The Rangers off-season has already begun. Team President and GM Glen Sather has replaced John Tortorella. Alain Vigneault will officially be introduced as the new coach tomorrow at Radio City. He’ll become the 34th coach in franchise history.
The 52-year old coach brings experience, having coached Montreal and Vancouver. He took the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. They lost in seven to Boston. A bitter pill they never recovered from. The past two years have seen them eliminated in the first round. It was time for a change.
Vigneault gets a fresh start on Broadway. He takes over a good team. There won’t be any goalie controversy. Henrik Lundqvist is a stud who can steal games and series like he did to Washington. There’s great leadership with captain Ryan Callahan along with Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. It remains to be seen if Brad Richards will return. Ryan McDonagh is an emerging All-Star defenseman and Derek Stepan is developing into a two-way offensive center. Rick Nash is an established finisher. Derick Brassard led the club in postseason scoring with 12 points. Other key pieces include Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider, who has the potential to become a 30-goal scorer. Vigneault will need to get more out of Michael Del Zotto, who can hit the open market next summer if the Rangers don’t re-sign him.
Assessing the roster, it can use a little more bulk. Sather has an important decision on pending unrestricted Ryane Clowe. The 30-year old rugged forward was acquired from San Jose at the trade deadline for second and third round picks in 2013 and a conditional 2014 second round pick if he’s re-signed. Sather must weigh the positives against the negatives with a player who missed time due to a head injury (concussion). Clowe reportedly wants to stay. Will he give the Rangers a discount? That remains to be seen.
Sather will be quite busy negotiating new contracts for McDonagh, Stepan and Hagelin. All are Group II who are due significant raises. He also must decide what to do with Mats Zuccarello. He impressed in his return finishing second behind Brassard with seven points in the playoffs. He’ll probably be retained. The Rangers are also evaluating Mike Sauer, who’s considering retirement. Slats’ biggest focus is extending Lundqvist. The former Vezina winner expressed disappointment with this season and was noncommittal. Even if Sather says that didn’t impact his decision to fire Tortorella, it might not be the whole truth. The Rangers can ill afford to lose their franchise netminder. It must get done before training camp.
One player Vigneault coached is Max Lapierre. Originally a Montreal second round pick, the gritty 28-year old from Saint Leonard, Quebec is an agitating center who can inject energy. Not the most popular due to his post-whistle etiquette, Lapierre is a solid checker who’s strong on faceoffs and kills penalties. He plays a physical style that would be a good fit in New York. While some might question why I’d recommend a player I’m not fond of, you have to look at what he brings.
Lapierre is a physical type who takes the body. In ’11-12, his 244 hits led the Canucks and ranked just outside the top 10 in the NHL. By comparison, Callahan dished out 271 and Brian Boyle recorded 236. Lapierre also won 52.1 percent of draws. Boyle won 51.8 the same year but took a lot more. In 2013, he converted 56.4 to Lapierre’s 50.6. One could argue that they’re similar in terms of statistics. But there’s more to it than that. Anyone who’s watched Boyle knows he isn’t consistent. Yet when the playoffs came, he elevated his play a second consecutive year, tallying three goals and two assists. He doesn’t always use his size (6-7 244). Lapierre is listed at 6-2 207. A checking line of Lapierre, Boyle and a choice of Arron Asham, Derek Dorsett or Taylor Pyatt would be an upgrade. All year, the Rangers’ lack of a consistent forechecking fourth line that could bang bodies hurt. AHL types such as Kris Newbury and Micheal Haley are ill suited.
In 2013, Lapierre earned $1 million. Boyle is due $1.7 million entering his final year. It stands to reason that it wouldn’t cost a ton to sign Lapierre. A player who knows what to expect under Vigneault. A multi-year deal for between $3-4 million is doable. He might ask for $2.5 based on market value. Maybe he’ll take less if he wants to come East with Vigneault.