Who Will Be The Rangers Golden Knight?
One player in this top group will not be a member of the New York Rangers unless Vegas works out a deal with Jeff Gorton to send money, prospects, and/or picks so nobody is plucked from the big club:
Looking at what’s available around the league, we already know the Knights have their starting goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury. Speculation is that they’d target Antti Raanta because of his stellar play and insanely low cap number, but I’m not so sure. Detroit has elected to expose Petr Mrazek, and if you look at the forwards that are available in the expansion draft, there’s a ton of bottom-six talent that will serve them well. But there’s few and far between that are capable of 30 goals, and a backup goalie doesn’t mean much to an expansion team that isn’t expected to be competitive for a few years (Hi Nashville!) anyway.
But more importantly, from a business perspective, the organization isn’t going to put butts in seats and sell merchandise by having strong goaltending and a stifling defense (Hi New Jersey!). They’re going to sell tickets and be successful by adding exciting players to the roster that fans can grow to love. If they go for the smart move, the Knights could pick Jonathan Marchessault from Florida, but Jaromir Jagr is actually an available option to be claimed by Vegas. Let that sink in for a minute. He’s the premier name they’ll need to immediately generate a fan base, sell jerseys, and give a good interview. And they will need another top line player to go along with him, a guy that will embrace the community. Someone like Michael Grabner.
Seriously, the Knights would be absolutely crazy not to take him and trot him out on a top line with Jagr or Marchessault and let his speed and engaging personality win over the new fans.
While we’ve yet to see if Grabner’s resurgence this past season was mostly system related thanks to AV’s up-tempo offense or mainly due to the fact that he was finally healthy, the Rangers could potentially dodge a season of regression (remember when Brian Boyle scored 22 goals and Sather thought he could keep doing that? Me neither) if they do see him get claimed. Grabner turns 30 this October as well.
Centers Are A Premium
If Vegas is looking for someone to help break the team in, he’s their guy. As long as Golden Knights GM GM (General Manager George McPhee) is willing to accept that they won’t compete for a few years, and wants to maximize talent and cap space, then I have even worse news for you: the Rangers are most likely going to lose Oscar Lindberg.
Lindberg is a young center whose rights are easily controlled for another three years before Vegas would have to shell out serious UFA money to keep him. He has shown steady improvement over each of the past two seasons, scoring important goals, and being good in the face-off dot. If the rumors are true that Derek Stepan is on his way out the door (and there’s too much smoke for there not to be fire at this point); then keeping every other center the Rangers have on the roster is essential.
There’s plenty of defensemen out there that can get Vegas by until they can develop their own prospects. Names like Vatanen, McQuaid, Franson, Oduya, Rozsival, Jack Johnson, Kronwall, etc. are all out there to bring their experience and help young guys develop. But a goal scoring forward is tough to come by in the NHL.
That said, I think the Rangers will work out a deal to keep this forward group intact. It will cost them prospects and picks to do so, but who needs first round picks anyways!?!?