Before this offseason began for the New York Rangers, questions were asked as to whether Jeff Gorton would be effective with limited cap room.
When Alain Vigneault took over as head coach of the New York Rangers, there was definitely a shift in focus from an extremely defensive minded team to a fast skating attacking team. The new state of mind for the Rangers helped them get to a Stanley Cup Final and the Eastern Conference Finals to begin Vigneault’s tenure.
However, this new style has had its consequences in the long run. The additions of Martin St. Louis and Keith Yandle by Glen Sather were two solid short term moves, but it forced the salary cap-stricken Blueshirts to say goodbye to the likes of Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman, and Carl Hagelin.
All four have been part of teams responsible for knocking the Rangers out of the playoffs in the past two years (Callahan, Boyle, and Stralman with Tampa Bay; Hagelin with Pittsburgh).
It’s clear that these departures have hurt the Blueshirts in more than one way. The 2015-2016 season saw a team that was extremely soft and slow. They weren’t the speedy, exciting team that fans were accustomed to under Vigneault.
One of the biggest surprises, however, was how poor the penalty kill was. Last year, fans had nothing to worry about. Led by the aforementioned Hagelin, they killed off 84.3% of penalties which was good for 6th in the league.
The absence of the speedster this year hurt the Rangers much more than they would have thought. They saw their penalty kill percentage drop to a mere 78.2%, dropping all the way to 5th worst in the NHL.
Changes needed to made if this team wanted any chance of competing next year.
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With first year General Manager Jeff Gorton at the helm, questions were asked if he would be able to improve the roster in his first full offseason, especially considering they only have about 14 million dollars in cap space.
There wasn’t much money available to improve the Blueshirts with J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and Dylan McIlrath all due for pay raises.
So with a need for penalty killers and cap limitations, there were doubts as to whether Gorton would be able to address this need.
The first year General Manager was able to silence the doubters as early as the first day of free agency. He was able to add not only one, but two guys who could really help the Rangers in Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe.
Grabner is coming off a year that saw him only score 9 goals and 9 assists in 80 games. The former first round pick signed a two-year deal worth $3.3 million. The veteran has blazing speed and has been exceptional killing of penalties throughout his career.
In addition, he was a major part of a Toronto Maple Leafs penalty kill that was 13th in the league in penalty kill percentage (81.6%). Former head coach Mike Babcock spoke of his penalty killing abilities when he said, “He’s really good on our PK and that’s been a big part of our success there as of late. He’s a leader in that area, he understands what needs to be done and has done a real nice job for us.”
He clearly isn’t the 30 goal scorer that he once was, but if he can stay healthy, he can be a big piece on the penalty kill going forward.
The latter of the July 1st free agent additions, Nathan Gerbe, will be playing with a chip on his shoulder. Gerbe inked a one-year deal worth $600,000. He is coming off a year where he only recorded 7 points and was a career worst -15 in 47 games.
Coming in at 5’5″ and 178 pounds, the former Carolina Hurricanes winger isn’t necessarily someone you would expect to be a good penalty killer, but the scrappy 28-year-old has only been on the ice for 20 power play goals in his career.
Gerbe, Grabner, and Oscar Lindberg — when he gets healthy — would be a formidable 4th line for Alain Vigneault.
In his first offseason, Jeff Gorton is off to a good start. With limited cap space, he was able to address a big need for the Blueshirts without spending a fortune or giving up any assets. With that being said, the additions of Grabner and Gerbe aren’t going to be difference makers unless he does more.
The Rangers still have flaws that need to be dealt with, but a couple small fixes could have the Rangers back to being Cup contenders soon.
Fans may not like it, but the rookie GM has the Rangers moving in the right direction.