Believe it or not, the trading deadline is quickly approaching. Crazy, right? It feels like just yesterday we were debating potential lineups during the preseason.
But here we are, roughly three weeks from the March 2nd deadline, and the Rangers will unsurprisingly be a buyer as they look to return to the Stanley Cup Finals. For the most part, available players will come from non-contending teams, as they look to move players, usually set for free agency, for prospects or draft picks to help build for the future.
The Rangers do not possess their first-round pick for 2015, due to the Martin St. Louis trade. They do, however, have their own second-round pick as well as Tampa Bay's. Combine that with the depth of prospects in the system and the Rangers, theoretically, have enough assets to pull off potential trades to boost the squad for the playoffs.
Two names that should be at the forefront, though, are Dylan McIlrath and Conor Allen. Both defensemen have been logging key minutes with the Hartford Wolf Pack the last two seasons and both have earned call-ups in each. Thus, it seems that both are more or less ready to test themselves at the NHL level. Unfortunately, they've had a tough time earning that chance with the Rangers for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps they never will.
Where's The Opening?
We could debate for hours whether Allen and/or McIlrath will become NHL defensemen. What's almost certain, though, is that a rebuilding team that had openings on defense would already be giving them a shot.
That team is clearly not the Rangers. Five defensemen are locked into the roster - deservingly - while John Moore and Matt Hunwick have put up a good fight for the last remaining spot. Contracts aside, it would be incredibly difficult to form an argument for why anyone currently in the Rangers' defensive corps should be taking a seat for either McIlrath or Allen.
As things stand now, that doesn't appear to be a temporary situation. McDonagh and Staal are going absolutely nowhere. The same is probably true for Girardi and Boyle as well. While Klein could be speculated as a cap casualty, there's no reason to assume anything in that regard right now. Only Moore and Hunwick are not under contract for next season.
At best, there will be one spot open in the lineup. Allen and McIlrath can't both win it, and there's legitimate reason to doubt either would get it, anyway. Even in the most fortunate scenario, only one of them would make cut next training camp.
Crowded Farm System
As things sit right now, McIlrath and Allen are restricted free agents going into the offseason and them receiving qualifying offers is a formality. Tommy Hughes and Samuel Noreau are also under contract for next season. Mat Bodie is a restricted free agent as well, but perhaps isn't a lock. Nonetheless, it seems reasonable to suspect the Rangers will want to look at him for another year.
Those are four defensemen for certain returning and a potential fifth. Then, you have an influx of defensemen coming in. Ryan Graves, already signed to a contract, will turn pro next season. Troy Donnay, an overager, will as well. Daniel Walcott, though not under contract yet, will almost certainly join them. Petr Zamorsky, signed last summer before being loaned back to Europe, is supposedly making the move to North America next season. The same could be true for Calle Anderson. Brady Skjei seems likely to forego a senior year at Minnesota and instead sign with the Rangers.
Then you have to account for the one or two veteran defensemen in the mold of a Michael Kostka that the Rangers will surely want to stash in Hartford as well for the sake of the locker room as well as for call-ups. And will the Rangers sign another one from juniors or the NCAA? There are ways to deal with the congestion. A couple will likely play in the ECHL. Maybe one of the Europeans stays there. Nonetheless, even with conservative estimates, we're looking at seven or eight defensemen at the AHL level. Something has to give.
In a vacuum, the McIlrath and Allen would be the last players to be victimized by a numbers game. The Rangers would obviously not get rid of Allen and/or McIlrath just for the sake of making room for fringe prospects. However, one major obstacle complicates things.
This, more than anything else, puts McIlrath and Allen on the radar for potential trades. Right now the Rangers can move both guys between Hartford and New York without disruption all they want. That changes next season, as both players will be subject to waivers. Should either player fail to win a roster spot out of training camp, and we already covered how that at least one most certainly won't, he would have to clear waivers before going back to the AHL.
Is it possible that they would pass through safely without being claimed? Sure. But do the Rangers want to take that risk? Both are assets with trade value, and losing them for nothing after spending the resources and time to develop them - with McIlrath in particular - would seem like a waste. These are both young defensemen who have played well in the AHL and have NHL potential. A handful of teams searching for defensive depth and upside would probably love to scoop up either at no cost.
It's a perfect storm for both McIlrath and Allen. There's soon to be a logjam of young defensemen in the AHL. There will be, at best, one spot open on the NHL roster. And they're both subject to waivers. Those compounding issues are why at least one could very well be sent packing. Of course, that is also dictated by their perceived trade value and what kind of player(s) the Rangers want to acquire. If the Rangers are shooting high, then either could be a part of a package to acquire significant player; let's say Andrej Sekera or Antoine Vermette. Or, if the Rangers will settle for a depth move, then maybe McIlrath or Allen could be the focus point of a deal for Mike Santorelli or Chris Stewart. Another idea would be to move one of them to a team in return for a mid-round draft pick, which would soften the blow of the Rangers potentially moving a second-round pick in a different deal.
Or maybe neither will be moved at all. The Rangers clearly won't just trade them for the sake of trading them, so they'll want to make sure it's the right deal. The Rangers could also just decide that they're confident in one of them making the roster next season, or that they'll take the gamble on them clearing waivers. Or, they could decide to put off decisions regarding both until the summer. The trading deadline is a crazy period that is impossible to predict, and the market will dictate whom and what the Rangers move to complete a trade; if they even do make one.
Ultimately, though, McIlrath and Allen are logical trade candidates within the coming weeks.