New York Rangers still missing Cup-winning piece

Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /

The New York Rangers have been contenders for years, but can’t get over the hump. Looking at Cup winners in recent years, the Rangers may be missing just one key piece.

The New York Rangers are at a crossroads, with a core group that brought them to a Cup Final and a Conference Final just a few years ago. But the trend has been going downhill, and if this team is going to win a Stanley Cup, that missing piece must be found.

If we look at the past Cup winners, going back to Detroit in 2007 (and even earlier), one thing is consistent: elite centers.

While Derek Stepan is a top-30 center in the NHL, nobody can reasonably argue that he’s on the elite level. Whether it’s Sidney Crosby (and Evgeni Malkin) in Pittsburgh, Anze Kopitar in L.A., Jonathan Toews in Chicago, or Pavel Datsyuk in Detroit, Cup winners have that elite center.

The trouble is, acquiring a truly game-changing center isn’t easy. With the Rangers’ run of competitiveness (and lack of first-round picks), they can’t find one in the draft. No Connor McDavids or Sidney Crosbys are about to fall into the 20-30 range of picks.

So, how can the Rangers get this elite center they need? (And do they really need one?)

Related Story: Rangers must improve their farm system

Trading up

The most expensive option would be to trade for such a center. While the cost is dangerously high, it might be the easiest way to get a player of that ilk on Broadway. Indeed, the Rangers have been linked to Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon in trade rumors this summer.

MacKinnon is ripe for the taking, after a down year for himself and utter disaster for the Avalanche. His trade value is still quite high, but likely not as high as if he’d continued scoring 60-70 points after his rookie season.

Going in this direction is fraught with danger, though, as the price tag might be too much. The Rangers could regress if they gut their formidable depth to acquire the 21-year-old.

Related Story: Rangers tied to MacKinnon in trade rumors

Staying the course

Speaking of that depth, the Rangers may be able to buck the recent trend of Cup winners. While they don’t have that star center, they do have Henrik Lundqvist and four dangerous lines of forwards.

The New York Rangers took Kopitar and the Kings to double overtime twice and OT once in 2014; they lost in seven games to Stamkos and the Lightning in 2015. And that 2015 series featured a Rangers team with no Mats Zuccarello and significant injuries to half the defense.

While Lundqvist is not getting any younger, he’s still very good. On top of that, with Dan Girardi bought out and the potential for a revamped defense next season, the Rangers can still make a push for the Cup.

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Acquiring somebody like MacKinnon is no doubt attractive, but it could come at a damaging cost. The Rangers are probably better off keeping those assets and signing Kevin Shattenkirk, entering the 2017-18 season with a more dynamic back end.