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Changes seem likely for Rangers core after playoff disappointment

New York 'shocked' to fall short of Stanley Cup again

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- There was irony to Thursday for the New York Rangers.

A year ago, the Rangers went out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a whimper, barely putting up a fight against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a five-game Eastern Conference First Round series. It was bad, but it didn't feel like their world was crashing around them.

That's exactly what it feels like in New York now after the Rangers had a better regular season than last, albeit by two wins and one point, and after they went one round further in the Stanley Cup Playoffs than last year.

The Rangers players and coach Alain Vigneault would be naive to think change isn't coming to a core group of players and a coaching staff that has been together for the past four seasons and hasn't done anything more than come close to winning the Stanley Cup once, reaching the Final in 2014.

It really shouldn't be a question of whether there will be change but rather what will change, because the Rangers have been built to win the Cup but consistently failed to do so.

 

[RELATED: Rangers lament missed opportunities after elimination]

 

"That's a good question," Vigneault said. "That's a valid question. It's something that I don't think I have an answer for you today, but I do think it's something we're going to look at. We're going to get together in about 10 days for a week and we're going to go through everything."

At the time Vigneault spoke, it was less than 48 hours since the Rangers had been eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a 4-2 loss against the Ottawa Senators in Game 6 of the second round. The wound was still fresh.

"I would probably say [I'm] still shocked we're not playing hockey right now," Vigneault said. "It's going to take me a little bit of time here to get over this one."

When he does, there will be several questions to answer.

Video: Reactions to Senators beating the Rangers in Round 2

What will become of defensemen Marc Staal, 30, and Dan Girardi, 33, two heart-and-soul players who have given everything they have to the organization but are clearly not the same as they were a few years ago?

Will one of them be traded or, in lieu of that, bought out to create space under the NHL salary cap to make room for another defenseman, preferably a right-handed shot who is young and has fresh legs? 

A Staal buyout would require the Rangers to keep a fraction of his salary-cap charge on their cap for the next eight seasons. A Girardi buyout would require a fraction of his charge to be on their cap for the next six seasons.

Vigneault isn't the one to talk about buyouts, but he seems ready to reduce the minutes he has given two of the players he has put so much trust and faith in.

Girardi played 22:06 per game in the playoffs after averaging 19:06 in 63 regular-season games. Staal played 19:15 per game in the playoffs after averaging 19:10 in 72 regular-season games.

"There are some guys right now that are taking strides that deserve more minutes and they're probably going to get more minutes," Vigneault said. "That means some other guys are going to get less."

Video: OTT@NYR, Gm4: Anderson gloves down Nash's wrister

Will forward Rick Nash be with the Rangers when training camp begins?

Nash will be entering the last year of an eight-year contract and he has a cap charge of $7.8 million, according to Cap Friendly. He's still one of the Rangers' most effective forwards, but he had only 38 points (23 goals, 15 assists) in 67 games this season and will turn 33 on June 16.

If the Rangers can move him, even retaining some of his cap charge to make it more palatable for their trade partner, it might be better for them considering the numbers Nash put up this season and his potential for further regression.

"I love being a Ranger," Nash said. "New York is home for me now. So we'll see what happens."

What about center Derek Stepan?

It's going to be difficult for the Rangers to move on from Stepan because of his contract; he's signed for four more seasons at $6.5 million per season. That's a lot for a player who has proven to be a good center but not been consistent enough to be a No. 1.

Stepan, 26, had a rough postseason with six points (two goals, four assists) in 12 games and said Tuesday after Game 6 that he was embarrassed with his play. Stepan said Thursday he thinks he was too hard on himself, but he knows his performance wasn't his best and it leaves his future at least in a little doubt.

"We understand that this world is about winning and as a group that's something we haven't been able to do," Stepan said. "We've been real good and real close but that doesn't do us any good."

Video: OTT@NYR, Gm6: Kreider tallies on strong solo effort

Will forwards Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes all be with the Rangers in training camp?

Vigneault said the three, who frequently get lumped together in discussions about the Rangers, made strides this season. But if the Rangers have to make a trade to get a young defenseman to preferably play on the top pair with Ryan McDonagh, one of the three could be on the move.

Can Mika Zibanejad prove himself as a true No. 1 center? 

Zibanejad has been hard on himself for being inconsistent, insisting that he's too passive at times and doesn't know why. He led the Rangers with nine points (two goals, seven assists) in the playoffs and had 37 points (14 goals, 23 assists) in 56 regular season-games (he missed 25 with a broken leg) but said he can do more.

"He's at that crossroad now," Vigneault said. "He's got the tools and the capabilities to be a high-end centerman in this league. He needs to put it together."

This Rangers core hasn't put it together yet. It may be out of chances. The time seems right for change. 

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