NYR 2, CBJ 5 - Rangers Outworked and the Score Showed It

“I think we got outworked tonight. They had better execution than we did. They stuck to their gameplan, we kind of got off track on ours and the score showed that.”

That’s what Rick Nash told MSG’s John Gianonne in the post-game interview following tonight’s 5-2 loss, the Rangers fourth game in six nights, to the Metropolitan division rival Columbus Blue Jackets.

While the game wasn’t yet lost, surely the game’s opening tally, scored by Jackets forward Alexander Wennberg just 62 seconds into the contest was a sign of things to come for the Rangers tonight. Despite Rick Nash finding the game-tying answer just a few minutes later off a beautiful feed from Jimmy Vesey, the Rangers just never seemed to get their game going quickly enough to take a lead.

With 13:13 to go in the first period, Cam Atkinson scored his career high 28th goal to give the Jackets a 2-1 lead that the Rangers would never threaten before the final buzzer.

The Rangers would leave the first period down 2-1 and keep the game close through most of the second, but Wennberg would find his second of the night to put the Jackets up 3-1 less than a minute after Atkinson nearly scored his second on a breakaway attempt.

The Blueshirts made much effort to draw within one but just couldn’t solve Bobrovsky as the period drew to a close.

Unfortunately, the third period would only stretch Columbus’ lead as Atkinson would make up for his failed breakaway attempt, burying a pass from ex-Ranger Brandon Dubinsky to get his second of the night. Nick Holden, who had an especially poor night, gave the puck away to Dubinsky in front of the benches and the Rangers couldn’t get back in time to stop the Jackets attack.

To the Rangers credit, they never quit on the game and they forced Bobrovsky to stand tall through the remaining minutes of the period, including forcing him to make a desperation save on Chris Kreider with exactly 3:00 to go in the game. It just wouldn’t be enough, however.

The icing on the cake came in the game’s final minute as Josh Anderson gave the Jackets a commanding 5-1 lead. Though Jesper Fast would actually score one more goal with just three-tenths of a second remaining on the clock, the Rangers ultimately fell in the second game of their back-to-back games this weekend by a final score of 5-2.

Their next game is Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals—just one day before the NHL’s trade deadline of 3 pm EST this coming Wednesday.

Assorted musings: Nick Holden is just one goal shy of tying his career high of ten goals in a season; He and defense partner Marc Staal had an especially miserable game, however, as both men were on the ice for four of the five goals scored against the Rangers; Michael Grabner, despite not scoring tonight, has five goals against the Blue Jackets this season; With his next win, Henrik Lundqvist will officially tie for tenth all-time in goalie wins with Grant Fuhr; Fatigue probably played a sizable factor this evening as the Rangers have played in three consecutive overtime matches prior to the drop of the puck against the Blue Jackets.


Why Buchnevich Should Not Be Trade Bait

As we encroach on the final days before the NHL’s March 1st trade deadline, the Rangers have expectedly been linked to multiple defensemen. In the last week, that includes Detroit Red Wings pending UFA Brendan Smith, who the Rangers are apparently “zeroing in on”. Smith was a former teammate of Ryan McDonagh at Wisconsin and plays both sides of the ice, which could explain the interest. Also included is Kevin Shattenkirk, who the Blueshirts have been tied to for the last three seasons. Additionally, I’ve written about the unique situation the Anaheim Ducks might offer regarding the Rangers’ need to add to a measurably substandard blue line, though this particular scenario is purely speculative at this point in time.

According to CapFriendly.com, the Rangers project to have $10M+ available to take advantage of at the deadline. It’s no surprise they appear to be big-game hunting—they have ample room to accommodate just about any contract. Awarding Ryan McDonagh a more reliable partner than Dan Girardi appears to be the goal for the post season. The cost of acquiring that upgrade might prove prohibitive, however.

Bob McKenzie noted back in late January that the Rangers don’t want to continue mortgaging the future. He specifically spoke to the consecutive first-rounders they’ve parted ways with in the last four seasons—a point that can’t be understated. That report has only been reinforced of late, even as the Shattenkirk rumors have continued to build.

The question isn’t whether the Rangers want Shattenkirk, or whether he wants the Rangers. It’s whether the cost St. Louis will demand to get an early look at him is too high to pay. Given some of the latest reports, it very well might be.

General manager Doug Armstrong of the Blues is looking for a first-round pick, a top prospect, plus something else for Kevin Shattenkirk.”

That “plus something else” is where some of the chatter has begun to include Rangers rookie Pavel Buchnevich. Back on February 18th, Steve Zipay reported that Buchnevich is among the list of young talent teams are asking about, and Don LaGreca protested the idea of including Buchnevich in a trade for Shattenkirk in an episode of his Game Misconduct podcast late last week.

While we’ve yet to read any direct confirmation that the Blues’ ask would include Buchnevich, the scuttlebutt that insinuates it might is enough to justifiably raise fears.

Buchnevich is a first-round talent who happens to have been drafted in the third round. The Rangers were able to take a chance on him back in 2013 when fears over his desire to play in the NHL were still high.

He has 15 points in 26 games this season, having missed a significant stretch of time to chronic back spasms earlier this year. That’s a 48-point pace over an 82 game season. That kind of production would have put him in line with the performance pace of fellow rookies Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes and Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche this season.

Moreover, Buchnevich’s 2.61 points per 60 minutes (P/60) is directly comparable to impact forwards Nikolaj Ehlers (2.60), Charlie Coyle (2.61), and William Nylander (2.65).

