Now that the Stanley Cup has been handed out, time to look at a few of the decisions the Rangers must make before they drop the puck on the 2015-16 season.
The core of the team is, in theory, not going anywhere, [Henrik Lundqvist (signed through 2020-21), Ryan McDonagh (through 2018-19), Dan Girardi (signed through 2019-20), Derick Brassard (through 2018-19), Rick Nash (through 2017-18), Mats Zuccarello (through 2018-19), Marc Staal (through 2020-21)]. Chris Kreider is entering the final year of his current contract.
But several familiar faces may not be back come October.
Question 1: Has Marty played his last game for the Rangers?
Have we seen the last of Old Man Winter? Martin St. Louis, who turns 40 on Thursday, is an unrestricted free agent. In the 2014-15 season, he scored only 21 goals, his lowest total in a non-strike-shortened season since 2001-02.
His contributions to the Blueshirts during the 2014 playoffs were mighty; he scored 8 goals and 7 assists in the team’s run to the StanleyCup Finals, playing with deep emotion while dealing with the death of his mother that spring.
But in 2014-15, and in the 2015 playoffs, he often looked a step slow, and there were times where Alain Vigneault left him on the bench in the third period of games.
Prediction: as likeable as he is, St. Louis will not be back with the Rangers in 2015-16.
Question 2: Will Sather step down?
Team President and GM Glen Sather is a finalist for NHL General Manager of the Year, but is rumored to be considering stepping down as GM. The 71-year-old Sather has been in both jobs since 2000. The likely successor would be Jeff Gorton, assistant general manager for the past four years. Other teams have asked to interview Gorton for possible positions, but the Rangers have said no, clearly with a bigger role for Gorton in mind.
Sather has built the team in recent years with a “Win now” mentality, trading away a number of #1 draft picks in deals for Nash, St. Louis and Keith Yandle.
Prediction: Sather will step down as GM but remain president of the Rangers.
Question 3: The terms of Stepan’s and Hagelin’s new contracts.
Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin are both restricted free agents. Stepan, who turns 25 Thursday [a big day for birthdays, both St. Louis and Stepan!], was third on the team in scoring during the regular season [16 goals, 39 assists in 68 games]. In the post-season he scored five goals and 7 assists in 19 games, including two assists in Game 5 against Washington, and the game-winning/series-winning goal in OT in Game 7 of that same series.
Hagelin turns 27 in August. He was one of only three players to skate in all 82 games in 2014-15 [along with Dominic Moore and Girardi], and scored 17 goals, tying a career best. He scored the game-winning/series-winning goal in OT in Game 5 of the Pittsburgh series, but did not score a playoff goal after that.
Re-signing them is not in question; the amounts is the biggest unknown.
Prediction: With the Zuccarello contract terms from March [4 yrs, $18 million] fresh in their minds, the Rangers sign both players to new four-year deals, in the $22-$26 million range.
Question 4: What about Yandle?
Defenseman Yandle, acquired in March from the Coyotes, is entering the final year of his current contract. The Blueshirts paid a heavy price for Yandle [a #1 draft pick and top prospect Anthony Duclair], but caught a break on his salary; Arizona paid half of his 2014-15 salary of $5.25 mil.
Yandle solidified an already-strong New York defense, but he never lived up to his advance billing offensively, scoring only two goals and nine assists in 21 regular season games. In the post-season, he had big performances against Tampa Bay in the wins in Games 4 and 6, but in the other 17 games of the playoffs he had only 6 assists. Yandle is entering the final year of his contract [with the Coyotes again paying half]. Trade him now, or try to resign him by the end of 2015-16?
Prediction: Yandle returns, and the team hopes his offense picks up.
Question 5: Keep Talbot, right?
One of the rumors frequently heard since the end of the season is that the team will trade Cam Talbot, because his trade value will never be higher. Talbot was 21-9-4 in 2014-15, and was an impressive 16-4-3 during Lundqvist’s recovery from injury in February and March when the team surged into 1st place in the Eastern Conference points standings.
One thing that might convince the Rangers not to trade Talbot is the status of goaltender Mackenzie Skapski. Skapski, who was 2-0-0 with a 0.50 GAA with the team and showed promise, had arthroscopic hip surgery in early June and is expected to miss 4-5 months. Tough to trade your #2 goaltender when you don’t know how your #3 will respond to an injury.
Prediction: While I read one tantalizing prediction that the Blueshirts would bundle Talbot and Yandle in a trade for some much-needed offense, my prediction is that Talbot stays put. At least til the trading deadline in mid-season.