How The Rangers Should Respond To Stepan’s Injury
Losing a first line center to injury is a major concern to any team, but when you consider the questions the Rangers already had at the position, it is even more troublesome. As soon as we found out Derek Stepan would miss up to 6 weeks, the debate started as to who would move into his role. For the time being Brassard will be the number 1 center, there is no question about that. So the slots that needs to be filled will either be the 2nd or 3rd line center position.
Alain Vigneault has already pointed out the opportunity, “That is what we have been talking about here the last hour. Who we are going to give opportunities to play with certain guys, so this doesn’t change our initial thoughts of these first two games. It gives a longer look to whether it be JT or Hayes or Lindberg or Lombardi, Mueller, it will give some of those guys probably a longer look in exhibition and depending on how they play we will sort it out.” Stepan will miss 4-6 weeks according to the Rangers.
The Rangers are eligible to use LTIR (Long Term Injured Reserve) on Stepan as the injury will exceed 24 days. Moving Stepan to LTIR provides the Rangers a bit of cap space according to Capgeek.com, so while it could allow for a replacement to be signed or traded for it would only be until Stepan returns.
#NYR President and GM Glen Sather announced that Derek Stepan suffered a non-displaced fractured fibula & will be sidelined for 4-to-6 weeks
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) September 24, 2014
Main Candidates to Step into Stepan’s Role
Dominic Moore– Alain Vigneault said himself that Dom Moore was an option mostly referencing his past history of stepping up when guys got hurt during last years playoffs. “Yes, when this has happened in the past, as we were discussing a few minutes ago, when Step went down against Montreal or when Brass went down, Dom stepped up or when Richie stepped down, Dom stepped up so that is definitely in our possibilities but we have to let this sort out and see how some of these young guys do and play and how they can play with skilled players.”
I doubt that we see Moore take this spot. He is a really good fourth line center, and last year he was a bit out of his element when moved up during the regular season.
J.T. Miller- He will likely stay on the third line, I doubt the Rangers want to give him too much to handle. He is young and expected to be the 3rd line center for the year. If they start moving him into too big a role it could set him back. The Rangers grabbed some veteran depth guys for a reason. But if he plays out of this world, well he will get the job for the time being.
Kevin Hayes– Hayes can grab a 3rd line center spot if he is able to show quicker feet in camp, and if J.T. Miller proves he can jump into Stepan’s shoes. He has great size skill and vision, but the Rangers are concerned with putting too much pressure on him so early in his career. But don’t be mistaken if Hayes is flying he will end up with the center spot. For now he is more likely to end up on the wing.
Matthew Lombardi– Lombardi in my opinion is the front runner to end up on the second line behind Brassard. He hasn’t looked great, but he has been in these kinds of roles before and his style of game is comparable with that of a second or third line center. For now he would have to improve to win this spot.
Chris Mueller– Mueller is kind of like Erik Christensen in that he is skilled and versatile. He wouldn’t be a long term solution, but could help plug the void for the time being while Stepan recovers. He is a right handed shot and can move the puck pretty well.
Oscar Lindberg– Lindberg is a long shot, the role is just a bit large for a guy his age with his experience. He would have too look stellar to assume this position. I suspect the Rangers will have him in the AHL for large parts of this year.
For the record it is very unlikely that the Rangers go the Free Agent road unless they feel they have no choice. If they do, it will be a player who would be willing to sign a two-deal.
Michael Handzus– Handzus is the best center available at the moment and for parts of last season was the second line center for the Blackhawks. I doubt they bring him in, because when Stepan returns he would have no realistic position on the team.
The rest of the free agent class isn’t worth mentioning.
Joe Thornton is not realistic, (no cap space, not enough assets) . A trade itself isn’t realistic, because the Rangers have some alternatives. If one does occur it will be for another player who needs a change of scenery. But I seriously doubt the Rangers make a trade.
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