that feat alone, but it’s possible he could be a feature in a larger package to bring the Toronto native to New York City. I’m sure the Flames would have plenty of interest in acquiring Kevin Hayes as a means to reunite him with his Boston College running mate, Johnny Gaudreau. The two are currently playing together again for Team USA at the 2017 IIHF World Championship games giving Flames’ GM Brad Treliving an idea of the kind of chemistry the two forwards share.

Josh Manson by Bridget Samuels
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Back to Front, Gorton Must Fix Blue Line From Strength

The Ducks are embroiled in a heated playoff series that will conclude in tonight’s game seven match with the up-and-coming Oilers, but the optics of the trade shouldn’t change regardless of the outcome. The Ducks still face the same protection configuration issue, as do the Rangers, which makes them ideal trading partners to solve one another’s problems.

Anaheim, however, like the Rangers, are a cap team with a lot of money locked up in their core of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, and Cam Fowler. Trying to pull a deal off that sends someone like Nash, who I originally suggested, in exchange for Vatanen may not be all that palatable an idea from their perspective. Instead, perhaps a swap of younger players is in order. My suggestion – 24-year old J.T. Miller for one of Josh Manson (25) or Brandon Montour (23).

The framework behind this is the same as it was back when I first wrote about it in February. Miller, who was second in team scoring with 56 points in 82 games, should prove valuable to the Ducks desire to add scoring to their top-six, while one of Montour or Manson, both of whom are right-handed, would immediately improve the right side of the Rangers’ blue line. The difference here is Miller will be entering the second year of a two-year bridge deal worth $2.75M per season, and Manson and Montour each have one year remaining on their entry-level contracts and make less than $1M against the cap currently.

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Rangers Need More From Miller, Hayes, and Grabner

As a caveat to what comes next, teams and individual players tend to gradually decline in production as the season goes on. The physical taxation of an 82-game regular season is grueling, and it justifiably takes a toll on production rates. Good teams and good players are not exempt from this, but the best among them tend to mitigate that decline like riding a parachute to earth after jumping out of a plane, rather than riding an anvil. Insert ACME gif here.

But something has been particularly off with this trio since the start of the New Year. Miller, who had 28 points (ten goals, 18 assists) in those 43 games, scored just three of them over the Rangers’ final 20 games. Hayes and Grabner (6-15-21 and 13-7-20 over the last 43 respectively) also went ice cold down the stretch, both failing to score in the final 12 games of the season. Hayes had just two tallies in the team’s last 20, and Grabner had just one in that same stretch.

It’s true that the Rangers have effectively known their path to the playoffs since January. This made much of the second half of their season relatively meaningless or not very motivating. However, the lack of scoring, particularly by this collection of players who were so hot to begin the season, has been incredibly frustrating to watch as a fan.

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Rangers, Senators – A Playoffs Primer

Still, despite the mitigating regular season series and the extended postseason absence the respective teams have encountered these last five seasons, there are still a number of key elements that should help predict the Rangers’ likely course to victory and by way of, their path to a third Eastern Conference Final berth in four years.

Though not in order of importance, below is a breakdown of what are likely to be the three keys to the series:

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Young Forward Depth is Rangers Biggest Advantage

With just one day left before the Rangers begin their opening round series against the Canadiens, much of the pre-series talk has rightfully gravitated around the goaltending matchup of Henrik Lundqvist versus Carey Price. I say “rightfully” because both men are arguably their respective teams’ linchpins, through which any long-term success must be measured against. This isn’t up for debate. Like the majority of teams who play deep into May and June, superior goaltending is often a foundation for their continued success. I even wrote about them myself in my series primer, denoting the matchup as one of the three keys of the series.