Buchnevich is also an analytics boon to the Blueshirts. Among forwards who have skated in at least 25 games for the Rangers, he’s one of just four players this season with a positive CF% (50.48), and one of just five with a positive FF% (51.21).

Beyond his talent level, his entry-level contract is one of his biggest selling points regarding his value to the Rangers. The natural cost-control built into it is something teams can’t find easily in free agency. As early as next season, Buchnevich should be penciled in as a top-nine scoring winger with top-six potential. The fact he costs the Rangers just $925,000 for the next two years is invaluable for a club who are no strangers to the salary cap ceiling. This is especially true if Shattenkirk remains a July 1st target. He won’t come cheap, which means other players have to.

This is exactly the reason he should not be considered in trade talks, even if those talks are for an undeniable upgrade to the team’s most glaring weakness. His long-term value is simply too great to gamble on a potentially short-term fix.

This is not to say that upgrading the defense shouldn’t remain a priority because it should. It just shouldn’t come at the cost of arguably the most valuable contact the Rangers own.

If that means the Rangers can’t entertain the idea of Kevin Shattenkirk before the summer, so be it. It’s better to bring in the New Rochelle native to be part of a team with Buchnevich than to bring him in at the cost of him. That cost would be too counter-productive to pay, no matter how attractive the idea of a McDonagh-Shattenkirk tandem may be for a playoff run (and beyond).

It’s clear the Rangers are in win-now mode. That means management should be giving the team every reasonable edge heading into the postseason. It also means that sacrificing more futures in an attempt to fill holes is still the correct near and long-term strategy. Buchnevich, though, has a future that is now, and with the Rangers roster filled with young talent about to transition towards larger paydays, young cost-controlled players with a high immediate ceiling are too valuable to the franchise to sacrifice, even if that means that some holes remain unfilled.

NYR 4, NJD 3 (OT) – Rangers Cast Out Devils in Overtime

8-1-1 in their last ten games, the Rangers invaded Newark Saturday night to take on the New Jersey Devils who were just 4-4-2 in their last ten. Having won both prior contests against their cross-river rivals, the Rangers looked to take a commanding lead in the season series, though it wouldn’t come easy.

From the drop of the puck, the Devils played with an early sense of urgency, easily controlling the games first few shifts. That was until Mika Zibanejad forced Devils defenseman John Merill into a turnover behind the goal line close to the mid-way point of the period. The puck found it’s way to the point where Girardi rifled it at Schneider. It bounced off multiple skates and legs along the way and was credited to Chris Kreider as the Rangers drew first blood at 13:20.

Despite being out-shot 12-7 by the Devils with less than five minutes to go in the period, Jesper Fast hooked up with Oscar Lindberg on a beautiful goal to increase the Rangers lead 2-0 at 17:32. Fast faked a slapshot, instead opting for a cross-ice pass to a wide open Lindberg who roofed it past Schneider. He and Holden were given assists on the play and the Rangers would close out the period with a comfortable two-goal lead.

That comfort wouldn’t last long, however, as just the Devils would strike back early in the second.

After Mats Zuccarello made a phenomenal backcheck, lifting his stick to prevent a 2-on-0 opportunity, Adam Henrique spoiled Antti Raanta’s shutout bid, opening the scoring for the Devils at 18:28 on a wrap-around attempt that snuck in through Raanta’s five hole. The period would draw to a close with the Rangers still leading 2-1, but like the end of the first, that lead would prove tenuous.

Kyle Palmieri tied the match just 27 seconds into the final frame, firing a puck through a Dan Girardi screen past Raanta’s glove. Raanta got a piece of the shot, but not enough to stop the puck from bouncing over the goal line.

It was a sign of the surge to come, as the Devils increased the pressure, forcing Chris Kreider to take a delay of game penalty at 18:50. It would send the Devils to their first power play of the night, and they made short work of the opportunity, as Andy Greene blasted a shot over Raanta’s right shoulder right off the face-off. Girardi again screened his own goaltender on the play. The Rangers did challenge the goal, as it appeared Devils rookie Miles Wood may have interfered with Raanta in the crease, but the call on the ice stood, and the Devils took the lead for the first time in the game, now ahead 3-2.

Both the tying goal and the go-ahead goal came in a span of just 47 seconds early in the third period.

The Rangers again took another penalty as Jimmy Vesey was whistled for tripping at 18:05, though this one they’d manage to kill. They even forced Schneider to make a big save in the dying seconds of the power play on a failed Kevin Hayes shot down low.

The pendulum eventually swung back in the favor of the Rangers, however, as they began to mount a comeback attempt with less than ten minutes to go in the game. Their efforts would pay off as Chris Kreider’s strong work with the puck below the goal line would ultimately lead to an Adam Clendening point shot that would tie the game with 4:25 to go. The goal was Clendening’s first since January 7th against the Columbus Blue Jackets and would allow the Rangers to take the game into overtime where they’d ultimately complete the comeback.

After Raanta made a huge save on a partial Kyle Palmieri breakaway early, Brady Skjei was able to gain control of the puck and lead Mika Zibanejad on a long stretch pass. Zibanejad faked a slapshot, getting Schneider to bite just enough to open his legs where the puck would be neatly tucked in, giving Zibanejad his first in 16 games and the Rangers the hard-fought victory.

The Rangers next game is Sunday, a back-to-back, against a Columbus Blue Jackets team coming fresh off a 7-0 victory against the New York Islanders.

Assorted musings: Chris Kreider has five points (three goals, two assists) against the Devils this season; the Rangers lead the season series 3-0; the Rangers are now 22-2-0 when leading after two periods.

