Tuesday, May 28, 2013

News, Notes, Thoughts Following Breakup Day For Rangers

The Rangers' coaching staff and players met with the media yesterday for the final time before cleaning out their lockers and packing up for the offseason. It's never a fun scene, and certainly isn't something I enjoy having to read and write about this early in the year because it means the Rangers have fallen short of winning the Stanley Cup, but unfortunately that's the way it goes.

No surprise here, but Rangers GM Glen Sather was not made available to the media. He never meets with the media on breakup day anyway, so I don't think this has anything to do with his ongoing treatment he's been undergoing for prostate cancer.

There will be plenty of time to dissect the Rangers' needs and moves they have to make this offseason, but for now I'll just sum up my basic thoughts on what I think the team needs to do, and what will actually happen. Below you can find those thoughts, along with injury updates and comments from the players following their season-ending loss on Saturday:

- The No. 1 priority for the Rangers should, and will likely be, coming to terms on a new contract extension for Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist has one more year left on his current deal. I don't expect negotiations to take long considering the Rangers are probably a bottom-five team in the league without The King holding down the fort. They know how much they need him, and I expect Glen Sather to work dilegently on reaching a new contract agreement with Lundqvist this summer. Lundqvist will likely become the highest paid goaltender in the league, as he rightfully should, and I think there's basically zero chance he will ever leave New York. I know a lot of people are freaking out for some reason just because Lundqvist sort of brushed off contract extension talks when he met with the media on Monday, but it's really not a big deal to me at all. Lundqvist wants to win here, he owns a restaurant in Tribeca with Sean Avery and he's raising his family in the City. Henrik loves New York and knows how marketable he is playing here. He's going nowhere.

- The No. 2 priority (priorities?) will be the Rangers re-signing their restricted free agents this offseason, Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan. I don't think negotiations will be too hectic for any of the three. My guess is that Glen Sather will likely look to lockup McDonagh and Stepan long-term while handing Hagelin maybe a two or three-year deal.

- John Tortorella will be back as head coach next season, but I still have a ton of questions over whether or not he's truly the right guy for this job. The power play has been abysmal during his tenure here as head coach, and this team has way too much talent to be scratching and clawing to win one goal-games all the time. Glen Sather has gone out and gotten guys that John Tortorella has wanted, but the results have still mostly been the same. The Rangers will not win a Stanley Cup with this current system they have in place. John Tortorella simply has to realize that there needs to be a much more offensively-charged game plan to fit the styles of Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard. The Rangers' biggest problem, and I've said this all season long, is that they tried to play like last year's team when the personnel was drastically different. If Torts can't realize that shot blocking and trying to win every game 2-1 when you have a superstar goal-scorer in Rick Nash on your team, then I fully expect the Rangers will once again be an inconsistent team next season and John Tortorella will be fired by December. I'm willing to give John Tortorella the benefit of the doubt and hope that he's smart enough to realize he needs to change his system during a normal full offseason since the lockout screwed everything up last year, but only time will tell.

- I firmly believe Brad Richards has played his last game as a Ranger, which is a shame. Richards had a great first season on Broadway, but struggled in his second season and was relegated to skating on the fourth line until John Tortorella made him a healthy scratch in Games 4 and 5 against the Bruins. When your head coach no longer has your back, you're done. Larry Brooks of The New York Post reported yesterday that sources close to Richards said he was furious over being a healthy scratch for the final two games in the series. I still think Richards has a ton of good hockey left in the tank and believe it's absurd to cast him aside after one poor, lockout-shortened season. This isn't a case of Chris Drury or Scott Gomez, in my opinion. The talent is still there, and I don't see anything glaring in Richards' game to make me believe he's dropped off the way Drury did. I'd like to believe the Rangers will have second thoughts and realize that keeping Richie makes sense, but we'll see. The Rangers have one more amnesty clause that they can use (the first was used on Wade Redden's contract), and Richards is the prime target should they choose to pull the trigger this offseason. John Tortorella wouldn't comment on Richards, only saying he thinks he'll rebound and that the decision will ultimately be up to Glen Sather on whether to bring Richie back. Not exactly a ringing endorsement from the guy who wanted Richards here the most out of anyone in the organization two years ago.

