By: Michael Abitabilo
Back in May, in the wake of the New York Rangers’ second round defeat at the hands of the Boston Bruins, I published Five Off-Season Predictions for the New York Rangers. At the time, I truly believed that I would be right on at least three if not four of my predictions (number five was admittedly a stretch). As a result, and in anticipation of being able to spend 1,500 words patting myself on the back, I promised to revisit my predictions at the outset of the 2013-2014 season to “see how I did.” As it turns out, I went 0 for five! But, I’m a man of my word, and so with training camp upon us, I thought it would be fun appropriate to go back and review each of my predictions to see where I went wrong.
Before I do, and because I am a sore loser, I want to make a few points in my own defense: First, in making my predictions I tried to avoid low hanging fruit. Anyone could have predicted that the Rangers would resign Ryan McDonagh to a long-term contract, or that he, Ryan Callahan, and Derek Stepan would be invited to the U.S. Olympic team orientation camp this summer. Second, most of my predictions were based on the assumption that John Tortorella would remain the Rangers’ head coach. While I didn’t include that as one of my predictions, I did note my belief that Tortorella would be given until at least the half-way point of next season. This belief was based on the team’s performance during his tenure, having reached the conference finals for the first time since 1997 in 2011-2012 and the second round of the playoffs in 2013. Hell, even Rangers President and General Manager Glenn Sather had “no intention” of firing Tortorella in the immediate aftermath of the season. That soon changed, though, and based on some of the stories and quotes that came out after he was fired, it would appear this was about more than the team’s on-ice success under the abrasive coach. I digress, but when the Rangers and Vancouver Canucks effectively traded head coaches in the off-season, my predictions might as well have been sent to Vancouver as part of the deal. Having said that, let’s review my predictions:
1. The Rangers will will not will buy out Brad Richards. Obviously, I waffled on this one back in May before ultimately predicting Richards would not be on the roster at the start of the 2013-2014 season. And while I ultimately got it wrong, I am standing by my underlying analysis of the Richards situation. In light of Richards’s decline, combined with the salary cap having decreased significantly since Richards signed his contract, and with the Rangers having to re-sign Captain Ryan Callahan, (sometimes) Alternate Captain Dan Girardi, and Best Player/Future Hall of Famer/Soon to be Highest Paid Goalie in the League Henrik Lundqvist to new contracts, it is a virtual certainty that Richards will be bought out. Since the Rangers had the option of exercising the buyout during this off-season or after the 2013-2014 season, here is what I said in my earlier piece:
While it would seem logical to rip the Band-Aid off now and move on, here is why it might not happen this year. … Despite the cap relief a Richards buyout would provide, it would leave the Rangers with even less depth at the center position. The Rangers could decide to give Richards one more season if for no other reason than to buy time until the 2014 off-season, when the pool of free agents will include several elite players (oh hello, Evgeni Malkin, Patrice Bergeron, et al.).
While Malkin and Bergeron each signed long-term extensions this off-season, it would appear the Rangers decided that Richards was a better option for 2013-2014 than any of the available alternatives. And while Richards’s cap hit has had a significant impact on the other moves (or lack thereof) the team made during the off-season, the reality is that had Richards been bought out, the team would have had serious depth issues at the center position (and I haven’t even gotten into Derek Stepan’s impending holdout). So the Rangers will send Richards out there and pray he doesn’t get seriously injured (thus rendering him ineligible for an amnesty buyout after the season). It would be an added bonus if Richards finds his game, but unless he is dynamic all season long, expect Richards to be among next year’s group of free agents.
2. The Rangers will trade Michael Del Zotto. So this one was a reach, but was based almost entirely on Del Zotto’s relationship with Tortorella. Del Zotto is still young (just 23) and full of potential. In the long run, I’m still not sure if there is room for both Del Zotto and John Moore on the roster, but I can understand the Rangers wanting to see if Del Zotto is able to take his game to the next level under a different head coach.
3. The Rangers will re-sign Ryan Clowe to a four-year, $14.5 million contract. Not much I can say here other than I totally whiffed. Once the decision was made not to buy out Richards, the Rangers’ cap crunch made it virtually impossible for Clowe to return to the Rangers even at the numbers I projected. Adding insult to injury, the 30-year old Clowe, a Tortorella favorite, then signed a five-year deal worth an astounding $24.25 million with the cross-town Devils. Every year there are a handful of contracts that far exceed expectations, but being nearly $10 million off pretty much killed any chance ever I had at becoming an NHL GM. In fact, I’m not even sure I should be allowed to run my own franchise in NHL ’14 for PS3 this year. Anyway, the Devils overpaid to get Clowe, but the Rangers will miss him.
4. The Rangers will sign Ryan O’Byrne. Actually, I got this one right. But, for some reason, when I typed “HC Lev Praha of the Kontinental Hockey League,” my computer auto-corrected it to “The Rangers.” But seriously, this was gonna be the prediction that put me on the map in the hockey-est of hockey circles! This one was based on my belief that the Rangers would part ways with Roman Hamrlik, Matt Gilroy, and Steve Emminger, and would look to add a defenseman with size, strength and nastiness to the existing core of smooth skating defensemen. I was right on each of those fronts. At 6’5”, 234 lbs., O’Byrne fit the bill. Unfortunately for me, at 6’5”, 215 lbs., so did Justin Falk. I identified O’Byrne as a target for several reasons: first, he is right-handed and the Rangers were already overloaded with left-handed defensemen. Next, he was a free agent, meaning he was up for bid on the open market. Falk, on the other hand, was acquired via a trade, and while the Rangers did not give up much in the deal, it is almost impossible to predict trades involving role players like Falk. In other words, I suck at this.
5. Henrik Lundqvist and I will meet and become really good bros. Who knew this prediction would end up being just as accurate as the other four? Needless to say, this one didn’t happen … yet.
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Mike Abitabilo is the co-founder of The Read Zone, and is predicting no one will solicit his opinions on the Rangers this season.