Trade Talk: Brendan Smith

I don’t know what the asking price is [for Shattenkirk], but it’s too high for the Maple Leafs. It’s too high for the New York Rangers, who have dabbled a little bit there. It seems like they’re maybe zeroing in on Brendan Smith of the Detroit Red Wings. (Source)”

Darren Dreger slid this little bit in during a visit to Toronto’s TSN 1050.  Until now, Brendan Smith is a name that has been kicked around as a possible deadline move since he’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of this year, but the link between him and the Rangers hadn’t been made. Considering the Rangers’ immediate need for a puck-moving righty, he doesn’t fit the bill, so any link at all is a bit of a surprise.

At the core, what the 6’2”, 211-pound Smith would give New York is a reliable depth defenseman—more so than Adam Clendening—who can fill in without a drop in play. Marc Staal is a good comparison for Smith, as both are big, minute-eating lefties who will provide some physicality but few contributions offensively. Here is Smith steamrolling Derick Brassard, just for kicks.

While the physical aspect is nice, the real value in adding Smith to the lineup would be in the fact that he’s a strong possession player. This year, on a struggling Detroit team, he still owns a neutral Corsi rating and, other than this season, he’s never been below 53.2%. That ability, combined with his size, makes him a nice add for defending against teams like Columbus and Washington, who want to get the puck down low and grind out goals.

Where he fits is anyone’s guess. As a seventh defenseman, he would figure to slide into the lineup if any injury occurs. Or, if Alain Vigneault likes his game, he could play on the left and allow Brady Skjei to move to the right side while pushing one of Dan Girardi, Nick Holden, or Kevin Klein out of the lineup.

Conversely, he may be a fit on the right side as well. In 33 games this season, Smith has been deployed primarily with Niklas Kronwall and Xavier Ouellet, who are both left-handed. Vigneault prefers to have his lefties on the left and righties on the right, but some positional flexibility would make Smith more valuable as a seventh defenseman and improve his shot at earning significant time.

What Smith would cost is even more perplexing than where he’d fit. The Michael Stone trade set the bar for a depth rental defender at a third-round pick and a conditional fifth-round pick. Maybe fourth-round and sixth-round picks get him? Perhaps Matt Puempel is a guy that the Red Wings might like? Who knows, really. Interestingly, Smith did play with both Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh at Wisconsin, so maybe the familiarity there could make Gorton and the coaching staff a bit more comfortable upping the cost.

At quick glance, Smith doesn’t seem like a great fit and isn’t really what the Rangers seem to be in the market for. But, if the price is right, his ability to play in a number of spots in the lineup and his sound defensive game could make him a smart deadline acquisition. If he plays well, re-signing the former first-round pick could help mitigate the loss of, say, Staal, should Gorton & Co. decide to shed that salary in the offseason.

NYR 2, TOR 1 (SO) - Rangers Control Play and The King Slams the Door

The Rangers (38-19-2, 78 points) visited Toronto (28-20-11, 67 points), their third-straight opponent that currently owns an Eastern Conference playoff position, looking to rebound from their disappointing overtime loss to Carey Price and the Canadiens. While the Blueshirts outplayed the Leafs from the drop of the puck, it took them until the third period to finally get on the board.

Both Orginal Six squads are built on speed, but through the first two periods, it was New York’s four-line attack that dictated play. The Rangers generated zone time and chances regardless of who was on the ice, and their first nine shots all came from different skaters. Specifically, Mats Zuccarello, who has scored in seven straight with 15 points against Toronto in his career, was creative and dangerous while Rick Nash had a number of great chances, and Michael Grabner was robbed of a glorious shorthanded opportunity.

However, for the second game in a row, the Rangers were slowed by a goalie who entered the game slumping yet played outstanding. Frederik Andersen was just 2-3-2 with a goals against average of 4.03 and a lowly save percentage of .878 in his last nine appearances but played phenomenal hockey. He stonewalled great chance after great chance and, through two periods, had 25 saves. He finished with 37 total.

Henrik Lundqvist, to his credit, was also solid on the high-quality but infrequent chances he faced through the first two periods. In the third, he was fantastic in making 13 saves as the Leafs battled back. He finished with 32 saves in what shifted from a Rangers route to a goaltending duel.

The Leafs, who entered the game second in the league in first-period goals, got the only tally of the first two periods on a fortuitous early bounce. A double deflection of a point shot landed on Connor Brown’s stick with a wide open net and he cashed in to give Toronto the 1-0 lead, which held until the third period.

Brandon Pirri, inserted into the lineup for Pavel Buchnevich in an effort to boost a struggling power play, made his presence felt when the Rangers scored just as their second opportunity expired. It was Pirri’s heavy shot wide that generated the juicy rebound J.T. Miller was able to put home to tie the game 1-1.

Pirri also showcased his dangerous wrist shot a couple of times at even strength and contributed to a fourth line that, like they did against Montreal, earned good zone time and generated chances. Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast have great chemistry and have played well together for some time, regardless of who the other winger is.

In overtime the goaltenders were, to quote newly busted Hockey Hall-of-Famer Sam Rosen, “Brilliant!” While the Rangers controlled the first four minutes of overtime and forced Andersen to make five strong saves, Hank’s two saves came on breakaway chances by Leo Komarov and Auston Matthews.

Both Swedes deserved the win, but in the shootout, it was Zuccarello, who drew the power play that led to the third-period goal, and Zibanejad, scoreless in his last 15 games, who solved Andersen on back-to-back attempts for the win.

