The New York Rangers had some interesting and difficult decisions to make in terms of finalizing their roster for the regular season. In the end, 23-year-old defenseman and former number 10 overall pick Dylan McIlrath made the team as the seventh defenseman, as did 23-year-old forward Oscar Lindberg. Both Emerson Etem and Tanner Glass also made the cut as spare forwards.
The Rangers, though, still have some decisions to be made down the line, with only about $150,000 left in cap space.
New York ended up keeping 14 forwards on the roster rather than 13, which would have have given them a bit more breathing room under the salary cap. Lindberg made the team after having a very good camp from start to finish, winning the team’s Lars-Erik Sjoberg award as the top rookie in the preseason.
Etem, meanwhile, had an underwhelming performance in training camp, but given that he, like McIlrath and Lindberg, is only 23 years old, and that he was the main piece the Rangers got back from Anaheim in the Carl Hagelin trade, the organization is wise to give him more of an opportunity to prove himself.
GM Jeff Gorton acknowledges Emerson Etem has been “pretty average” in camp. But has faith Etem’s game will improve to expected level.
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) October 2, 2015
Then there’s Glass as the 14th forward. The Rangers’ reluctance to cut ties with him and his absurd contract ($1.45 million annually for two more years) is truly baffling. Yes, it’s hard to imagine another team wanting him in a trade or claiming him off waivers, but if that’s the case, the Rangers really need to consider sending him down to the minors and just eating the $500,000 dead weight salary cap charge that would come with it.
For a team so tight against the cap, the $950,000 in savings would be a big help. There’s the notion that the team would not want to have dead weight on the cap, but the obvious counterargument to that is that as the 14th forward who will likely not play much and be ineffective when he does, Glass already pretty much is dead weight. As harsh as that sounds, it’s the reality of the situation.
Perhaps the Rangers ultimately will cut ties with Glass, who is currently sidelined after blocking a shot off his foot in practice last week. It certainly makes more sense than dealing away more effective depth forwards like Dominic Moore or Jarret Stoll. Time will tell if the Rangers go this route, and if they can find a taker for Glass.
A week ago, Raphael Diaz was coming off a two-goal preseason game in New Jersey against the Devils, and it was a tight battle for the seventh defenseman spot with McIlrath. McIlrath, however, was consistently solid for the entire preseason, finishing it off with a strong game at home against Boston last week. Diaz, meanwhile, struggled after his strong showing in New Jersey, and was up and down throughout the preseason.
The 6’5″ McIlrath has dramatically improved his skating, positioning, and decision-making, and worked his way back from several injuries over the past few years to finally crack the Rangers’ roster.
#Rangers McIlrath: “It’s been a pretty long road to get to this point. I’ve worked really hard. That makes it a lot more gratifying.”
— Seth Rothman (@RothmanHockey) October 2, 2015
Of course, as the spare defenseman, McIlrath will not be a regular in the Rangers’ actual lineup, barring an injury or other roster transaction. Regarding the latter, it is still very possible, as the club could still look to move defenseman Kevin Klein and his $2.9 million annual cap hit and have McIlrath fill in as a much more inexpensive sixth defenseman. Then Diaz, who, thankfully for the Rangers, cleared waivers when he was sent down to the AHL, could be called back up as the number seven defenseman.
For now though, the Rangers have a bit of time to figure things out before making moves to provide salary cap relief. As long as Diaz does not opt to leave the Rangers and play in his native Switzerland rather than report to AHL Hartford, the organization will have options and depth. Head coach Alain Vigneault is confident that Diaz will stay, saying, “I know he’s under contract with us.”
Vigneault also knows there is still work to be done with the roster.
“It gives us good depth,” the coach said with respect to keeping Diaz, along with forward Jayson Megna, in the organization at the AHL level for now. “It gives us a little bit of time to figure things out.”