Okay, we’ve been debating the merits of trade deadline additions for the New York Rangers for weeks. We’ve been speculating about who is available, who they will trade for and what is even necessary. We are 16 days away from the March 21 trade deadline and that means we are days away from learning what Chris Drury intends to do. In other words, it’s time to weigh in.
Are they a true Cup contender?
This is the most important question facing the Rangers. Are they good enough to contend for the Stanley Cup once the playoffs begin? There’s a simple answer. They are. There are two words that explain why. Igor Shesterkin.
With Shesterkin in net, the Rangers have a chance to win any seven-game series they play, he’s that good. It helps that they have an all-world defenseman in Adam Fox and three of the best forwards in the NHL in Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin.
They can play shut down defense and they boast outstanding special teams. They have proven over and over that they are resilient, they can come from behind and they never give up.
We’ve said it before. To win the Stanley Cup you need to be one game over .500 in four straight series. A team can go 16-12 and win the Cup. Losing streaks lose series and the Rangers don’t go on losing streaks, Shesterkin doesn’t let them.
Where are the flaws?
Anyone who watches this team knows what they need. Scoring from the bottom six is the team’s Achilles’ heel. With nearly all of the offense coming from the top six, if the bottom six could contribute just a little more, it would improve the Rangers’ prospects immensely.
If you watch Gerard Gallant’s press conferences, it’s obvious that he is aware of the bottom six scoring issues, but he also places a huge amount of value on the team’s ability to play defense. He’s said over and over that he doesn’t care how much they score or who does the scoring so long as they play hard, keep away from dumb plays and as a result, win.
Other than a lack of offense from the bottom six, the other flaw is a lack of depth. The Rangers are one or two injuries from depleting the pipeline. Their structure enables them to shuttle players in and out of the lineup with little impact, but an injury to one of their cornerstones could cripple the team.
It would impossible to replace a ZIbanejad, Kreider or Panarin and god forbid, Shesterkin, but the fact that with Kaapo Kakko out, the Rangers have to play Dryden Hunt on the second line is a clear indication that they lack depth.
What they should do
The key target for Drury should be depth players for the bottom six who could move up if needed due to injury. If that means a short term rental, that’s fine. It would be just for this postseason anyway since they will hard pressed to make any big contracts fit under the cap.
A secondary need would be a veteran presence on the blue line. That would be a player who is better than Libor Hajek or Jarred Tinordi. Right now, the seventh defenseman appears to be Zac Jones and he is a good fit, especially with him getting more experience in the AHL. However, a stay-at-home, veteran blueliner would be a solid addition for the playoff wars.
What to give up?
The Rangers have a surplus of young players and draft picks that could be traded, but the question is who should go for a short term rental? The trade deadline is a sellers market and the last thing the Rangers should do is give away a future NHL fixture for a player who will be a Ranger for just weeks.
Do you think the Bruins would rather have Ryan Lindgren on their blue line instead of 23 games of Rick Nash? Do you think the Washington Capitals would rather have Zach Sanford playing wing for them instead of 32 games of Kevin Shattenkirk?
Let’s not even get into first or second round draft picks that have been dealt for short term fixes. Some of the names of players picked from draft choices that changed hands at the deadline include Andrei Vasilevskiy, Matthew Barzel, Travis Konecny, Travis Dermott, Erik Cernak, Anthony Beauvillier and Joel Edmundson.
When it comes to a short term rental, the Rangers should not even entertain the idea of trading their top young players like Braden Schneider or Brennan Othmann. They should be very reluctant to deal other top prospects like Nils Lundkvist, Vitali Kravtsov, Zac Jones or Will Cuylle.
They do have resources that rebuilding teams would be interested in. Those are players like Matthew Robertson, Hunter Skinner, Tarmo Reunanen, Libor Hajek and even Morgan Barron. These are all players who cannot crack the Rangers’ lineup now and are down the depth chart when planning for the future. Trading them would be painful, but they are expendable.
Arthur Staple of The Athletic (subscription required) raised an issue in the Rangers’ favor. The Blueshirts have over $22 million in available cap space, a number that will grow as we get closer to the deadline. They could take on an expensive contract from a team that is in cap hell. There are seven teams with under $4 million in cap space and others with even less when players come off injured reserve.
Take the Vegas Golden Knights. The team is slumping and is on the verge of dropping out of a playoff spot. They desperately need Mark Stone back in the lineup, but when he is healthy, they have no cap space due to the acquisition of Jack Eichel. Reilly Smith has been mentioned often as a potential trade target and the best trade asset the Rangers possess is cap space. There are very few teams who can afford to take on a hit to the payroll like Smith’s. He would be a huge upgrade for the Blueshirts, but when it comes to him, due to his salary, it’s a buyers market and the Rangers should drive a hard bargain and not overpay if he is available
With Igor Shesterkin and the team currently behind him, the Rangers could go far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can be sure that ownership wants to see the team go deep. Playoff revenue is pure gravy for NHL teams and it’s been a long time since the Blueshirts saw that kind of windfall.
But it’s vital to remember that next season, they will be better. Their incredibly young core will be one year older, one year more experienced. Chris Drury will have the summer to leverage some of those assets like Kravtsov, Lundkvist and draft picks to make the improvements needed. He will have the benefit of a playoff run to judge where he should focus.
Last summer, his mission was to add muscle and make the team harder to play against. He did it. His mission was to find the right coach to take this team to the next level. He did it. And let’s not forget his best move, a move he made barely three months into his tenure as GM. He signed Igor Shesterkin to a four-year contract with an average annual value of $5.7 million.
So, we beg Chris Drury, please do not trade the future for two months of Tomas Hertl or 14 months of J.T. Miller. Leverage some of the Rangers’ young players and their cap space to find some depth for the bottom six. Make the team better, but not at the expense of a decade of future playoff contention.
It’s important to resist the many temptations as we get closer to the deadline and the trade chatter builds. If Drury makes the right moves, this team will win the Stanley Cup, maybe not this year or even next year, but it will win. We just need to be patient and enjoy the ride.