At the end of the day, the box score and scoreline won’t do this game justice. While the final 25 minutes and the shootout were exciting, the game would have been a convincing win for New York if not for Andersen’s performance. The Blueshirts have now won eight out of their last ten and, with 80 points, have surpassed Columbus for third place in the Metropolitan division. The two clubs will meet on Sunday.

The Rangers are in action again on Saturday as they visit the division-rival New Jersey Devils.

Notes: Brady Skjei is the third Ranger rookie defenseman to have 25 assists in a season (Brian Leetch, Michael Del Zotto); Toronto entered with the league’s top-ranked power play but was 0-2; the Rangers won 67% of the faceoffs tonight; J.T. Miller leads the Rangers with 47 points; The Rangers are 16-7-2 in one-goal games; This was the Rangers’ fifth win when trailing entering the third period.

New York Rangers Ghost of Salary Cap Present and Future

Like the miserly old scrooge from “A Christmas Carol”, New York Rangers’ General Manager Jeff Gorton must squeeze every last penny out of the team’s salary cap allowance with the Rangers in win now mode and having a number of key free agent decisions to come. Let’s take a deep dive into the numbers to see if we can’t figure out the dollars and make sense of how best to manage the Rangers roster. That is, if the team wants to maximize their chances of winning a Stanley Cup before a certain future Hall of Fame netminder becomes a distant memory of playoffs past.

We might as well begin with the current 2016/17 season. A quick trip over to the Rangers’ page at CapFriendly.com shows that they have approximately $2.2M in cap space at the moment which prorated means they can add just over $10M in contracted salary at the trade deadline. Without getting into too much detail that not many care about, salary in the NHL is calculated daily, so halfway through the season, for example, you can add a contract worth twice your current available cap space, as that player is only owed half their remaining contract. The trade deadline is over three quarters of the way through the season, so the amount you can add is just over four times your available space.

With a $10M budget, Gorton has plenty of maneuverability come March 1st. We’ve covered some of the available trade options such as Chris Tanev , Sami Vatanen, and Kevin Shattenkirk recently. All that is really necessary to know is that the Rangers could add any one of them without sending any salary the other way and make it work under the current salary cap. In fact, if Gorton decided to go nuts and acquire two of those three defenders at the trade deadline without shedding a dollar from the cap in return by say, shipping out every 1st-round draft pick the Rangers own for the next decade, he could do so and still fit under the salary cap. There aren’t too many reasonable scenarios for the Rangers to run into cap trouble for the rest of this season.

The Ghost of Salary Cap Present seems well satiated.

What gets complicated is next year and beyond, when the specter of managing the Rangers future resources are impacted by a few factors. Among them are whether and how much the NHL Salary Cap will increase each year, expiration and possible re-signing of current players under contract, future years of any players acquired via trade or free agency, potential player buyouts and the player’s salary lost in the Las Vegas expansion draft. After I dissect each of these, I’ll run some numbers based on those estimations to get a clearer cap picture that will inform what they can do at this year’s trade deadline that might include future salary implications.

Estimating the Future Salary Cap

There is the unknown when it comes to what the NHL Salary Cap will be in years to come. There is also the question of “will they” or “won’t they” as to whether the NHLPA will elect to enact the 5% escalator option to artificially increase the salary cap as per the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) rules (spoiler alert: they always have and likely always will despite NHLPA moans over escrow). What we can do is look at what the Salary Cap has done over the past handful of years. For the 2013/14 season the cap was $64.3M and then in consecutive years it went up to $69M, then $71.4M and finally $73M this season. The cap has had an average increase of $2.175M per season since the first season after the artificial cap limit set with the latest CBA negotiation. So we can reasonably assume a rounded down $2M increase per season, giving us a $75M salary cap for the 2017/18 season and $77M for the 2018/19 season. It’s not perfect, since anything can happen, but it’s what we can reasonably expect at this point. It is also what the NHL said they expect for next year back in December.

Player Lost to Las Vegas in the Expansion Draft

I’m not going to spend too much time on this because it is unlikely to significantly affect the Rangers’ available cap space. The pipe dream that Dan Girardi will agree to waive his No Movement Clause (NMC) and that Vegas will then help the Rangers out by plucking the remaining three years of his $5.5M AAV contract will not come to fruition. He may agree to waive so the Rangers can protect another defender, but Vegas will not spend their claim on him. As we’ve covered, one of Michael Grabner, Jesper Fast or Antti Raanta are among the most likely to be drafted. Once you factor in the cost of replacing that player, it will likely be break even or close enough in regards to the Rangers cap situation.

Potential Player Buyout Cost

There is only one somewhat likely buyout candidate and that is veteran Rangers defender Dan Girardi. There are a number of benefits to purchasing the remaining years of Girardi’s contract. In addition to the cap relief and moving on for good from the Ryan McDonagh and Girardi top pair, there may be Expansion Draft considerations if the Rangers acquire another defender prior to the draft that they want to protect. They have to protect Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh, and with his NMC, Girardi would also have to be protected, unless the Rangers buy him out first. The cost of that will be $2.6M in 2017/18 and $3.6M in 2018/19 and 2019/20, along with $1.1M for the three years after. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it likely will become necessary.
Expiring Player Contracts and Estimates of Retaining Them

The first massive savings will be in the form of Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs) who have contracts expiring. And by massive, I mean the $500K the Rangers will save next season when they no longer have to bury Tanner Glass’ contract in the minors. That’s it for next season, folks. Every other expiring contract in the 2017/18 season is for these Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) along with their current cap hit:

Mika Zibanejad – $2.625M
Brandon Pirri – $1.1M
Jesper Fast – $950K
Matt Puempel – $900K
Oscar Lindberg – $650K
Adam Clendening – $600K

I’m going to guess that the Rangers become the second team in two years to decline qualifying Pirri. They won’t want him back if he accepts his $1.1M qualifying offer, though he may be worthwhile to re-sign at or near the NHL minimum salary, set at $650K for next year, in order to let him fight again for a roster spot. Clendening and Puempel likewise won’t see much of a raise if they are brought back. Those who do stand to make more next season are Fast, Lindberg and of course Zibanejad. I have Fast penciled in at around $2M per season on a three to four year deal similar to the 6-year deal Nashville Predator depth forward Calle Jarnkrok received, assuming he doesn’t get claimed in the expansion draft. Lindberg has struggled much of this season, although he has come on lately. I’m guessing here that he’ll get about $1M per on a one or two-year deal.

