The New York Rangers still have some holes on the roster. If they are to address them this off-season, it will have to come in the form of a trade. Given the curious decisions made by the Florida Panthers organization, they are a prime target to make a deal with.
As of now, the New York Rangers most glaring deficiency is their center depth or lack thereof. With most of the marquee free agents snatched up, the Rangers would need to make a trade to acquire one.
Knowing the market, and how to take advantage of it, is key in any business. Within the NHL, certain organizations value certain players or play styles over others.
A team like the Florida Panthers, who have made several head scratching moves, look like good trade partners for any NHL team.
Front Office shakeup
Going into last season, the Panthers looked like a dark horse playoff team out of the Atlantic division. Then they stumbled out of the gate, leading to the dismissal of head coach Gerard Gallant.
The Panthers were unable to overcome several key injuries and ended with 81 points on the season, well outside playoff contention.
As a result, Owner Vincent Viola relieved Tom Rowe of his interim head coach and GM duties. He was replaced with former GM Dale Tallon, who had been promoted to President of Hockey Operations.
Tallon then hired head coaching neophyte Bob Boughner to man the bench.
The changes and restructuring of the organization means that the team Rowe envisioned and constructed is not necessarily the one that Tallon and Boughner desire.
The differences in these visions is what make the Panthers a desirable trading partner. This means teams might be able to pick up players that the current organization doesn’t value as much.
The Panthers have made a number of curious moves already this offseason.
First, they dumped Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights, allowing them to select former Rangers farmhand Jonathan Marchessault. Doing so freed the Panthers from having to deal with Smith’s impending contract extension.
Next, they bought out Jussi Jokinen’s contract, deeming $4MM too much to pay for a player who put up 28 points in 69 games.
They then allowed Jarmoir Jagr and Tomas Vanek to walk in free agency. To retain their old guy quota, they then signed UFA Radim Vrbata.
Between Marchessault, Jagr, Smith and Jokinen, the Panthers lost their third, fourth, sixth and seventh ranked scorers, respectively. The four players combined for 162 points, 52 of them on the powerplay.
The team’s only remaining top-six forwards are their centers, Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck.
Potential Center Trade
The Panthers lack forwards, especially wingers and the Rangers need another center to be in a good position to compete.
With the aforementioned Barkov and Trocheck more or less cemented at the top, this leaves former first rounder Nick Bjugstad as a good candidate.
We’ve advocated trading for Bjugstad before, and for good reason. This is despite him missing a third of the season with injuries and never getting going. He totaled a miserable seven goals and 14 points in 58 games.
However, Bjugstad only just turned 25 and has already logged seasons of 38, 43, and 34 points prior to last season. Additionally, he had a career low 7.7% shooting percentage last season, a bit below his career average of 9.4%.
The two concerns with Bjugstad are his health, he’s never played a full 82 game season, and his $4.1MM cap hit. However, his injuries have been varied, from groin to broken hand so he doesn’t appear to have a chronic issue.
The Rangers would have to make some room to fit Bjugstad, if they want him, but they are not very far from being able to.
I think the Rangers would be looking to move picks and/or prospects for Bjugstad with Florida looking for forwards. I do not think Florida would want to take someone like Rick Nash’s contract nor do I think the Rangers want to trade their young wingers.
The Panthers do have a defenseman surplus, although the Rangers do as well. For the Panthers, they left Jason Demers and his $4.5MM cap hit exposed in the Expansion Draft.
As the Panthers are shedding salary and didn’t protect Demers, it seems that they don’t have him in their long term plans. This is despite Demers being 29, a right handed shot and scoring nine goals and 28 points last season.
With the Rangers close to being capped out, they would likely need to move Marc Staal, with salary retained. They would probably need to include a pick or prospect in such a trade as well.
Theoretically they could move Nick Holden and just be able to fit Demers but I think the Rangers would want more of a cap cushion.
While the Panthers might not want another defenseman, they would save money, which is a priority for smaller market teams. Think of how the Ottawa Senators traded for Brassard after the Rangers paid his bonus so they wouldn’t have to.
Their blueline is also very young, with former Ranger Keith Yandle being the resident greybeard at 30. Staal would provide that desired veteran presence for the team’s young defensive corps.
This is contingent on Staal waiving his no-movement clause, of course, but that is far from impossible.
On the surface, the Panthers do not appear to be the most logical trade partners for the Rangers. However, their recent volatility and lack of a cohesive team direction makes them appealing, if not unpredictable.
Add in the fact they are looking to shed salary while the Rangers routinely spend to the cap ceiling, means that the Rangers might be appealing to the Panthers. Both sides would have to get a little creative but the pieces are there to make an exchange, should they desire one.