New York Rangers: Nothing but hard choices ahead

BOSTON, MA – DECEMBER 16: The New York Rangers celebrate a second period goal against the Boston Bruins at the TD Garden on December 16, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Rangers are in a weird position, they’re hanging around in the playoff race but have several difficult decisions about the future to make.

Somehow, someway the Rangers are just four points out of first place in the Metropolitan division. Fresh off their dramatic overtime victory in the Winter Classic against the Buffalo Sabres the team has a tough road ahead.

The team as a whole is just okay, there is not anything about the team that will blow you away. They win hockey games by the skin of their teeth and it’s worked thus far. This is why the Rangers are more pretenders than contenders at this point. They would need a stroke of luck to get past the first round of the playoffs should they even qualify.

Buy or Sell?

There are 44 hockey games left in the season for the Rangers. In about eight weeks the organization will have to decide what the plan is for this season. If the Rangers think that Chris Kreider will return this season, adding a premium player at the deadline would do a lot for their chances. There are several teams around the league in outright free fall that are looking to sell off spare parts.

As currently formed, the Rangers roster can’t hang with the best teams in the eastern conference. The defense is too shotty and the offense is too inconsistent, and that was before Kreider’s diagnosis.

The front office could also make the decision to explore trading off veteran talent on expiring contracts. Both Rick Nash and Michael Grabner could bolster a more serious contender in the midst of a playoff run. Either winger could net the team a more long-term asset and set the team up for success down the road.

Are the kids alright?

There comes a point in player development where a young player needs to sink or swim. Eventually, there comes a point where a decision has to be made about a players future. NHL ice time is a better evaluator of talent than lots of minutes in the AHL. If a player holds their own against the best in the world, they should stick around.

The Rangers currently have several players in Hartford who need NHL experience. Tony DeAngelo, Neal Pionk, and Ryan Graves all need to be given proper evaluations to determine their long term future.

DeAngelo could come back to the NHL at any time, he’s got the most experience of the three and was the highest draft pick. He’s contributing nicely on the Wolfpack’s blueline and seems to have worked out his early-season woes. Finding a way to get DeAngelo into the NHL lineup and Nick Holden out has two positives. It gets a young player NHL ice time and it gets a veteran in the last year of his contract out.

Now, Filip Chytil is a little different because his ceiling is so high. If the Rangers were to sell at the deadline, it would make sense to call him up and give him 30 games in the show to figure himself out. He’s shown tremendous offensive ability with both Hartford and with the Czech National team in the world juniors.

 

Who’s team is it?

This is a depressing thought, but Henrik Lundqvist’s greatness does have an expiration date. Soon the Rangers will be subjugated to having a mere mortal between the pipes. This will come at a heavy cost, it’ll require an overhaul of the entire team.

He’s kept the team afloat this season almost single-handedly. To help smooth this process down the line the team cannot continue to skimp on defense. The talent evaluation for the defenseman has been outright horrendous for the past several seasons. Marc Staal and Brendan Smith make up a combined ten million against the salary cap and neither has been worth it.

Add that to the Nick Holden adventure and you’ve got three defensemen who cannot be depended on in crunch time. Going forward finding the right mix of defenseman will be critical not just for making the playoffs but making whoever has the impossible task of replacing Lundqvist’s life easier.