The real question is what does Zibanejad get? To answer that, you have to take into account how many UFA years he is “selling” along with his production and playing style then compare that to other similar players who have signed new contracts in recent years. Derick Brassard, Nazem Kadri and Jaden Schwartz are similar players that help us determine fair market value for a new deal. They’ve all had similar production, signed their first long term RFA contracts at similar ages and had a similar number of UFA years bought. Using those comparables, on a four to five-year deal, Zibanejad should get around $5M per season.

After next season, things get more difficult for the Rangers who have to account for J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey and Brady Skjei who will all be RFAs. There will also be some Salary Cap relief from expiring contracts such as Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, Kevin Klein, Nick Holden and Antti Raanta. Miller and Hayes likely get deals similar to Chris Kreiders’ 4 year, $4.625M AAV deals, while Vesey and Skjei get two year deals in the $2.7M range of Miller and Hayes’ current contracts. Their play next year may change all of these numbers, but for now, that is the best we can do.

Potential Trade Targets and Their Future Cap Hits

There are also any future contract years to consider for any trade targets at this year’s deadline, or in Shattenkirk’s case, a new contract that would make trading for him worth while. Using the targets I mentioned above, Vatanen is set to earn $4.875M per season through 2019/20, Tanev has $4.45M AAV until 2019/20 and Shattenkirk, who’s deal expires, is likely looking for a multi year deal in the $7M AAV range, however, he would have the benefit of not needing expansion draft protection assuming the Rangers trusted him to re-sign with them sometime after the draft but prior to becoming a UFA on July 1st.

Let’s Crunch the Numbers

As I mentioned earlier, the Rangers don’t have any limitations under the Salary Cap as far as likely targets for this year’s trade deadline. What does matter is next year and beyond. If we take my $75M cap ceiling for next year, the Rangers currently have 17 roster players under contract for next season at a cap total of around $63M. That would leave $12M for 6 spots assuming a 23 man roster, down to $7M for 5 roster spots once we account for Zibanejad’s new deal coming in at $5M. That likely precludes Shattenkirk without shedding additional salary, and even a buyout of Girardi will only free up an additional $1.9M. The cost then to acquire Shattenkirk at the deadline with the plan of re-signing him to a long term deal is problematic. In addition to the assets to acquire him, which might include cost-controlled forwards and draft picks, it would also mean shedding even more salary to fill out the roster.

If available, someone like Vatanen would seem to be a better target. While nowhere near as offensively productive as Shattenkirk, the Rangers aren’t having any problems scoring anyway. An argument could be made that they need much more help in their own zone. The cost becomes a scoring winger, though that also means a likely wash in cap hit, which provides more flexibility for next season and beyond. Taking a look at the following roster for example, using my estimates, would account for a cap hit of $70.65M:

Kreider ($4.625M) – Zibanejad ($5M*) – Buchnevich ($0.925M)
Miller ($2.75M) – Hayes ($2.6M) – Grabner ($1.65M)
Vesey ($0.925M) – Stepan ($6.5M) – Zuccarello ($4.5M)
Nieves ($0.775M) – Lindberg ($1M*) – Fast ($2M*)
Puempel ($945K)

McDonagh ($4.7M) – Vatanen ($4.85M)
Skeji ($0.925M) – Klein ($2.9M)
Staal ($5.7M) – Holden ($1.65M)
Clendening ($650K*)

Lundqvist ($8.5M) – Raanta ($1M)

Girardi $2.6M buyout
Nash $3M retained in trade with Anaheim for Vatanen

The above roster leaves the Rangers with $4.35M in available cap space for another spare defender. One of the players above won’t be with the Rangers due to the expansion draft, however, that player will likely be one of Raanta or Fast who should be replaceable at around the same cap hit. This roster has plenty of cap cushion.

The following year, we would be looking at an estimated $77M cap ceiling. That same roster with my estimates would have a cap charge of $69.9M, albeit with more holes to fill:

Kreider ($4.625M) – Zibanejad ($5M*) – Buchnevich ($0.925M)
Miller ($4.625M*) – Hayes ($4.625M*) – ?
Vesey ($2.7M*) – Stepan ($6.5M) – Zuccarello ($4.5M)
Nieves ($0.755M) – Lindberg ($1M*) – Fast ($2M*)
Puempel ($945K)

McDonagh ($4.7M) – Vatanen ($4.85M)
Skeji ($2.7M*) – ?
Staal ($5.7M) – ?
Clendening ($650K*)

Lundqvist ($8.5M) – ?

Girardi $3.6M buyout

* Indicates player cap hit is estimated based on potential new contract.

I left guys like Lindberg, Puempel and Clendening in their spots because they would likely either be retained or replaced at a similar cap charge. The Rangers would need a top-9 forward to replace Grabner along with 2nd and 3rd pair defenders and a backup goaltender. They would have around $7M to fill those four spots. This is certainly possible although they will have to get some value out of young cost-controlled players or cheap UFA reclamation projects in order to fill some of those holes and remain as competitive as they are now. Gorton has proven this year that he could do just that, but whether it was a fluke or management skill remains to be seen.

