As the 2nd half of the season has begun, it seems like the Rangers are having a tough time putting their foot back on the gas to get going. Granted that they have started against two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference in the Islanders and Canadiens, but the offense can't seem to buy one right now and are out of sinc. It is well known that the Rangers are scouting Toronto, Carolina, and Arizona as the key targets to get the piece or pieces needed to make a long playoff run. It is clear to anyone following the Rangers that their #1 need is a faceoff specialist--this a must! The Rangers have been chasing the puck all season off the faceoff cirlce and is the only place on the ice that they are outplayed on a nightly basis. The other area of need is a defenseman that neither John Moore nor Matt Hunwick can seem to lock down the spot.
Now that the Rangers have extended Marc Staal with a 6 year extension to lock in the top 5 defensemen for the future, the Rangers need to address who else they extend and who they don't see in the future. An interesting player to watch how negotiations goes with is Carl Hagelin. He is home grown Ranger and could be dangled this summer to either agree to a multi-year extension at the most $3.3 mil per year and if another team offer sheets him for more than that $3.3 mil per year....if the Rangers don't match they would recieve at least a 1st round and 3rd round draft picks in the 2016 nhl draft. Mats Zuccarello is a totally different case, he will be an Unrestricted Free Agent this summer. If Zucc was happy with only $3.5 mil per year, he would have signed a multi-year contract last summer. Is Zuccarello worth a $4 million cap hit on a multi-year deal? It would seem that the Rangers need to make that decision before they can figure out who they will bring in as it would be expected that one or the other would be used as a chip in bringing in a missing piece. Then again, the Rangers could use Zuccarello as their own "rental player" if they feel like they have someone that can fill his shoes next season, some like Anthony Duclair at a much better cap hit of less than a million at only $772,500 for two years after this.
It is clearly time to either deal Lee Stempniak for a low draft pick or to put him on waivers to free up the $900,000 in cap space he uses up. Stempniak just doesn't seem to fit in the Rangers system and is taking time away from the Rangers trying out a prospect to see if any of Oscar Lindberg, Danny Kristo, or Chris Bourque could spark some offense since those three have earned a chance as they are the top three scorers in the Rangers AHL affiliate in Hartford. On defense, either Hunwick or Moore should be traded for a pick or put on waivers, John Moore should easily bring in a decent draft pick if not a solid prospect. The Rangers should call up Connor Allen and/or Mat Bodie and again see if they can make a difference and see where they stand in the organization.
The expected teams the Rangers are going to make a deal with are Toronto, Arizona, and Carolina since the have scouted them the most as of late. From Toronto the players being speculated are mid range players such as Mike Santorelli, Nazeem Kadri, or Cody Franson. Players going back would depend on the cap hit that the Rangers will have to absorb. Only Franson is the type of player that fills a Ranger need on defense as the two forwards aren't any better at faceoffs than what the Rangers already have. With Arizona the obvious fit is Antoine Vermette who fits exactly what the Rangers need, but will probably cost the Rangers either Zuccarello or Hagelin and a top prospect with a conditional high pick depending if Hagelin/Zucc are signed to an extension. If the Rangers were to trade for Vermette, it could be just as a rental for the playoff run as he is expected to want $5 mil per to sign an extension. Signing Vermette would be a home run for the Rangers as he is very good on faceoffs and make it hard for any team to match up against Rick Nash in a series, as Nash can play with all 3 centers as he played with Vermette in Columbus. The Rangers are also talking to Sekjera for defensive help but may also be looking at Jay Clement or Riley Nash as the center for the needed faceoffs. Both of those two centers in Nash and Clement fit more into the Rangers cap issues. A trade that can happen in the off season could easily be Cam Talbot to Edmonton for Nail Yakapov(a former #1 pick overall) or a #1 pick as the oilers believe that Talbot will be their #1 goalie, sort of like the Corey Schnieder deal last summer with the Devils giving up the #9 overall pick.
Rangers that will need to be extended this offseason are restricted free agent Stepan who is likely to get close to $6 million per on a multi-year deal. J.T. Miller who should be qualified at around $800,000 for a year. Martin St. Louis who will probably do yaer by year contracts for a team friendly $4 mil with bonus money. Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello will be the tough choice as it would seem to stay within the cap, only one will be around next year. Staal and Talbot were already extended.
The Rangers management need to get a deal done because in this seasons Eastern Conference, you can't afford to leave too many points on the table when the needs are so clear and easy to fix. If they can win faceoffs, the Rangers will keep putting the pressure on instead of using all their energy chasing after the puck. Always losing faceoffs is a mentally wearing thing on the players as they lose faith in each other and play on the defense instead of pressing on offense and making things happen.
Let's Go RANGERS!!!!!