Tyler Bozak by Bridget Samuels
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Perhaps There's Something to Those Bozak Rumors

As Brooks noted, defenseman Nick Holden, who carries with him a $1.65M AAV for one more year, could be used to offset the salary cap space needed to bring in Bozak. In fact, if no other significantly priced items were included in the deal, a one-for-one trade should leave both teams salary cap compliant to start the season.

Plus, there’s much to like about Bozak beyond the handful of positives Brooks shared in his column. Not only is he an ace-in-the-hole at the dot—an area of the game the Rangers could surely improve—but he’s a fantastic skater with solid two-way instincts. Should the Rangers acquire him, those attributes should translate well to Alain Vigneault’s system that relies so heavily on quality skating and intelligence in all three zones.

Best of all, Bozak is a quality special teams player. His 63 Power Play Points (PPP) are fourth-highest on the Leafs over the last five seasons behind Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel (now with the Pittsburgh Penguins), and James van Riemsdyk.

In terms of possession metrics, he’s also been particularly reliable over the last two seasons in which the Leafs have bounced back with a star-studded cast of young talent. He has a two-year Corsi-For percentage (CF%) of 52.1%, and a Fenwick-for percentage (FF%) of 50.55% over the same span, all at five-on-five, and all while skating with only a slight edge toward offensive zone starts (oZS%) (54.85 oZS% to 45.15 dZS%).

Oddly, though his total time-on-ice has fallen each of the last three seasons, falling to a career-low 16:25 last season, as Brooks highlighted originally, his Points Per Game Played (P/GP) has actually increased in each of those seasons, as he finished last year with a 0.71 P/GP average. At the age of 31 (he’ll turn 32 in March) it’s difficult to project just how likely it is to continue to increase again this season, but even if it stayed flat, that’s still a projection of 58 points over 82 games, which is stellar second-line center production in today’s NHL.

New York Rangers @ Edmonton Oilers by Karan Bawa
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Why Zibanejad Absolutely Must Sign Long-Term

The productive Swede is inarguably one of the most important players to the Rangers immediate future, and as the roster is currently constructed, will begin the 2017-18 NHL season as the Rangers de facto first-line center. Thankfully, it’s a role he was drafted to eventually take on by design, and his steadily increasing production provides the historical record to justify his finally being given the opportunity to prove he can handle the task.

A quick look at his boxcar stats over the last season paint a strong, progressive outlook for his immediate future as the Rangers’ top-line center:

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With his points per game played (P/GP) pace gradually improving year-over-year, combined with being arbitration eligible and having only two years of RFA status left, is there really a choice in the matter to lock him in long-term? Despite the injury-derailed season he had this past year, he’s proven his value as a player worth investing in.

Signing Zibanejad to another bridge contract—a term commonly used to describe short-term deals for young players—would be bad business for the Rangers, who should have learned a valuable lesson in why those deals are of diminishing value in today’s NHL. Not only because they assuredly increase the cost of future contracts (especially those that purchase Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA)-eligible years), but specifically in Zibanejad’s case, because he already signed a bridge deal with the Senators coming out of his Entry-Level Contract (ELC) back in 2015. Asking him to sign another only accomplishes in kicking the can down the road and promises to make the Rangers pay for it financially when they finally show a willingness to go long-term, this time at the age of 25 or 26 where they’d need to buy even more UFA-eligible years as a result. A year or two of a relatively cost-controlled AAV just isn’t worth the long-term implications that signing Zibanejad to that kind of contract would ultimately cost the Blueshirts. It’s not just the year-to-year savings, either. It’s the life of the contract and the age in which the player will be upon its expiration.

This is as sure a reality as there can be, and it’s one the Rangers (hopefully) were taught not to relive with Derek Stepan, whom this very thing occurred with for many of the same reasons.