Many things can change between now and the start of the 2018/19 season, but one thing is certain. If the Rangers want to be as competitive as they can be now and over the next two seasons, they’re going to have to carefully manage their resources. That may include buyouts, trades, deciding against qualifying some RFAs and staying away from UFAs that they may ordinarily want to keep or try to acquire. Gorton has shown some savvy in his first year behind the helm but it remains to be seen if he can bust the salary cap ghosts lurking around the corner of the next few seasons.

NYR 2, MTL 3 (SO) - Rangers Earn Point Against Phenomenal Price

MTL 3, NYR 2
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As much as Sunday’s matinee tilt against the Capitals felt like a playoff game, tonight’s game against the Atlantic-leading Canadiens (31-20-8, 70 points) lacked a playoff chutzpah until late, which is ironic considering that if the playoffs started tomorrow, the two would face each other. Despite their proximity in the standings, New York and Montreal have been trending in opposite directions.

Before Tuesday night’s contest, the Rangers had won five in a row at home and were 7-1 in their last eight, allowing a stingy 17 goals over that span. On the flip side, Montreal was 1-6-1 with 11 total goals and had been shutout three times in their last eight. New head coach Claude Julien was at the helm for their most recent loss against Winnipeg.

The team’s goalies—arguably the two best netminders in the league over the last decade—have been the embodiment of their teams’ overall play. Carey Price was just 2-6 in his last eight starts with an alarmingly high 3.03 goals against average and alarmingly low .905 save percentage in that span. Henrik Lundqvist, who has had his own struggles this year, has won six of his last seven starts and boasts a 1.99 goals against average and staggering .941 save percentage.

In the end, it was Price who stole the show. While Hank was strong but not phenomenal, Price made a handful of world-class saves for the win.

Through a choppy first period in which each team generated a goal but failed to generate any consistent pressure, neither goalie was tested much. After falling behind 1-0, Alain Vigneault implored his team to start making plays with the puck as, until that point, they had failed to find both the pace and crispness that they had against the Caps.

That changed momentarily with a phenomenal three-zone goal effort from Oscar Lindberg, and a nice helper from Jesper Fast. They combined with Brady Skjei to get the Rangers on the board and tied heading into intermission. You won’t see a harder-working fourth-line goal that includes this much skill. Brady Skjei also assisted on the play.

“I love the hockey play. It wasn’t a fourth-line looking goal,” Stephen Valiquette noted on the MSG broadcast after the game.

In the second, after Shea Weber scored on a power play one-timer bomb, the Rangers began to find their legs. Rick Nash was excellent all night but had two breakaways in a matter of minutes sprung by Ryan McDonagh and after being stopped while deking on the first, cashed in on a wrister on his second opportunity. Nash’s 17th of the year concluded scoring in regulation as both teams punctuated a tight-checking third period with a few good chances but never looked particularly threatening to score.

In overtime, as is always the case with the 3-on-3 format, both teams generated chances. Both goalies were up to the task and, really, stole the show. But the biggest moment came from the Canadien netminder, who robbed the American duo of Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller in a 2-on-1 as time expired.

In the shootout, which isn’t a fair way to judge goalie performances, Price had the edge and earned the win as Mats Zuccarello was the only one of the Rangers five shooters to score. Though he got a little bit of help from the butt-end of his stick and the crossbar as he was beaten by Derek Stepan’s wrister.

Entering overtime, New York led the NHL with a 17-6-1 record in one-goal games. The loser point was just the Rangers’ second of the year, but they remain second in the East with just one fewer win than Washington.

The Blueshirts are back in action on Thursday night as they visit Toronto.

NOTES: The Rangers powerplay was 0-4; Claude Julien got his first win with Montreal since returning; New York owned a 30-28 shot advantage; Brady Skjei is now second in points and assists and first in even-strength assists amongst rookie defensemen.

Trade Talk: Targeting Tanev

There have been lots of names kicked around as potential trade targets to bolster the Rangers’ blueline, most notably Kevin Shattenkirk, but a name that hasn’t gotten much attention, though he should (East Coast bias?), is Chris Tanev. The lack of attention as a trade target is fitting considering the fact that he was undrafted, is underrated amongst fans, and plays a simple but reliable game. However, he could be a perfect fit for the Rangers’ top four and the right kind of trade deadline acquisition.

It’s not surprising that Tanev doesn’t get a lot of media attention considering the fact that he’s not a punishing hitter and doesn’t put up big point totals; He’s similar to Dan Girardi in that he has a workmanlike approach that is unnoticeable when it’s at its best. What separates him from Girardi is a strong skating ability and crisp first pass that gives him a higher ceiling. While he’s willing to put his body on the line like G and has blocked more than 165 shots each of the last two years (perhaps that’s what earned him his 20:00+ per night under John Tortorella), that’s not what his game is predicated on.

His elite defensive ability metastasizes in his strong shot suppression and overall possession capabilities and, frankly, the Canucks are much better for it. Until this year, he has been a positive Corsi and Fenwick player in every season of his career.

While the Canucks as a whole are struggling to keep their opponents away from the net, Tanev has been doing a terrific job. With him on the ice, shot rates against from net-front areas are far below league average. Tanev consistently manages to prevent opponents from getting shots off in the slot.

Without Tanev, things get ugly very quickly.

