2015 brings serious lineup questions to the forefront for the Rangers

Marc Staal (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Marc Staal (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Rangers had an excellent 2014. It began by gelling as a team in January to winning 9 out of their final 10 games in December. In the middle of that was the trading of captain Ryan Callahan for Marty St. Louis and an incredible run to the Stanley Cup Final.

Now we turn the page on the calendar and realize that there is still a lot of work to do in the next few months. In the heat of making a run for the playoffs the Rangers need to solidify their lineup. Who stays, who goes and what will it all mean for this season and the future? Let’s dive head in and see what’s going on.

Marc Staal’s and Mats Zuccarello’s Contracts are like Deja Vu all over again

Just like the situations last year with Dan Girardi and Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal and Mats Zuccarello are both going to be UFA’s come July. We’ve learned that as Sather has gotten older, he’s become distinctly more stingy when it comes to contracts. He’s also really stubborn about the not losing certain valuable players for nothing.

Last year, Ryan Callahan was demanding nearly 7 million a season at one point. By the time Callahan lowered his demands, Marty St. Louis was already on his way to NY. Fortuantely, Dan Girardi signed before the deadline and avoided a potential trade to the Anaheim Ducks who made some serious inquiries about his availability.

Mats Zuccarello (Getty)

Mats Zuccarello (Getty)

Now, Marc Staal is feeling the pressure and wants to avoid the same stresses his friends experienced last year. He’s just 11 days from his 28th birthday and has been clear about his desire to remain a Ranger. “I’m sure both sides don’t want it to get to that point,” Staal was quoted in the NYDN. “So hopefully it happens sooner rather than later.”

As for Mats Zuccarello, his game has come on of late and is now the leading NHL scorer in Norwegian history. Zucc passed Espen Knutsen when he recorded his 112th point but he has to be thinking about his future in Rangers Blue.

Zuccarello’s agent, Craig Oster has stated that nothing new is imminent as recently as this past Tuesday. However, Mats doesn’t seem to be worried. “It hasn’t been bugging me,” Zuccarello told the NYDN. Following the script that most in his situation do he said, “it’s out of my control.”

Decisions, Decisions

So what happens now? Your guess is as good as mine, but you have to wonder if Sather can afford to pay both. There are other Rangers that are also up for new contracts, starting with Marty St. Louis.

You have to figure MSL is going to be willing to take a more incentive laden contract in order to keep the cap hit down for the Rangers. Still, if the cap ceiling doesn’t reach the last expected number of $71-$73 million, NY could be in a ton of trouble.

What will the Rangers do with Anthony Duclair? He will be returning next week after the World Junior’s are over. This will certainly drive some nuts, but sending him back to the QMJHL seems like the logical choice at his age of 19.

Right now, Duclair’s contract is not being counted against the cap. That means someone will have to go down if they decide to keep him here. So who will that be? Your choices are likely JT Miller and Jesper Fast. Neither of them should be sent down and fit their 3rd and 4th line roles perfectly.

If you recall, AV said if Duclair couldn’t crack the top 9 he wouldn’t be here. The writing is on the wall this year, but next season Duclair will be penned into the roster and never leave.

Time to Pay the Piper

Derek Stepan (Photo: Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

Derek Stepan (Photo: Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

The Rangers are less than $500k from the $69 million ceiling. If it only raises by 2 million, you can expect a large chunk of that going to RFA to be, Derek Stepan. At this rate, a salary of close to 6-7 million is almost a given.

Carl Hagelin will also be up for a new contract as an RFA. He currently makes an AAV on the cap of 2.250 million, that number is sure to reach 3.5 or more. Just to make things more interesting and difficult, JT Miller, Jesper Fast and John Moore are RFA’s.

You would think that John Moore is playing himself off Broadway, but you can never be sure. Matt Hunwick who has replaced him at times is a UFA come July and may have played himself to much more than the 600K he makes today.

The Rangers need to find out if they can re-sign him now before they make a decision on J. Moore’s future.

Last Days on Broadway

The previously mentioned John Moore is certainly a possibility to either be on the move at the trade deadline, but another Ranger is almost definitely a goner. Lee Stempniak is slowly but surely being pushed out of the lineup. He will be a UFA come July as well and it is apparent the Rangers will not be keeping him past this season.

The emergence of Jesper Fast and the resurgence of JT Miller have made Stempniak expendable. Tanner Glass‘ contract is undesirable to any other team, and Alain Vigneault likes the “toughness” factor he brings against certain teams. So don’t count on Glass going anywhere, not even Hartford.

Of course, we come back to the big two names that started this conversation – Marc Staal and Mats Zuccarello. Staal’s hit is 3.975 and Zuccarello makes 3.5 AAV to the cap. If Derek Stepan gets another 3 and if Staal and Zucc combine for an additional 4, where are the Rangers finding this additional 7 million in cap space if the ceiling only raises by 2-4 million?

Change is Coming

It’s hard to predict what Glen Sather and company can or will do but as Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet recently said, “team is tight to cap, with several important decisions to make.” A quick look at the Rangers depth chart on defense shows, aside from maybe Conor Allen in Hartford, no one is ready to take on Staal’s role on the 2nd pairing.

Kevin Klein could possibly move up, but a 3rd pairing of say Hunwick and Allen is far from desirable if you want to win a Cup. Which really puts the onus on what to do with Mats Zuccarello and to a lesser extent, Carl Hagelin.

Can the Rangers keep them all? Yes, but at who’s expense? The numbers simply aren’t adding up and it’s starting to look like one of those two fan favorites won’t be here at the deadline or next season.

Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore

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