Joe Thornton by Sarah A.
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Jumbo Solutions to Fill Stepan's Shoes

“If not Thornton, perhaps the Rangers look to another player they’ve been linked to for years in 30-year old Czech center, Martin Hanzal. Hanzal has been remarkably consistent playing for a slew of especially poor Arizona Coyotes clubs over the last five years. Since 2013-14, he’s posted a P/GP pace of at least 0.62 in three straight years. Though Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold publicly regretted GM Chuck Fletcher’s decision to bring Hanzal in at the deadline given the heavy cost it came at, Hanzal paid immediate dividends posting 13 points in 20 regular season games and one point in five playoff games.

Like Stepan, Hanzal isn’t particularly gifted offensively. Though he finds his points just fine, he’s not the type to wow you in games through blazing speed (he doesn’t have it) or exceptional offensive flare. Also like Stepan, Hanzal is as defensively responsible as they come. He’s an ace-in-the-hole at the dot and boasts some of the NHL’s best faceoff winning percentages of the last five seasons.

Among centers who played in at least 60 games last season, Hanzal was ninth in the league with a 56.4% face-off winning percentage (FOW%), and he’s second only to Boyd Gordon (57.9) over the last five years with an average FOW% of 56.1. Given face-offs were a particular weakness, at least perceived, for Stepan, this specific facet of Hanzal’s game would likely interest the Rangers should they choose to pursue him.”

New York Rangers by Karan Bawa
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Rebuilding on the Fly Means the End of an Era

“In an on-air interview during day one of the two-day NHL Entry Draft, New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton let slip, perhaps intentionally, that his Blueshirts are officially “rebuilding on the fly”. This “slip of the tongue” occurred just minutes after TSN’s Bob McKenzie uttered the same words following the Rangers selection of Lias Andersson with the 7th overall pick — a pick that they’d acquired from the Arizona Coyotes along with defenseman Anthony Deangelo early Friday afternoon in exchange for Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta. If those words haven’t been ringing loudly in your head since surely you’ve missed their significance as signaling the end of an era. An era of wildly successful yet Championship-less hockey, that saw Broadway’s Blueshirts advance to their first Stanley Cup Final in twenty years amidst two other Eastern Conference Final appearances over the last six years.

While it’s not quite the promise of a full rebuild—something that generally entails a firesale of nearly every valuable veteran player for future assets, as well as at least one full season of tanking for a lottery pick—an “on the fly” version still promises significant overhaul. That process began when the Rangers bought out the contract of long-time defenseman Dan Girardi, and it continues in the aftermath of dealing Stepan to the West.

Though the lack of a championship will no doubt mar the optics of just how successful this collection of players was, the fact remains they are one of the winningest teams in the NHL in the postseason in the last seven years. That’s not an arbitrary range, either. It precisely overlaps a span of time in which Stepan, from his rookie season, and Girardi, from his fifth NHL season, overlap as New York Rangers.”

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Rangers Would Be Dumba Not To Do It

Jeff Gorton’s performance in the days leading up to the roster freeze before tonight’s expansion draft announcement was safe but, consequently, boring. A complete lack of action—or even substantial rumors—will do that. In the lack of action, however, there’s still a gaping hole on the Rangers’ first-pair next to captain Ryan McDonagh and this offseason will be a colossal failure if that’s not addressed.

As such, it’s hard to think that Gorton isn’t actively pursuing trades to upgrade the Rangers’ right-side defense. At this point, considering the fact that Anaheim has reportedly already lost Shea Theodore, the under-discussed Matt Dumba, the soon-to-be 23-year-old, could provide the Rangers an opportunity to upgrade the blueline. However, the price would be high.

Snap Shot

McKenzie: "Stepan's name is fairly prominent in trade chatter"

As if the Rangers’ announcement that they will buy out the final years of Dan Girardi’s contract wasn’t impactful enough news today, Bob McKenzie just poured fuel on the fire. Apparently, Derek Stepan is on the block.

An important factor to all of this is the fact that Stepan has a full No Trade Clause (NTC) that will kick in on July 1st. Until that day comes, he has no recourse or say in where he can be dealt. That gives Jeff Gorton a small but unique window in which he can potentially dramatically alter the look of his Rangers should he opt to move Stepan within it.

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.