Rangers Offseason Outlook: Forwards
Many of the NYR forwards under contract for the 2015-2016 season, several key decisions remain to be made as to who will round out the top 12 in the coming season. The top line of Nash, Brassard and Zuccarello will most likely barring exception, remain intact. Other than that, a lot has to be determined based on how some dominoes will fall.
The Rangers have four RFA that are due new contracts, some have big raises coming and some will just get qualifying offers. However, these are players that will be needed on the ice next season. From most likely to be re-signed to least let’s have a look.
Derek Stepan: One can make the case that Stepan has emerged as the Rangers #1 center, unless you believe Derrick Brassard is that guy. In 68 games this season, he registered 55 points (16G 39A) and scoring 5G and 7A in the 19 playoff games. Stepan signed a two year Glen Sather special “bridge deal” worth 3.075M this season, after a lengthy holdout in 2013.
Stepan is due a major raise this off-season, and he has the upper hand on management due to his ability to file for arbitration. He is a year away from becoming a UFA so if he doesn’t like what the Rangers are offering, he can go for a hearing and be awarded a one year deal then hit the open market next summer. He is a “must” re-sign as the Rangers are once again thin down the middle, and his point production will be tough to replace should he be sent packing.
J.T. Miller: As I highlighted in my initial season recap, Miller solidified his spot on the roster in late November and provided much needed toughness as he jumped between lines. Miller looked his best while on a line with Stepan and Kreider, and also looked pretty good with Hayes and St. Louis. His ELC worth 833K is up this year and he should be looking at a two year deal worth about 1M to 1.5M each.
Jesper Fast: Another guy who struggled to stay in the lineup until some injuries opened up a spot, Fast proved that he can be used in several situations, something which the Rangers desperately need, especially with the depth and cap issues.
As I see it now, Fast will probably be used as a bottom six forward, most probably on a line with Dom Moore and Tanner Glass assuming both are not (unexpectedly) moved. However, should an injury or some unforeseen roster move occur, Fast has shown that he can be an effective top six winger. Look for him to get a 1-2 year deal worth around 900K-1.2M as he has no arbitration rights.
Carl Hagelin: The trickiest one of them all. This paragraph ends right here if Pavel Buchnevich doesn’t sign on for another year in the KHL. If Buchnevich was moving to North America, Hags would likely be moved at the draft.
Throughout his almost 4 years on Broadway, Hagelin has been one of the most consistent 3rd liners in the league providing speed and grinding ability, as well as stellar PK skills. Assuming the above 3 players get re-signed, the Rangers would probably have 2M plus to play with. This figure assumes that Martin St. Louis and his 5.625M come off the books.
Hagelin is currently making 2.25M, which makes me believe he would like more than a small raise. Of all the forwards on the roster, he is the most likely to be traded, if necessary. My gut wants to say he will be back, but the numbers will definitely be intriguing if he does.
Martin St. Louis: After coming over from Tampa last year, it seemed as if St. Louis was the missing piece to the Cup run. This year however, the knee injury he suffered in mid-March, combined with his age (39) effectively ruined the rest of his regular season and post-season, as he only posted one goal in the playoffs.
His contract is up, and with the Rangers in dire need of cap space, he will be a cap casualty unless he takes a very cheap one year deal. Whether or not he retires, we don’t know, but all signs point to Martin St. Louis not returning to Broadway next year. Especially after the way things seem to have went during break-up day, where he indicated he wasn’t sure he would retire or not. Thank you Marty for all you gave us!
James Sheppard: Glen Sather was “looking forward to seeing him play,” but for some odd reason (ahem Tanner Glass) we didn’t see much of Sheppard after coming over from San Jose on March 1. He did register 3 goals (2 reg. season and 1 playoffs), but will most likely leave this summer unless the Rangers can find a way to move Tanner Glass and his 1.45M per over the next two years. I believe that Sheppard fits the Rangers system more than Glass, but don’t except him on the roster next year.
Most likely trade candidate: Carl Hagelin (reasons detailed above)
Dark-horse trade candidate: Tanner Glass. I don’t say this because I dislike him, rather I say it because it’s money being wasted. Players like Glass are all over the free agent market, and can usually be brought in for less than 1M. If the Rangers can find a willing taker for Glass and the two years remaining on his contract, they would likely save around 600K to use on more important pieces like Hagelin or some external top 9 forward on the FA market.
ON THE FARM
Oscar Lindberg: We saw Lindberg for one game in February and not much can be determined from that. He has adjusted very well to the North American game and had a fantastic year down in Hartford. In my opinion he should have been playing with the Rangers once Zuccarello went down to provide more offense, but I’m not the one chomping of the cigar making those decisions.
He is excellent in the face-off circle and can provide both defense and offense. Look for him to slot in as the third line center next year behind Brassard and Stepan. As for who his line mates will be, a lot must first be determined for that.
Chris Bourque: Although he didn’t see a minute with the big club, this year, Bourque could be the guy who replaces Carl Hagelin should he leave. He tallied 66 points (29G, 37A) in 73 regular season games for Hartford, and another 17 points (4G, 13A) in 15 Calder Cup playoff games. He could slot in either on the 3rd or 4th line depending on how AV wants to use Jesper Fast, but should the Rangers need a call-up or depth forward, Bourque could for sure be that guy.
Ryan Haggerty: Another young player who showed promise in training camp, I don’t see a situation with the roster currently constructed for Haggerty to crack the opening night roster, but things obviously can change as he doesn’t carry a nice cap hit. He would most likely be a fourth line grinder who provide a little bit of offense, as he has nice hands and is good around the net.
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