The Rangers will try right wing Martin St. Louis at center in Friday night's preseason game against the Blackhawks at Madison Square Garden. That indicates that Derek Stepan (broken fibula) may soon be placed on Long-Term Injured Reserve (LTIR), which makes him ineligible for the first 10 regular-season games.
They haven't announced anything yet, but it may be the Rangers' best short-term option. Final rosters must be set by 5 p.m. Tuesday.
If 19-year-old winger Anthony Duclair makes the cut, which seems likely, putting Stepan on LTIR also would allow the Rangers to keep a spare center, likely Chris Mueller or possibly Matthew Lombardi, bothered by a groin pull, both of whom would have to clear waivers anyway.
Stepan, the team's second- highest scorer last season with 57 points, would be ineligible to play until Nov. 3, the 11th game of the season. But it would ease a salary-cap crunch, allowing 13 healthy forwards and some wiggle room by temporarily removing Stepan's $3.05-million cap hit.
If Stepan, who is still on crutches, stays on the roster, the Blueshirts would have to live with 12 healthy forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies, and be up against the $69-million cap ceiling. And the Rangers open the season with three games in four days.
The absolute best-case scenario for Stepan is for him to miss four weeks from the time he was injured; he would miss the first four games. However, if Stepan is sidelined five weeks, that's seven games. Missing six weeks means skipping nine games. Again, LTIR requires missing 10. If the doctors believe Stepan is in the five- to six-week range, it may make sense for LTIR.
Or are the Rangers ready to compete with 12 healthy forwards for seven to nine games? When Stepan returns, some moves would have to be made, but coach Alain Vigneault and his staff would have some extra time to evaluate players here and in Hartford.
With Stepan on LTIR, an opening-night lineup could look something like this:
Forward lines: Chris Kreider-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello; Anthony Duclair-Martin St. Louis-Rick Nash; Carl Hagelin-J.T. Miller-Ryan Malone; Tanner Glass-Dom Moore-Lee Stempniak.
Chris Mueller/Matthew Lombardi/Jesper Fast as a 13th forward.
Defense pairings: Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi; Marc Staal-Dan Boyle; John Moore-Kevin Klein; Michael Kostka or Matt Hunwick as the spare.
Goaltenders: Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Talbot
Fast, Kevin Hayes, Oscar Lindberg, Ryan Haggerty and Marek Hrivik are waiver-exempt, and could be brought back and forth from Hartford if needed in case of injury.