2015 has been very good to the New York Rangers. They’re 7-2 since we changed our calendars, and they’re in the midst of a 16-3-0 run in their last nineteen games. After weathering some up-and-down hockey in October and November, the Blueshirts are looking more like last year’s Eastern Championship squad than the playoff-bubble team they resembled in the season’s opening months. They’re 13-3-1 within the Metropolitan Division, Rick Nash continues to produce at a torrid pace (28 goals and 15 assists in 44 games), and the rest of the top six forwards are contributing, too. The Rangers will get going again on Tuesday night against the division-leading Islanders, and there will be plenty to talk about in the regular season’s remaining two months.
MARC STAAL EXTENSION
There won’t be any more speculation about Marc Staal heading elsewhere to play with his brothers Eric & Jordan…at least for the next six years. The Rangers and Staal agreed to a six year/$34 million dollar deal ($5.7 million annually) last week, avoiding any rumors that he could be on the move with the NHL trade deadline approaching on March 2nd. There’s some talk that the Rangers over paid to keep the 28 year-old blueliner. I can understand the sentiment considering his injury history and the fact that his offensive production doesn’t necessarily live up to the paycheck. But keep in in mind that Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik is six years older than Staal, less potent offensively, and he received a 5 year/ $5.5 million per year deal as an unrestricted free agent last off-season. If Staal had hit the market as a UFA, he probably would have gotten offers for at least $6 million per season elsewhere. The Rangers have a strong defensive core locked up for the next few seasons with Staal, Ryan McDonagh, and Dan Girardi, and true championship contenders need to have a reliable blueline.
The Rangers power play is currently ranked twelfth in the league (19.3%), and their penalty kill is ranked thirteenth (82.4%). Both will have to be better in the second half of the regular season (especially the penalty kill) if the Rangers want to be among the top teams in the league, and not playing one of the top teams in the league in the first round of the playoffs.
YOUNG GUNS CAN BE THE DIFFERENCE
Guys like Nash, Martin St. Louis, Derick Brassard, and Derek Stepan have been carrying the load offensively for the Rangers this season, but it could be the youth of the team that could push the Rangers in to the next level. Chris Kreider (23 years old) seems to be hitting his stride (three goals and three assists in his last six games), Jesper Fast (23 years old) has found a home in a defensive forward role, and JT Miller (21 years old) is becoming a reliable third-liner (that also sees some power play time) that is no longer a defensive liability. Rookie Kevin Hayes (22 years old) has cooled off over the past month, but he provides the team with some size up front (6’5” – 225lbs), which is something they sorely lack outside of Nash and Kreider.
UPGRADES TO THE ROSTER?
The Blueshirts have a good mix, and if you’re Glen Sather you don’t want to upset that chemistry. That being said, the Rangers could use some depth down the middle, the aforementioned need to get bigger as a team, and a depth defenseman. There’s not a team in the league that couldn’t use a reliable d-man and a size upgrade. As for the need for an additional center, there’s been speculation linking the Rangers to Mike Santorelli from the Maple Leafs. Toronto’s season is in a tailspin, and there’s no reason to think they’ll get out of it any time soon. If Brendan Shanahan decides to blow it up, there will be a few teams interested in Santorelli’s services. He doesn’t address the need for size (6’0” / 190 lbs), but he would be an excellent fit as the team’s third line center.