The Rangers have a few big questions heading into free agency and the NHL draft. The first of which, is who will be playing on right side of the second defensive pair? Plan A should be to re-sign Anton Stralman, even if it takes $5 million a season; Plan B appears to be Brian Boyle, which isn’t at all ideal; Plan C is the “we really screwed up” scenario where Kevin Klein moves to the second pair and Dylan McIlrath and John Moore are the third pair heading into camp. We really, really don’t want to see Plan C come to fruition.
The second question is how will the Rangers fill the void left by Brad Richards? Initially it looked like Stralman’s future would impact the options for the third line center spot, but if the Rangers Plan B is to give Boyle $4 million a year if he can’t be re-signed, there really isn’t any cap space gained.
I would hope that the Rangers don’t feel comfortable enough to go into training camp with JT Miller penciled in at center on the third line. It’s not that I think Miller isn’t capable of playing those minutes well, but he really hasn’t been given the opportunity to prove that he can. If the Rangers consider themselves fit for another Stanley Cup run, they need a veteran option for Richards’ old spot. Everyone who is inclined to utilize all the information available to them, will love Mikhail Grabovski for this role. Especially since he offers quite a bit of insurance if Derick Brassard or Derek Stepan are injured at any point during the year. If either of them are injured you suddenly find yourself with Miller in the top six, which shouldn’t be considered a reasonable option.
Finally there is the fourth line role vacated by Brian Boyle that needs to be addressed. Again, the Rangers would be prudent to not have Oscar Lindberg or Jesper Fast penciled into this spot heading into training camp. Besides the fact that both players are not suited for fourth line duty under Alain Vigneault, they would either be playing out of position or not readily capable of replacing the dimension Boyle brought. Boyle was unique in that he could play both center and the wing, while being good in the face-off dot. Considering Vigneault’s extreme defensive zone usage of the fourth line, the Rangers should seek a player for the wing who can also take a defensive zone draw. I’ve made an argument for Manny Malhotra, though his relationship with Vigneault is.. weird, I guess.
There are some other ancillary questions for the Rangers this summer. Most significant are the new deals that Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, and Derick Brassard will get. There isn’t a whole lot of risk here, though I can make an argument that Brassard may be traded. Benoit Pouliot is another significant question facing the team, though it seems pretty clear that the Rangers are going to bring him back.
I’ve projected a roster that I would consider feasible here. If the Rangers can re-sign Stralman, sign Grabovski, sign Malhotra, and re-sign Pouliot, I would consider this summer a monumental success. A close second would be re-signing Stralman and Pouliot, while signing comparable players to Grabovski and Malhotra.