As fans of most NHL teams salivate at the prospect of selecting future stars in the 2013 draft, it’s a bit of an anti-climax for Rangers fans. The Broadway Blueshirts traded away their first and second round selections in the hopes of a 2013 Stanley Cup title which never happened. Without a pick until a trio of third-round selections, the Rangers find themselves in the curious position of sailing far below the media spotlight. Yet there are several big moves New York could be pulling in the coming few days which could seriously shake up the hockey universe.
Buy Out Brad Richards?
This is nothing against Brad Richards. He is of impeccable character and plays a solid all-around game. Despite his disastrous 2013 regular season and even more painful playoff performance, at the age of 33 he is certainly capable of enjoying a bounce-back season, especially with the jettisoning of tight-fisted tyrant John Tortorella and the coming of a more offensively-minded coach in Alain Vigneault.
Still, Richards is owed $6.67 million through 2020, by which point he will be 40 and Chelsea Clinton will be President of the United States. With the salary cap ceiling coming down from over $70 million to $64.3 million next year with the new CBA, the Rangers find themselves in a bit of a cap crunch. Key Rangers Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin are all RFAs heading into the off-season and due substantial raises. Even more pressing is the list of Rangers unrestricted free agents following next season: the Rangers heart in Dan Girardi, their soul in Ryan Callahan, and of course their franchise, Henrik Lundqvist.
As much as it will hurt both financially and emotionally to part ways with Richards the fact remains that he is a luxury, not a necessity, for the Rangers. The emergence of Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard at center makes Richards expendable, and General Manager Glen Sather sorely needs the potential cap room afforded by a Richards buyout to work with.
Could/Should The Rangers Trade Up Into The First Round?
As has been emphasized in this column, the Rangers have a great deal of salary concerns to address in the near future if they are to remain perennial contenders in the NHL. They have drafted extremely well since hiring Gordie Clark as director of scouting in 2006, getting huge value with mid-first round selections of Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller and the later-round picks of Stepan and Hagelin. The Rangers could very well strike gold with one of their three third-rounders, perhaps hitting a home run with potential boom picks like defenseman Brett Pesce or forward or a high-upside forward like Zach Sanford. Even so, do the Rangers have an expendable asset now which could net them an early pick in the 2013 draft, largely considered the most talented class since the ballyhooed draft of 2003?
I’m going to go out on a proverbial limb and say they do. I’m going to go out on another proverbial limb and say to whom.
It is an oft-reported theory that the Carolina Hurricanes are willing to trade their fifth overall pick for help on the blueline now. It is a well-documented fact that the reason the ‘Canes are drafting so high is largely because their defensive corps were so porous last season. And it is a much-established certainty that the Carolina front office has been working diligently over the past few seasons to acquire every Staal the NHL has to offer.
Could the Rangers use the Hurricanes’ desire for a Staal-opoly to get the fifth overall pick in a stacked draft? I’m saying they certainly can. Staal is an excellent player, a terrific defensive defenseman who is aces with the outlet pass and serviceable in the offensive zone. But the ‘Canes need that type of player far more than the Rangers, who have a similar player in Girardi and a potentially superior one in McDonagh. In addition, New York has a pair of extremely talented young offensive-minded d-men in Michael Del Zotto and John Moore set to play their first season under new head coach Alain Vigneault, under whom Vancouver witnessed the blossoming of similar talents like Christian Ehrhoff and Alexander Edler. Furthermore, physical defensive defenseman Dylan McIlrath, Sather’s first-rounder in 2010, is signed and set to vie for the 2013-14 Rangers’ squad.
No doubt, Staal is a heck of a hockey player, but his penchant for for being on the receiving end of serious injuries in the past couple of seasons is somewhat concerning. The Rangers could give themselves more salary breathing room and potentially a top prospect if they could offer Staal to the Hurricanes in exchange for the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft.
If the Rangers were to sweeten the pot with one of their three third-rounders, it is a reasonable assumption that Carolina would pull the trigger. At fifth in the draft, Sather could tab a future franchise center like Sean Monahan or Elias Lindholm, perhaps a future franchise winger in Valeri Nichushkin. All three aforementioned players appear ready to play in the NHL immediately. Or, the Rangers could invest in a future stalwart defensive defenseman with more physicality and upside than Staal like Darnell Nurse or Nikita Zadorov.
It will certainly be interesting to see what the Rangers do at the 2013 draft. What is important to note is that they have more options than has been widely reported. We will all see how Sather feels about the future of the club over the coming days.
Thoughts? Questions? Criticisms? Member of the Staal Anti-Defamation League? Feel free to respond in the “comments” section below or hit me up on the Twitter: @StIves72