On the topic of his possession impact, Jason Botchford of The Province which covers the Vancouver Canucks added:

This past season, Tanev went from seventh to fifth among defencemen who played 1,000 minutes, in what some would call shot suppression, relative to the rest of his team.

Vancouver opponents averaged 7.52 fewer shot attempts-per-hour when Tanev was on the ice, than when he wasn’t.

As of January 25th, the win-loss numbers without Tanev in the lineup were also very ugly.

His defensive ability makes him comparable to Girardi, but it is complimented by a strong first pass and skating ability that makes him a great fit in Alain Vigneault’s system. While offense isn’t the staple of his game, AV should love plays like this:

The perfect breakout pass and speed to catch up with the play (albeit a slow-developing one) is exactly what AV wants out of his defensemen and appears too rarely from the current defense corps. We saw an even better example of it in his game winner in overtime against Calgary last night.

Of course, AV already coached Tanev as a youngster and trusted him enough to play him for five games during the run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011.

“The kid is so poised,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “So much composure without the puck.”

During the same run, “Vigneault praised the poise of rookie defenceman Chris Tanev, who played his first game in the Stanley Cup final. ‘He can take a hit to make a play, and move the puck real well,’ the coach said.”

Since then, Tanev has showcased his first-pair, tough matchup ability while partnering with Alex Edler.

Puck possession numbers show their value in a very real way. The Tanev/Edler duo has a 48.2 per cent Corsi rating, meaning the Canucks only narrowly get out-shot when they’re on the ice, even though these two players are taking on the nastiest minutes the coach can give them. In much easier minutes, the rest of the Canucks have just a 46.8 per cent rating.

Putting that another way, Tanev and Edler together are able to bridge half of the gap between a poor Vancouver roster and the league average, even while the coach assigns them to check the Ryan Getzlafs and Anze Kopitars of the NHL.

If Tanev can be such an effective player on a poor roster with Alex Edler, then we can make a reasonable assumption that, with a surplus of talent at forward and Ryan McDonagh to his left, he can elevate his game. On a Rangers team that struggles with puck possession, adding a guy who can be so effective in this regard seems prudent.

Of course, regardless of how good of a fit Tanev might be, the cost for any trade target is always prohibitive. Canucks GM Jim Benning has stated that he’s not going to trade Chris Tanev, but for all we know, that’s just posturing. Regardless of whether or not the Canucks decide to be sellers, they do have to expose one of their top-four expansion draft eligible defenders (Tanev, Alex Edler, Erik Gudbranson, and Luca Sbisa). Should Jeff Gorton be able to convince Benning that Tanev should be the odd man out, it could make prying Tanev away easier.

Rumblings about a potential Tanev trade seem to center around the Taylor Hall for Philip Larsson swap in the offseason, but that’s probably a high ask. While it’s impossible to know exactly what Vancouver would look for, one wonders if something along the lines of two second-round picks and a middling prospect (say maybe Ryan Gropp, who has been on an absolute tear in the WHL) could get it done. The Canucks will need picks and young scoring talent for their rebuild, so maybe it’s a match.

Financially, Tanev is signed to a nice contract—$4.45 million per year through the 2019-20 season—that the Rangers could easily absorb, especially if they buyout Dan Girardi. At that number, there’d be no need to shed salary to attain him this season and without a glut of defense prospects in the system, Tanev won’t halt development for anybody. He could play on McDonagh’s right for the next handful of years as a replacement for Girardi to give this team a boost in the short-term along with a longer-term partner for the captain.

NYR 2, NYI 4: Momentary Lapses Spoil Solid Effort

NYI 4, NYR 2
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Looking for their seventh-straight win, the Rangers visited an Islanders team in Brooklyn Thursday night that has earned points in seven of its last ten, working its way out of the Eastern Conference cellar and into playoff contention. The Blueshirts, who lead the NHL with 19 road wins, needed to play a smart road game against the Islanders who had taken points in nine straight at the Barclay’s Center, where the Rangers have never won. For the most part the Rangers were smart and held a decisive edge in play, but 50:00 isn’t often enough to win in the NHL, and it wasn’t tonight, as the Rangers lost 4-2.

For the Blueshirts, it was Henrik Lundqvist standing tall early as the Rangers had to kill off two penalties (both calls were kind of “meh”) in the first six minutes of play. That included a sweet glove save on Ryan Strome on the Islanders’ first shot.

But just eight seconds after his penalty ended, Nick Holden found himself in a 2-on-1 and deposited Mats Zuccarello’s slick feed to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead on their first shot. With a heady outlet pass to spring the play, Brady Skjei registered his 21st even-strength assist of the year, good for fourth amongst all defenseman in the league.


The Rangers were otherwise excellent on the forecheck and forced the Islanders into seven first-period turnovers. Despite registering just five shots, the Rangers dictated play and played a strong road period—the type of road period you need to play against a team that’s been excellent at home. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t hold the lead for long.

During the first intermission, newly appointed interim head coach of the Islanders, Doug Weight, who owns an 8-3-2 record to start his coaching career, must have given an excellent speech. The Isles came out with a jump and intensity that the Rangers didn’t match and scored twice in the period’s first six and a half minutes to take a 2-1 lead that lasted until intermission. Opposite of the first period, it was the Rangers who failed to capitalize on their two power plays.

To start the third, the Rangers had the opportunity to tie the game 2-2, with just under a full 4:00 man advantage.

While Jimmy Vesey, who had jump all night playing with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash, scored late in the man advantage, a lazily allowed shorthanded goal mitigated its impact on the scoreboard.

