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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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.