- Needless to say, Roman Hamrlik has played his last game as a New York Ranger, and he predictably showed everybody why he never should've been in the lineup with his terrible play and two gaffs last night. I also don't expect Taylor Pyatt, Darroll Powe and Arron Asham to all be back next season. There's just too much dead weight there, and the Rangers need to get deeper in their bottom six group of forwards. Derek Dorsett will be back, and I think could turn into a real nice addition for the fourth line. His game reminds me a lot of Brandon Prust, and I think the coaching staff feels the same way. Matt Gilroy will be gone. I wouldn't mind keeping Steve Eminger around as the proverbial seventh d-man, but I think the Rangers will try and find an upgrade for that role if they can.

- Chris Kreider absolutely needs to be on this team next season, and he needs to be getting a ton of minutes on one of the top two lines. He has too much talent, as we saw in the playoffs, to be getting seven minutes a night on the fourth line.

- J.T. Miller will likely only make the team if the Rangers decide to cut ties with Brad Richards. I still think his game is very raw and he could use some more tooling down in Hartford, though. It wouldn't make sense for him to make the team playing on the fourth line if Richards is still here next season.

- I think the Rangers would be interested in bringing Ryane Clowe back if he has any interest in doing a one or two-year deal. Even two might be a stretch. They played like a different team when he was in the lineup, and he clearly provided a ton of toughness and leadership that this team has lacked throughout this season. Clowe said he wants to come back, and also wouldn't confirm whether or not he did in fact suffer a concussion in the first round series against the Capitals.

- Speaking of concussions, Darroll Powe confirmed that he did suffer his second concussion of the season in the first round against the Capitals.

- Anton Stralman confirmed that he suffered a separated shoulder and multiple facial fractures on the hit from Milan Lucic that forced him to miss the final two games of the series against the Bruins. Stralman said that he could've played through the facial fractures, but the shoulder was what kept him out of the lineup.

- Rick Nash said he thought he was "good" in the playoffs this year when asked to rate his overall performance. I can't say I agree with him considering he only scored one goal in 12 games. I thought the effort was there, though, and I'm still convinced he was playing hurt. There were rumors he was battling through a back issue, but Nash didn't confirm that he was suffering from any injuries.

- Marc Staal admitted that the vision in his right eye may never fully return to being 100 percent, but he said he doesn't think it'll be an issue after going through a regular offseason and getting used to playing with it. Staal did say, though, that his vision has continued to improve day by day, which is obviously good. I think he'll be fine next season, and it's clear this is just something he has to adjust to and get comfortable playing with. It's a shame that he might never fully regain the vision in his right eye, but it's clear that this isn't something that is potentially career-ending, which is obviously good.

- Brian Boyle, to his credit, said he "sucked" this year and admitted he came into this season out of shape from not playing at all during the lockout. He said he let himself and his teammates down, and it's hard for me to disagree with him. He was awful for a large part of this season, but it's clear not playing during the lockout hurt a lot of players this season, Brad Richards included.

- Mats Zuccarello should be brought back next season. He's proven to me that he can play in the NHL, and his playmaking ability is maybe the best on the Rangers. I wasn't always the biggest Zucc fan, but he looked like a totally different player this year and just seemed much more decisive and confident with the puck. There's no doubt in my mind that the Rangers should work on bringing him back. Zucc said he would prefer to re-sign with the Rangers rather than going back to play in the KHL.

- The Rangers have to give serious thought about trading Michael Del Zotto. The mistakes he is still making are just scary when you consider this was already his third year in the league. I know the talent is there, but for a team that relies so much on defense, he's a liability out there on the ice. The giveaways and constantly being caught up the ice when an odd man rush breaks out the other way is insanely aggravating to watch. I'm really beginning to wonder whether Del Zotto will ever put it all together, and if he does whether or not it will be in New York.

For more direct quotes from John Tortorella and the players, you can check them out courtesy of Andrew Gross, here.

That's it for now. I'll stick around all offseason, as usual, but expect things to be dead surrounding the Rangers for a few weeks. They don't have their organizational meetings until towards the end of June, so things will most likely be uneventful until the draft next month at the earliest. I'll definitely be sticking around to report on any news that breaks, though, and like I said above, I'll probably post my full thoughts on the season sometime within the next week or so.

Thanks again to everybody for reading the blog again this season!