No Surprises From The Rangers
In what has been a hectic week and a half for hockey fans, the Vegas Golden Knights finally know which players they can poach from the NHL’s thirty other teams. And when it comes to the Rangers list of protected players, there really were no surprises when the list was revealed this morning. Jeff Gorton and his staff were left with two options to decide which players to protect. They could either go with the seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie option, which would allow them to protect the maximum amount of players possible. Or they could go with the eight skaters and a goalie option, in hopes of protecting more forwards than defensemen.
Gorton and his staff chose the 7-3-1 option and didn’t surprise anyone in doing so. The Blueshirts protected forwards Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello; while protecting Nick Holden, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal on the back end, as well as Henrik Lundqvist in net.
The list leaves a couple of interesting things to ponder. First, the Rangers left Brendan Smith unprotected. He is an unrestricted free agent, which puts him in an interesting spot. If the Rangers had protected him and couldn’t make a deal before July 1, then the Rangers would have wasted the spot to protect Smith and he’d enter free agency. If they did make a deal, and Vegas doesn’t select Smith, then the Rangers will have a top four defenseman solidified for next season.
Second, Vegas now has to choose between Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, Michael Grabner and Antti Raanta. If I’m Vegas, I look at either Raanta or Lindberg/Grabner. Fast won’t be ready to play until possibly November, as he recovers from hip surgery. Raanta is a top option in net, but there are a lot of other options out there as well. Goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury, Cam Ward, Eddie Lack, Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi, Petr Mrazek and Steve Mason just to name a few. If Raanta is taken by the Golden Knights, the Rangers will need to find a stop-gap as a backup to Henrik Lundqvist before prospects Igor Shestyorkin, Tyler Wall and Adam Huska are ready to compete to join the Blueshirts on Broadway. Current prospects Bradon Halverson and Mackenzie Skapski have not worked out the way the Rangers had hoped, and may not be a suitable option, even if its only for one season.
As for the forwards, Grabner showed his goal scoring ability this season, with 27 goals this year. He is a good penalty killer and has speed to burn. Lindberg, on the other hand, is a 2nd or 3rd line center in the making. He had just 20 points in 65 regular season games, but has shown playmaking abilities in his first two years on Broadway. At the Worlds, he was on a line with young Maple Leafs phenom William Nylander and veteran Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom. Lindberg’s stock appears to be rising, and if I were Jeff Gorton, I’d be very nervous about losing him.
Remember, Vegas can only take one player from each team. Also, just because the list is out, doesn’t mean that moves aren’t going to be made behind the scenes. Gorton can call McPhee and make a deal that would let Gorton keep player X if McPhee takes player Y.
The Golden Knights roster will be announced on Wednesday night during the NHL awards. But one thing is certain: Vegas will be getting a player that the Rangers would very much like to keep.