Rangers still have concerns, big questions to answer

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The start of the 2022-23 NHL season is still a couple of months away, so there is still time for teams to round out their roster and make moves this offseason. That is good news for the New York Rangers because after the first month of the NHL offseason their roster still has some pretty significant question marks and concerns.

This was always going to be an important offseason for the Rangers because we were going to find out what they learned about why they had their success this past season and what they felt they still needed to do. For as successful as the season was, their playoff formula (sensational goaltending and a dominant power play overshadowing bad 5-on-5 play) is not exactly one that you want to rely on long-term. Being content with the progress and status quo was not going to be good enough.

The early returns are not exactly promising.

The Rangers’ one big move so far this offseason has been to sign unrestricted free agent Vincent Trocheck to a seven-year, $39.75 million contract.

[Related: 2022 NHL Free Agency Tracker]

Trocheck is a very good player, and in the short-term should be a nice fit as the team’s new second-line center. The seven-year term is a big picture concern, but the Rangers do not have to cross the bridge just yet.

The more immediate concern is that the signing of Trocheck (a really good player) came at the expense of losing Ryan Strome (also a pretty good player), Andrew Copp (also a pretty good player), and Frank Vatrano (also a pretty good player) in free agency.

That is one good player in and three good players out the door.

Strome and Trocheck have been pretty close to a wash offensively over the past few years, while Trocheck has a nice defensive advantage. So there is an upgrade there at the second-line center spot. That is fine.

The problem is they not only lost Strome, but also lost Copp and Vatrano. Strome has been replaced. Copp and Vatrano have not.

[Related: Rangers sign Trocheck]

While they did not spend a lot of time with the Rangers last year (both joining the team at the trade deadline) their arrivals were significant in taking them from a nice young, up and coming team, to a dangerous team that would be capable of doing real damage in the playoffs. They gave a team that needed scoring depth and more punch offensively exactly that. Copp, along with his offensive production (14 goals, 18 assists and 32 total points in 36 regular season and playoff games), was also a significant defensive upgrade.

There is still time for them to be replaced. But it is going to be a challenge. Most of the major trades have been made. The main free agents have mostly been picked over (though bargains and value can still be found). Even worse, the Rangers have less than $4 million in salary cap space to work with while still needing to re-sign restricted free agent Kaapo Kakko. They almost have to more salary out for another move.

At this point the Rangers seem to be counting on three things happening this season: Shesterkin being as dominant as he was a year ago, Chris Kreider‘s goal scoring surge being for real and not an outlier, and their young players taking a big step forward.

Igor Shesterkin
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Can Shesterkin carry them again?

Shesterkin was the biggest factor in the Rangers’ regular season and postseason success. He was the best goalie in the league by a substantial margin and at times put the team on his back.

But for as dominant as he was, can he be that good again over a full season?

The problem with relying on percentages is that percentages fluctuate, even for great players. Since the start of the 2000 season we have seen 18 goalies play at least 40 regular season games and finish with a save percentage better than .930, including Shesterkin. Those goalies, no matter how good they are, almost always regress the following year. The only one that did not was Carey Price in 2015-16 whose save percentage went up by .001 …. while playing in only 12 games due to injury.

The full list.

On average, it was a .015 drop the next season. Even if you took .010 or .015 off of Shesterkin’s numbers this season he would still be in the top-five of the league, and perhaps even still lead the league. He was that much better than everybody else. But a 10-15 point drop in save percentage on the same number of shots is an additional 15-25 goals against. That is significant.

“Our goalie is better than your goalie, so let’s just see what happens” is not a sound plan. It did not get Henrik Lundqvist a Stanley Cup in New York, and it will not get Shesterkin one, either.

The young players will dictate everything

This is going to be the biggest key for the Rangers, and it can go a long way toward fixing a lot of the questions listed above, from scoring depth, to a potential Kreider regression, to improving 5-on-5 play.

This is where the Rangers can make their noise. Quite honestly, it is where they are going to have to make their noise.

We saw some promise from their Kid Line of Kappo, Alexis Lafrenière, and Filip Chytill in the playoffs. And they were great together. But it was also only a 140-minute sample size of 5-on-5 play. And while each of them has shown flashes of potential at different times in their young careers, they still have to show they can do it over a full season. Lafrenière and Kakko are still very young, and even though they were both top-two picks those players progress at different speeds. Not every top pick is an immediate superstar. But we are still getting to a point where we are going to need to see a significant jump if they are going to be star players, or just pretty good players. If it is the former, that is a positive game-changer for the Rangers. If it is the latter, it still leaves some questions.

[Related: Rangers took big step forward, but work still needs done]

K'Andre Miller and Braden Schneider can also make a significant impact on defense, and then there is the wild card that is Vitaly Kravtsov.

There is a ton of potential there with all of them. But not every young player or prospect pans out exactly as you hope, especially when you are dealing with five or six of them all at once. Some will exceed expectations, some will match them, some will get hurt, some will just be a disappointment.

This is still a good team. But is it as good as the 2021-22 team? Will it be better?

The success or failure of this group of players is going to go a long way toward determining how their 2022-23 season goes.

Given the roster moves they have made (and not made) this offseason, they almost have no choice.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.