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July 2, 2014 | 8:40pm ET
Rangers have holes to fill
By Patrick Kearns, TheFourthPeriod.com

NEW YORK, NY -- The New York Rangers are in a worse position on July 2 than they were when the season closed last month.

But that's the reality of a hard salary cap and the price of being a perennial playoff team.

Opportunities to flush your farm system with top-end talent are scarce and 29 other teams are also trying to get better. The off-season is still young, but the Rangers are going to need to get creative this summer if they want to battle their way back to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The first big splash of the day on Tuesday was the signing of Dan Boyle, the veteran defenseman with a Stanley Cup ring and propensity for powerplay aptitude.

Except, the Sharks, a significantly more dangerous offensive team than the Rangers -- in every category, goals for, shots for, shot attempts for weren't much more effective than the Rangers with the man-advantage last year.

According to Extra Skater, the Rangers ranked 19th in the league in powerplay shot attempt percentage, while the Sharks ranked 15th. The Sharks had a lower shooting percentage, but the perceived lack of finish or low shooting luck was the biggest reason for the Rangers offensive woes this year. No?

There's no doubt that Boyle will make the Rangers powerplay slightly better, but don't expect it to stay in the upper echelon of elite next year, because Boyle, who will be 38 when the season opens, is on the back end.

"Dan is obviously an experienced player, he's been an elite player for a long time,' Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said on a conference call. "He's going to bring experience, he's going to help us on the powerplay."

How much will the team suffer when they are not on the power play though, because of this decision?

Boyle's signing spelled the end for Anton Stralman, which is not exactly a good thing for the Rangers. Stralman was a second pairing wizard last season for the Rangers and the top-pairing defenseman on the advanced stats All-Star team.

Stralman's 5-on-5 numbers were stellar and he drove play with the likes of elite defenseman last year. The difference between Stralman and Boyle in even strength situations is stark and Boyle didn't really bring more offense than Stralman at even strength. In fact, they had identical point totals at even strength and the exact same number of shots and shot attempts.

Vigneault's lack of trust for Stralman on the powerplay impacted his all situations offensive numbers, but at even strength last year, he was exactly as impactful as Boyle.

Overall, this a downgrade for the Rangers, who went to the Stanley Cup Final last month on a combination of offensive and defensive depth, great possession numbers and tremendous goaltending. Next season, that goaltending is going to need to be even better, because they're possession numbers likely won't be the same.

A big reason for that is anchor Tanner Glass, who just signed a three-year pact with the Rangers, effectively anchors his team to the defensive zone. Quick tip about hockey, it's nearly impossible score from the defensive zone.

Glass' shot attempt for percentage, relative to his teammates when he's not on the ice, was a league worst. When Glass was on the ice last year, according to Extra Skater, his team took 39.6 percent of the shots. It's doesn't matter how effectively you punch a guys face in, that three-zone ineptitude will hurt your team.

There's a thought that Glass will help, due an existing relationship with Vigneault. According to Behind the Net, in both seasons in Vancouver, Glass' on ice shot attempts minus off-ice shot attempts percentage was worse than negative 20 percent.

There's not clear reason for the Glass signing as the Rangers, for the first time in a long time, rarely ran out "enforcers," minus occasionally Dan Carcillo and they enjoyed their most success in two decades.

Vigneault called Glass a "hard-nosed fourth-line player that can kill penalties."

One signing that will help steady an uncertain bottom six, was the re-signing of Dominic Moore to a two-year deal.

Moore was part of a very efficient Rangers fourth line that was able to consistently take tough starts and drive play up the ice and away from Henrik Lundqvist. Moore was a proficient face off taker for the team and in a pinch was able to slot up to the third line without looking totally out of place.

Plus, by every account, Moore was a tremendous teammate that garnered the respect of every guy in the room, which is always a plus with a guy when he is great at his role and contributes on the ice. And while the on-ice contribution is what's most important and helps you win games, it's always an added bonus to have a teammate like Moore.

The losses of fourth line specialist Brian Boyle and the always underrated Benoit Pouliot shouldn't be too hard to replace if the Rangers pursue smart players. Pouliot provides a decent amount of offense while making the players around him better, never giving up in the offensive zone. Although his points per 60 minutes of ice time was the lowest it's been since the 2008-09 season, he will be a solid piece for a young Edmonton team that struggled with possession.

The Rangers, as everyone expected, used their compliance buyout on Brad Richards, the team's de-facto captain throughout their playoff run. Richards still contributed on the ice with sheltered minutes and signed a deal with Chicago Blackhawks, where, with the right talent, he can have a positive influence on the game in a minor role.

"I loved being a Ranger and living in New York and playing at MSG in front of great fans," said Richards, in a statement release by the Rangers after the buyout. "I've met many new friends, excellent teammates and staff and I have memories that I will cherish for a lifetime. Glen Sather, the management and owner, Mr. Dolan, are all class acts. I want to thank them for letting me be a part of New York life and the Rangers family. With this decision finalized, I can now look forward to starting the next chapter in my career."

There's plenty of time left before the Rangers open camp, but there are still a few holes to fill on the Rangers roster. Whether those spots are filled with youth, or another veteran signing remains to be seen, but the Rangers have some tough decisions to make with several restricted free agents needing new contracts.

The Rangers currently have an estimated $14.6 million in cap space -- including recent one-way signings and Jesper Fast's entry-level deal -- with Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider and John Moore needing new deals.

Patrick Kearns is a Columnist and the New York Correspondent for The Fourth Period.


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