The shorty and power play goal in succession seemed to breathe some life into a rivalry that has been largely non-existent of late and the third period felt much more like that rivalry of old than the first two did. But while the Rangers had the ice tilted and tallied 11 shots, many of high-quality, they couldn’t find the equalizer. Andrew Ladd’s second goal of the night into the empty net ended the comeback attempt.

Overall, this is a loss that you don’t dwell on. Other than the power play struggles and ten or so minutes of lethargic hockey, the Rangers put in a good road effort. Responding will be key, but this loss isn’t a sign of a decline in the team’s play.

The Rangers are back in action on Sunday as they’ll battle the NHL-leading Capitals at 12:30.

Notes: The Rangers were 0-for-10 on the power play over the last four games before Thursday; Vesey has goals in back-to-back games; Skjei had two assists; The Rangers owned the shot advantage 27-23; Adam Clendening didn’t play on the power play but took an offensive zone faceoff with less than 2:00 remaining in the game; and the Rangers haven’t scored a 5-on-3 or 4-on-3 power play goal yet this year.

AV's Handling of Buchnevich a Mistake

Rookie forward Pavel Buchnevich will sit in the stands Thursday night as the New York Rangers square off against the rival New York Islanders. The reason for his benching is that the Rangers’ Head Coach Alain Vigneault felt that “Buch had a so-so game last game. Part of the growing process of a young player.” He also went on to say that Matt Puempel, another young player, deserved an opportunity to get back in the lineup.

To be fair to AV’s criticism of his play, Buchnevich has just a single assist over the last ten games, however he’s only been entrusted with just under 9:30 per game on average over the span. That’s a significant drop off in production when you consider that in the first four games after returning from a back injury he scored two goals and added four helpers. So what changed and why does coach AV think that missing time is the way to fix it?

In his first game back on January 13th against Toronto , Buchnevich played on a line with Jesper Fast and Brandon Pirri. He had an assist and played well. In his second game after the injury the next night against Montreal, he was elevated to play with Kevin Hayes and Rick Nash. Again, he had an assist and played well. His next game which was against Dallas, he was paired up with Nash and Mika Zibanejad. That night he scored a goal and added two assists. To cap off his first four games he played on a line with Nash and Zibanejad, putting up a goal. All was right in Buchnevich’s world.

In the following game, a 1-0 overtime win in NY, AV left the line together, but broke them up just halfway through the following game against Los Angeles—a game the Rangers would win 3-2. In that game Buchnevich would end up playing on Oscar Lindberg’s wing with Chris Kreider on the other side. Then in the next game AV would go back to the line with Nash and Zibanejad. If one thing is certain, Vigneault likes to try to force a line to work once he gets it in his head that it should. Even at the point of sacrificing previous combinations that had produced, like the one of Zibanejad, Kreider and Buchnevich, which dominated to start the season but has yet to be reunited. Two parts of that line played together but, the coach was convinced that Nash, not Kreider, was the answer on the other wing. To be fair, the line of Kreider, Stepan and Mats Zuccarello had found really good chemistry, but AV had no problem breaking that line up against LA and did manage to put Kreider back with Buchnevich, only for some reason Lindberg was the pivot he went with instead of Zibanejad, who finished that game with Nash and Puempel.

Perhaps Vigneault is worried that if he reunites that once prominent line and they succeed, along with a J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Michael Grabner line that he simply can not break up, he’ll need to put Stepan with Nash and Zuccarello as a unit, while pushing Jimmy Vesey down to the fourth line. And if that unit doesn’t work, then Vesey comes up and…Zuccarello or Nash play on the fourth line? It’s an embarrassment of riches to be sure. As such, some of this is on Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton to move out one of these top 9 wingers to improve the defense prior to the trade deadline and then the Las Vegas expansion draft that will mean exposing a very valuable forward and losing him for nothing.

Until then, AV’s solution has been to push Buchnevich down in recent games to a line with Jesper Fast and Oscar Lindberg. While both are fine checking forwards and another component of the amazing forward depth, Fast and Lindberg don’t fit the style of play that Buchnevich excels at. He’s a square peg being forced into a round hole and his production has suffered for it. That sole assist came against Anaheim on February 9th on a beautiful backhand pass in front of the net finished off by Oscar Lindberg.

Lindberg and Fast simply don’t have the kind of skill or offensive awareness to benefit from that kind of creativity. They’re grind in the corner guys. Buchnevich has proved willing to go to those areas and play that style of game, but it’s not to his strengths. He’s also too valuable a future cost-controlled asset to be toyed with in the way Vigneault has started to. By pushing him down in the lineup and now out of it, he’s sending the wrong kind of message. Instead, he should be finding opportunities to insert Buchnevich with more skilled and creative players to accentuate that portion of his game. This is reminiscent of the way J.T. Miller was brought along. In Miller’s case, though, he was often making very questionable defensive zone high-risk plays which, when they backfired, cost the Rangers on the scoreboard. It was an element to his game that needed to be corrected. That’s not the case with Buchnevich.

While Matt Puempel has shown some value and increased the Rangers depth, and Brandon Pirri is also sitting on the sidelines waiting for another opportunity, the Rangers have some older forwards that could benefit from some rest. Nash or Zuccarello could be given a night off here and there to keep them fresher for the playoff run. Or maybe Jimmy Vesey, another Rangers’ rookie who spent his last four years playing a much shorter college schedule, might benefit from a night off here and there as he has also struggled after a hot start. He has just two points, both goals, in his last 17 games.

Whatever the solution, playing Buchnevich with grinding forwards or now sitting him can’t be the solution. He’s too valuable a part of the Rangers’ future to handle that way.