Regarding the Rangers, eight days away from making the first overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft:
1. I have borne witness to a number of shocking events on the ice throughout my career. Mark Messier hoisting the Stanley Cup at the Garden most assuredly qualifies.
But the single most astounding play I have ever seen was the one with 50 seconds in the second period of the Blueshirts match at Carolina on Feb. 22, 2011, when Eric Staal leveled Marc Staal on a violent high hit that induced a concussion that would only alter the remainder of No. 18’s career.
The blow came while the defenseman was engaged with another Hurricane and looking down for the puck by the boards. The hit, albeit legal, was vicious. And astonishing. No one, and I mean no one, in the press box watching the game understood it. Neither did anyone participating in the game with whom I spoke. I don’t ever need YouTube to conjure the image.
Marc Staal soldiered through the remainder of that season, less than candid with the medical staff about lingering effects from the concussion he had sustained. Less than candid with the public, too. When he missed the next three games, he said his knee was the issue.
But he missed the first half of 2011-12 with post-concussion symptoms, was supplanted by Ryan McDonagh as the top pair left defenseman, and his game was never quite the same. Issues of course were exacerbated when No. 18 was struck in the eye by a deflected puck during 2012-13, yet he was an integral top-four part of the teams that went to the Cup final and won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2013-14 and 2014-15, respectively.
So how dramatically did Staal’s career change following the Concussion in Carolina? In that 2010-11 season, his fourth year in the league, Staal led Rangers’ point men in power play time with 203:31. In the nine seasons following that one, Staal got a total of 103:14 with the man-advantage.
2. Trading Staal to the Red Wings, as the Blueshirts did on Saturday by packaging the alternate captain and his $5.7 Million cap hit with a 2021 second-round draft pick in exchange for “future considerations,” will have no impact on the anticipated buyout of Henrik Lundqvist.
For while the motivation for cutting ties with The King is to create space, all right, that space is in the crease that will be shared by Igor Shesterkin and Alex Georgiev, and not space under the cap. The Rangers aren’t buying out Lundqvist to save $3M under the cap (while adding $1.5M of dead space in 2021-22). They are doing it to enable both the club and the Swede to start this coming season with a clean slate.
3. Pending Lundqvist’s projected buyout, the Rangers will have $23,091,867 of space. Setting aside up to a combined $10.5M to resign Tony DeAngelo and Ryan Strome, they would still have another $12.5M available for Alex Georgiev, Brendan Lemieux and to fill in the blanks.
There is no reason whatsoever the team needs to spend to the cap this offseason. On the contrary, the Rangers should maintain flexibility to accommodate those who might become unexpectedly available due to market volatility caused by the effects of the pandemic.
4. The Staal-DeAngelo pair was intact for 39 of the final 43 games, on for 19 goals scored and 14 against in 438:06 of five-on-five play, which is not only not too bad, but is actually pretty darn respectable for a third pair. (Thanks, Naturalstattrick.com.)
So the Rangers will need a replacement on the left side of the blue line that would feature incumbents Ryan Lindgren and Brendan Smith, whatever air of confidence with which that leaves everyone.
Libor Hajek, who will get a head start on the season by playing in the Czech League, likely will get first crack at the vacancy. K’Andre Miller could contend for a spot.
But the Rangers could also move the righty-shooting DeAngelo to the left. We are talking about a small sample size, but when DeAngelo played the left with Adam Fox for 79:37 of five-on-five, the pair had a 62-pct Corsi rating, a 62-percent shot share and a goals for-against of seven-three for a plus four. (Of course, they were generally together when the Rangers were behind and pressing for offense.)
So, hypothetically: DeAngelo with Fox, Ryan Lindgren with Jacob Trouba and…and…and?
And if, as likely, the team is seeking a veteran to play either side on a one-year depth deal, Ottawa pending free agent Ron Hainsey should be at the top of the list of candidates. The 39-year-old lefty worked primarily last year on the right with Thomas Chabot. The 2000 Montreal first-rounder was on the Penguins’ 2017 Cup winning defense coached by incoming Rangers assistant Jacques Martin.
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