After the Expansion Draft and NHL entry level draft, the New York Rangers left a gaping hole at center. Who will fill the void next season?
In the last week, the New York Rangers lost their ace backup net-minder, and have been consistently linked with the top unrestricted free agent on the market, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. However, their biggest need, at least numerically, is amongst their forward group.
The group of forwards has undergone some significant change of its own. Gone is Derek Stepan, an NHL veteran of 515 regular season games and 97 playoff games–all of them wearing red, white, and blue. While he clearly lost a Step at the advanced age of 27 (yikes), there is no doubt No. 21’s presence will be sorely missed. Not only are the Rangers currently equipped with only two penciled-in pivots, but one is Kevin Hayes, whose career 40.7% face off mark is not ideal for a second line C.
With about $15.65 million to spend after the inking of Brendan Smith, Jeff Gorton and Rangers brass have some room to maneuver. With a relatively weak pool of options, though, he’ll certainly have his work cut out to find those diamonds in the rough.
The following are players the New York Rangers should be taking a careful look at come July 1.
JOE THORNTON, C, 37 years old
“Jumbo” Joe Thornton is a no-brainer, first ballot HOFer. His interest in moving across the country to a team that is not a locked and loaded Cup contender remains to be seen. Thornton also is reportedly seeking to cash in on a 3-year deal, as he’ll turn 38 years old on July 2. Not to mention he’s coming off a torn ACL and MCL. There will certainly be interest in Jumbo, as his uncanny ability to find teammates in space in unparalleled the last two decades. Joe had 7 goals to go with 43 helpers in 79 games last season. Has he slowed down? Of course. But the beauty of Thornton is that speed is essentially a moot point, as his value lies in making crisp, slick feeds in tight spaces to set up good looks for his linemates. Thornton could excel on the Rangers
Has he slowed down? Of course. But the beauty of Thornton is that speed is essentially a moot point, as his value lies in making crisp, slick feeds in tight spaces to set up good looks for his linemates. Thornton could excel on the Rangers power play and revive Rick Nash–the two played with each other for Canada in the Olympics way back when. The Rangers should be wary of throwing Joe three years, but a one or
The Rangers should be wary of throwing Joe three years, but a one or two-year deal with a higher cap crunch could get it done, and a motivated, cup-less Thornton could work out nicely for Gotham.
PATRICK MARLEAU, LW, 37 years old
Speaking of youth, the Rangers are rumored to at least be mulling over an offer for fellow San Jose staple Marleau, who joined the NHL’s 500 goal club this past season in a 27 goal campaign. The idea of bringing the pair of Thornton and Marleau to the Garden is an interesting one, and as long as the money is not out of control, it’s a move Gorton should certainly explore.
Marleau still plays with a nose towards goal, and would also be a lethal option on the powerplay (see a theme?). A short-term deal for Pat would also help infuse the team with veteran presence, an element that is lacking on the depth chart at the moment. Young guns like Jimmy Vesey, JT Miller, and Pavel Buchnevich could pair up with Marleau, combining their speed with Pat’s IQ and eye for the back of the net. A no-nonsense, shoot
A no-nonsense, shoot first player is just what the doctor ordered for this group, and while there will be market interest, his price tag shouldn’t be too much for Gorton’s GM jaws.
NICK BONINO, C, 29 years old
If the Rangers were targeting free agents based on nicknames, Nick “Bones” Bonino would be at the top of the list. Bones is coming off clutch performances and is a bonafide back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion. While he may not project as a sure-fire second line pivot and is reportedly seeking a deal in the range of four years at $4 million per, the Rangers should at least talk to a proven, versatile winner and gauge his reported interest in throwing on a Blueshirt.
Bonino has the resume of the quintessential “playoff guy,” and produced 18 goals last season playing in all situations. He can be an asset killing penalties as well as on the power play with his skating ability and advanced feel for the game. The Hartford, CT native also fractured his tibia while laying out and blocking a P.K. Subban blast in the Finals en route to helping the Penguins reign supreme consecutively. He went to the locker room before returning to play an additional 11:52 in that Game 2. On a fractured tibia. Like they say, though, a bruise on the knee is a hell of a long way from the heart. Target Bones.
THOMAS VANEK, LW, 33 years old
Vanek had a quietly productive season last year, splitting time between the Red Wings and the Panthers while scoring 17 goals and 48 points. Eleven of those points were either goals or primary assists on the power play. With Vanek, the price should be a bit lower than those aforementioned options, given that his only real known commodity and asset is his shot and goal-scoring abilities. However, that is exactly what this team
With Vanek, the price should be a bit lower than those aforementioned options, given that his only real known commodity and asset is his shot and goal-scoring abilities. However, that is exactly what this team needs, given the holes, the recent Stepan trade, and the historically awful power play.
Vanek on a wing could help give the Rangers a punch on the PP and again presents an option as a player who has consistently scored throughout his NHL career. He creates good looks and opens up space for his linemates. Perhaps most importantly, he’s one player to whom Ranger fans would not be screaming “SHOOT THE PUCK.”
This weekend will be very telling as to the type of season and future the New York Rangers are projecting to have. Fasten those seatbelts and be prepared to welcome some new faces to New York.