The NHL trade deadline is February 28th, just under two months away.
In the next eight or so weeks Jeff Gorton has to make a decision. The question is relatively simple, although the ripple effect of said decision is much more pronounced. But before you can know the outcome you have to know the question:
What will Gorton do before or at the trade deadline?
Seems simple, right? Only there’s three different ways this can be looked at. Which I’ll run through below from worst idea to best idea (in my opinion of course):
Be buyers at the deadline
This would require the Rangers to, for the fourth year in a row, trade valuable assets for rental players to improve the squad. I don’t see any true non-rental options out there officially, unless you consider Kevin Shattenkirk one such option — which I wouldn’t.
There are players like Dennis Wideman, Cody Franson and Michael Stone. There are a bunch of forwards, too, but the Rangers don’t need help there — although that didn’t stop Gorton from adding Eric Staal last year, either.
Still, this year’s forward group is much younger, deeper and better; so the thought process would have to be adding at the back would be the way to go.
At what cost, though? Can the Rangers afford to part with more picks or further deplete their small pool of quality prospects? More than likely not, especially for what would amount to be a meager return. Right now the Rangers are a “if they’re healthy and Henrik Lundqvist gets hot they can make a run” team. Bringing in a rental defenseman while Dan Girardi/Kevin Klein are still getting top-four minutes isn’t going to help. And there’s nothing to suggest any of the rentals listed would displace either of them.
Do nothing at all
Right now I think the Rangers exist as two sides of the same coin (we covered this on an epic podcast Thursday night). On one side of the coin the healthy Rangers do have a lethal enough offense that they can mitigate the problems on the back end and cover up an average Lundqvist (if he even stays that way). On the other side the defense is bad enough that even that offense might not be good enough to cover up the defensive flaws over the course of four seven-game series.
So if both of those things are true (and I obviously think they are) then maybe it would be best to do nothing, see where the team goes, keep all the picks and assets and re-set over the summer. Buy out Girardi, trade Klein, sign Shattenkirk and see if you can’t swing a trade for a top four defenseman. J.T. Miller — as much as I love him — would raise a lot of eyebrows. Maybe Michael Grabner, Oscar Lindberg, Brandon Pirri or Jesper Fast is enough to pry a second pairing defenseman to shore things up. The options are seemingly endless.
The benefit here is you don’t waste anything outside of another year. Yes, it’s awkward and uncomfortable to let another year of Lundqvist slip into the nether regions but the Rangers made this bed. They have to sleep in it.
Be observant sellers at the deadline
This option is a little less orthodox, so allow me to explain.
I’m not proposing the Rangers blow up the ship and start from scratch. What I am saying is that a contender might look at Grabner and be willing to part with a small fortune for him. Say Grabner brings back a first round pick and a solid prospect. Or just a first round pick.
Isn’t that worth avoiding losing him at the expansion draft for nothing? Isn’t that worth the insurance of losing him next summer for nothing? Or even from protecting the team from the risk of him falling off next year?
Due to the assets the Rangers have given away (with so little to show for) the past three years the Rangers might want to take this road. As it stands right now (by my own decisions on who to protect) Grabner, Pirri, Fast, Matt Puempel and Lindberg won’t be able to be protected.
The Rangers are required to have two players signed for next year who will be exposed. Of the above five, only Grabner fits the bill. I would expect at least Fast and Lindberg to get extensions before the draft, and maybe Pirri and Matt Puempel as well. Either way, the Rangers will have assets exposed they might lose for nothing.
So why not try to bring in something for those players. Pirri might have some value (3rd round pick, unless he starts scoring again) at the deadline. Puempel (similar situation to Pirri) as well. With the logjam of forwards the Rangers are going to have when everyone returns healthy, the Rangers will have a few guys sitting who deserve to play. Getting something for them makes sense.
No, this option will not make the Rangers better. Depending on who they give up (Grabner, mainly) it might make them notably worse. That’s what has to happen when you box yourself into a corner, though. The Rangers are in a corner, and swallowing your pride is the hard part.
Let’s hope Gorton makes the right decision.
There’s a lot riding on it.