1. What to do with Brad Richards?
The 33-year-old center, who was regularly dropped down in the lineup and was a healthy scratch for the first time in his career in Game 4 against the Bruins, is owed $36 million through 2019-20. Richards is certainly a candidate for a buyout under the new CBA, which would eliminate his annual cap hit and allow the Rangers to sign some of their younger restricted free agents: Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh and Carl Hagelin and perhaps Mats Zuccarello. The Rangers used a buyout on defenseman Wade Redden in December.
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2. Can Marc Staal regain his All-Star form?
The defenseman, one of the top four on the team, was sidelined for all but Game 3 of the playoffs against the Capitals, after he was struck in the right eye by a deflected puck on March 5. His loss has been costly. The 26-year-old alternate captain has been practicing recently, wearing a visor and adjusting to vision issues that may or may not significantly improve. He has had ups and downs in his rehabilitation, and the hope is that he'll recover with time.
3. How can the power play be revived?
It's a critical issue. Coach John Tortorella and assistant Mike Sullivan have tried just about every personnel combination, but the extra-man units failed miserably during the regular season and were an NHL worst 3-for-42 in the postseason. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto, groomed as the power-play quarterback, hasn't been up to the task and Tortorella has admitted that there's no bomber from the point to keep penalty-killers honest. The spot could be filled by Ryan McDonagh, John Moore, a healthy Staal or an acquisition in the offseason.
4. What's the future of the bosses?
It's unclear. President and general manager Glen Sather, who underwent prostate cancer surgery in March, could decide to relinquish the second title to assistant general manager Jeff Gorton, who has been in the role for two years and was an assistant with Boston before coming to New York. And although the oft-controversial Tortorella is under contract and expected to return for a sixth season, there were no public endorsements or guarantees from Sather before the second-round ouster by the Bruins. The status of Sullivan is up in the air, and it's also possible another assistant could be added.
5. Is there help coming from trades, the minors or the draft?
Not likely in the draft, which will be held June 30. The Rangers used their first-round pick in acquiring Rick Nash from the Columbus and sent a second-rounder to San Jose for Ryane Clowe. To continue to get younger and prepare for a realigned division that will add Washington, Carolina and Columbus, forwards J.T. Miller and Marek Hrivik and defenseman Dylan McIlrath will get long looks in training camp. Some regulars and prospects could be packaged for help at center.
WHAT WENT WRONG
1. No consistency.
Veterans Marian Gaborik, who was traded to Columbus on April 3, and Richards struggled. Henrik Lundqvist, a Vezina Trophy finalist, and Nash, with 21 goals, carried the load during the season, which ended in a furious push to grab the sixth rung on the playoff ladder in the East.
2. The power play short-circuited.
Playing with a man-advantage was a disadvantage. The Blueshirts finished 23rd in the NHL (at 15.7 percent) during the regular season and were a woeful 3-for-42 in the playoffs. The coaching staff tried various personnel moves to correct the fatal flaw, to no avail.
3. Not enough depth on defense.
McDonagh has the makings of an All-Star and Dan Girardi's fearless shot-blocking continued. Anton Stralman was steady after a slow start, but Del Zotto went backward. Moore helped after Staal went down with an eye injury, but the third pair was awfully thin.
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