The New York Rangers have made quite a few moves so far during the 2014 off-season. While they haven’t made as big of a splash as–say–the Dallas Stars, there have been at least a few moves to analyze. The question is, which of the Rangers’ moves were the best–and which ones were the worst?
A Long-Awaited Departure
Perhaps the least surprising news out of New York this off-season was the amnesty buyout of Brad Richards’ contract. Many of those who follow the team predicted he would be bought out during the last off-season, but the Rangers kept him on for one more year. It’s not that Richards was a poor player, or a liability to the team. Far from it–he was the Rangers’ third leading scorer (20 G, 31 A, 51 Pts) during the regular season, and has been a consistent locker room leader throughout his tenure. No, this departure had everything to do with money. The Rangers simply could not afford to carry Richards’ cap hit of $6.67 million over the next 6 seasons. If they were to retain Richards, then they would not be able to afford any new free agents and would likely have lost more of their core players to free agency. In the end, Richards’ cost was too steep for him to remain a Ranger. Grade: B
The New Faces
The biggest off-season signing for the Rangers was unrestricted free agent Dan Boyle. Signing Boyle gives the Rangers something that they have not had for many years–a true quarterback for the PP and a powerful shot from the point. The Rangers’ power play has been anemic over the past several seasons, and adding Boyle could finally turn it into a weapon for them, instead of a liability. Concerns over his age (Boyle turned 38 on July 12) should be minimal, as his contract is for only two years at $4.5MM per year. Adding Boyle makes the Rangers a much more dangerous team offensively, and should rank among their better off-season moves. Grade: A-
Shortly after signing Dan Boyle, the Rangers added another UFA–Tanner Glass, formerly of the Pittsburgh Penguins. While it’s obvious that Glass was added for his toughness, there are many questions around what he will ultimately bring to the team. Simply put, the Rangers are now a strong puck possession team, and Glass had some of the worst puck possession numbers in the NHL last season (with a Corsi For of 39.3%). While the Rangers need someone to protect their skill players, there are many better options available. It is certainly possible that Alain Vigneault played a role in this signing, as he had coached Glass previously in Vancouver. If that’s the case, given Vigneault’s history of making the right call, he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Still, it’s hard to see Glass’ signing as anything but a bad off-season move. Grade: C-
Later in the off-season, the Rangers added center Matthew Lombardi, who played for Geneve-Servette in the Swiss League last season. Prior to that, Lombardi played for five separate NHL teams over nine years, accumulating 262 points in 536 games. Lombardi will provide some much-needed depth down the middle, and should help offset the losses of Richards and Brian Boyle (see below). While certainly not a game-changer, this is a very good signing and a solid off-season move for the Blueshirts. Look for Lombardi to perform well in a third or fourth line role. Grade: B
The Rangers’ latest acquisition is former Calgary Flames and Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Lee Stempniak. This is another under-the-radar addition that should pan out well for the Rangers. Stempniak’s contract is for a single year at $900K, so there is little risk here–but the rewards could be huge (see Benoit Pouliot and Dominic Moore from last season). Stempniak also gives the Blueshirts another right-handed shot–something they have precious little of. He is another skill player whose style seems like it should fit right in with Alain Vigneault’s. Look for him to join Lombardi on the third or fourth line. Grade: B+
The Returning Cast
The first of the Rangers’ free agents to be re-signed was Dominic Moore. Moore overcame great personal tragedy just to play last season, and went on to play a large role in their playoff run. His success on the fourth line led to him playing an ever-larger role as the playoffs progressed. So it was fitting that the Masterton Award winner was the first player the Rangers re-signed. His two-year, $1.5MM/year deal is excellent for a player who was truly the Rangers’ heart and soul last season. Grade: A
One of three Rangers’ restricted free agents to file for arbitration, Chris Kreider is arguably the key to their future. The Rangers avoided arbitration and signed him to a two-year “bridge” deal with a cap hit of $2.475MM per year. In his first full NHL season last year, Kreider put up 17 goals and 20 assists in 66 games. The 23-year-old winger possesses a unique combination of speed and power that could make him an elite power forward. His impact to the Rangers was most obvious in the playoffs–his return from a hand injury was one of the catalysts of their run to the Stanley Cup Final. Perhaps no re-signing was more important for the Rangers this off-season. Grade: A+
Another pleasant surprise for the Rangers last season was the play of Mats Zuccarello. The 5’7″ winger was consistently one of the Rangers’ best players–finishing the regular season as their leading scorer (19G, 40A, 59P) and winning the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award (a fan-voted award for the Rangers player who consistently goes above and beyond the call of duty). The Rangers also avoided arbitration with Zuccarello by signing him to a one-year, $3.5MM contract. Grade: A
The most recent Ranger to re-sign was center Derrick Brassard. The loss of Brad Richards has made Brassard the de facto number two center, so re-signing him was vital for the Rangers if they wanted to maintain any depth down the middle (especially since none of their new players can handle the second line role). While his price tag is very steep (the contract is for $5MM per year over 5 years), the Rangers would likely be paying even more if Brassard had continued to arbitration. A gifted puck handler and passer, Brassard could be ready to replace Richards on the second line. One drawback to this signing is that the Rangers now have precious little cap room to sign anyone else. Even so, re-signing Brassard was the right move. Grade: B+
The first Ranger to sign elsewhere this summer was Benoit Pouliot. While his loss hurts the Rangers (he was a key part of their fantastic third line, along with Brassard and Zuccarello), keeping his services would have cost them even more. He signed with the Edmonton Oilers for 5 years at $4MM per year. In the end, Glen Sather was not willing to pay Pouliot that kind of money for that long of a term. Yes, Pouliot had a very good year for the Rangers, but he has not shown the consistency necessary to merit the deal he wanted. Grade: A+
Stralman left the Rangers and joined former Ranger captain Ryan Callahan by signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning. While the per-year cap hit of his deal is the same as Dan Boyle’s ($4.5MM/year), his contract is for 5 years. Stralman had grown into a better player over the past season, but even though his overall puck possession numbers looked good, he still made a habit of giving the puck away at the worst possible times. He was a much improved player during the playoffs, however. In the end, the Lightning decided his playoff performance was worth the money and term–while the Rangers were unwilling to take that risk. Grade: B
Not long after Stralman decided to relocate to Tampa Bay, Brian Boyle signed there as well, inking a 3-year, $2MM/year deal. At that price, it’s hard to imagine that money was the deciding factor for the Rangers. More likely, it was Boyle’s desire for a larger role in the offense–a role that Sather, Vigneault, and the Rangers didn’t feel he was suited to. Losing Boyle will hurt the Rangers’ depth, but if he was truly unhappy with his role, then it was probably for the best. Grade: B-
The Best Off-Season Move…
While a case could be made for either Dan Boyle’s signing or Chris Kreider’s re-signing, the Rangers’ best off-season move so far has been one that they didn’t make. By not re-signing Benoit Pouliot to a huge contract, all the other moves on this list become possible. The money and term that Pouliot wanted (and received from the Oilers) would have hamstrung Glen Sather and taken many of the names off this list (Brassard at the very least). No doubt Pouliot was a benefit to the Rangers last season and would be again this season, but not at the price he demanded. Consider this article a tip of the hat to Sather for not overpaying.
Kevin has been covering the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers for The Hockey Writers since the 2013-14 season. Before that, he has written about, played, and coached hockey at all levels. He grew up a Rangers fan in the Southern Tier of New York State, but now lives in the Atlanta area with his wife and two sons. You can reach him on Twitter as @kmizTHW , or via email (email@example.com).