What’s next for New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings
Now that the Stanley Cup Final has concluded, the offseason begins in earnest for all 30 NHL teams. After a stunning run to the Final including three road Game Seven victories, the Los Angeles Kings still have enough pieces in place to contend each year for the foreseeable future. While the New York Rangers are not quite in the same stratosphere as the Kings, they have still built a foundation that can be improved upon to contend with any Eastern Conference team in 2014-15.
Let’s start with the Rangers, where the team will enter its second season under Alain Vigneault. The Rangers were a bit of a late-blooming team this season as the players slowly adopted their coach’s aggressive forechecking system. The team’s most valuable player, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, is locked into a new seven-year, $59.5 million deal that he signed earlier this season, so New York is set in net. However, a number of holes may be opening up on the roster, so general manager Glen Sather and company certainly have some flexibility this offseason.
Here’s a look at the Rangers’ forwards and defensemen, from Capgeek.
As you can see, the Rangers have a number of decisions to make immediately up front. Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider, and Mats Zuccarello are three players who the Rangers certainly view as impact forwards on this team moving forward. Zuccarello led the team in scoring during the regular season with 59 points, and Kreider added 13 points in 15 playoff contests following up a 37-point regular season. However, Brassard may be the highest priority in restricted free agency for one reason: Brad Richards.
Richards is a curious case. The 34-year-old center is signed for six more years with a cap hit of $6.67 million, and has a no-movement clause. After only putting up 51 points this season, Richards is an extremely likely case to be bought out using the amnesty provision in the new collective bargaining agreement. That move would have to be made before 5 p.m. on June 30.
If Richards is bought out as expected, then the Rangers will likely need to bring back at least two of Brassard, Brian Boyle, and Dominic Moore, and then add another center through free agency. Derek Roy is likely out of St. Louis this offseason, and could be an affordable option for the Rangers to add a veteran presence to go with Derek Stepan and Brassard.
On the wings, I could see Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot coming back, with Daniel Carcillo heading back to the free agent pool. This seems to be an area that the Rangers could upgrade internally. JT Miller saw limited time with the Rangers this season, and could push to take a full-time spot on the roster in 2014-15. Danny Kristo, who compiled 43 points with AHL Hartford this year after a four-year career at the University of North Dakota, is one of the Rangers’ most talented prospects and should make his NHL debut next season.
Defensively, the Rangers have a lot of flexibility to change the look of their rearguards to fit the preferences of Vigneault. Kevin Klein is a sturdy defensive blueliner that was acquired in a swap with Nashville for Michael Del Zotto, and Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi are the cornerstones for New York. Beyond that, plenty could change.
Marc Staal will be an unrestricted free agent after next season, and will likely command a sizable raise over his current salary of $3.975 million. After playing 72 games this season, his recent injury woes may be behind him, but the Rangers surely will not forget his history. Could they move the 27-year-old if he is leaning towards walking out of New York?
John Moore, a restricted free agent, came from Columbus with Brassard and Derek Dorsett and could be a reliable third-pair guy that sticks in New York. Anton Stralman will likely be back as well, unless the Rangers decide to look for an upgrade in July. Stralman and Staal became an effective shut-down pairing for Vigneault this season.
While I doubt the Rangers go after a marquee UFA defenseman like Andrei Markov, Matt Niskanen, or Brooks Orpik, they could use another defender for added depth. Henrik Tallinder, Ryan Whitney, and Nick Schultz are all proven veterans that could be added at an affordable cap hit on a one- or two-year deal.
With just over $17 million in projected cap space before any potential buyouts, the Rangers are – oddly enough – not pressed into a corner financially. While the team does not have a first round pick as a result of the trade for Martin St. Louis, the odds of adding any impact prospects are not terribly high, so free agency will be important in 2014. There is some room to manipulate this roster, and there’s no reason to believe the Blueshirts will not be back in the thick of the Eastern Conference contention next season.
Moving on to the newly-crowned Stanley Cup champions, it’s no secret that the Los Angeles Kings have a roster well-stocked and ready for a competitive future. With six key players locked up for five years or more, including star goaltender Jonathan Quick at a wonderful $5.8 million cap hit, the Kings have a core that will keep them in Western Conference contention for a number of years to come.
As the Capgeek chart will show you, the Kings’ forward unit will look awfully familiar in 2014-15. With roughly $13 million in projected cap space, the Kings certainly have the liberty to bring back left wing Marian Gaborik, who was a stellar fit next to center Anze Kopitar and could become another long-term piece for Los Angeles.
The only question in regards to Gaborik is how much of a pay cut he will be willing to take. As a free agent in 2009, Gaborik was signed by the Rangers for five years at $7.5 million per year. With Drew Doughty as the Kings’ highest-paid player at $7 million annually, it’s doubtful general manager Dean Lombardi offers Gaborik as much as he could make on the open market. At 32, Gaborik also may not end up getting the term he desires from the Kings.
However, fresh off his first Stanley Cup, Gaborik may be willing to take a continued shot at winning over lining his pockets. Bringing Gaborik back may also cause problems when Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll become free agents in 2015. Stoll may prove expendable, but Williams won the Conn Smythe this season and is a proven clutch player that the Kings will want to keep around as long as possible.
Unlike the Rangers, the Kings only have one restricted free agent up front in Dwight King. Playing as the big body opposite Williams this postseason, King certainly earned a seven-digit salary and should get it from Los Angeles.
Like the forward group, Los Angeles will have more decisions to make at defense during next offseason rather than this one. Doughty and Slava Voynov are the team’s cornerstones, and both are right-handed shots, which is an immense help in the long run. Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin both solidified their spots in the organization this postseason, with Martinez providing the Stanley Cup-clinching goal along with two others and Muzzin stepping up as a power-play threat and big hitter alongside Doughty.
Matt Greene’s hard-nosed style and leadership are two qualities that should keep him in Los Angeles on a new deal, but that is no certainty, as the Orange County Register’s Mark Whicker suggests. The Kings’ other free agent defenseman, Willie Mitchell, was a sound addition that aided the Cup run, but at 37 and with a history of concussions is ripe to be replaced.
Brayden McNabb was acquired at the trade deadline from the Buffalo Sabres, and the Kings gave up highly-touted prospects Hudson Fasching and Nicolas Deslauriers to acquire the 23-year-old. McNabb plays a strong two way game at 6’5″ and 205 pounds and is emerging offensively. In a lot of ways, he is comparable to Muzzin, and that should help him establish a role with the Kings during next season. However, with Robyn Regehr, Muzzin, and Martinez ahead of him at left-handed defense, McNabb may have to spend some time in the AHL with Manchester as well.
Should the Kings look to add a defenseman from free agency, Derek Morris could be a fit. After spending most of the past nine seasons with the Phoenix, Morris is likely headed to free agency as the newly-minted Arizona Coyotes hand over the keys to some of their stellar defensive prospects. At 35, Morris has not yet had a shot at the Stanley Cup, and he could be a fit as a depth defenseman in the same mold as Mitchell.
As fans will surely see in 2014-15, the presence of the Rangers and Kings in the Stanley Cup Final was not a fluke either way. Expect both of these teams to stay near the top of their conferences moving forward.
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Around the Rink Assistant Site Manager Joe Ray – @jpray_SK
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