With less than three weeks to go until the NHL’s annual trade deadline, crunch time is fast approaching for general managers around the league. For contenders, the task of identifying which players will fit in their team’s system is one that requires months of scouting and analysis, while also determining how much of their future they are willing to sacrifice to win today. For cellar dwellers, they have to do their best to showcase their pending free agents, and decide who to try and keep in the fold beyond the current season, and who to ship out for picks, prospects, and everything else a rebuilding franchise needs for a chance at a better tomorrow.
For the Rangers, the goal is the same as it always is: To load up on talent, and hope you’ve stocked up enough to parade down the Canyon of Heroes in June. While Glen Sather could always be counted on to make a blockbuster deal, Jeff Gorton proved last year that he would not shy away from pulling the trigger to try and improve his team. While last season’s Eric Staal acquisition was an ill-advised attempt at fixing New York’s issues, it showed that the first-year general manager wasn’t afraid to shell out assets to make the Rangers a better team today.
Last season, it was the longtime Carolina Hurricanes forward who had been connected to New York in the past, and with the former star’s contract expiring in the summer of 2016, it made too much sense for the Hurricanes to move on. Two second round picks and a prospect later, and Staal went from team captain to third line winger for the New York Rangers.
This season, it’s longtime St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk who has been connected to New York in the past, and with the star’s contract expiring in the summer of 2017, it makes too much sense for the Blues to move on. While Shattenkirk isn’t the only possibility for Jeff Gorton to consider, the man who grew up a Rangers fan just over the bridge in Westchester County is certainly the apple of the second year general manger’s eye.
However, Gorton will have to look in the mirror in the coming weeks, and decide if shelling out assets for what in all likelihood will end up being a two month test drive before pursuing Shattenkirk in free agency is worth the cost. Whatever decision he ends up making, there is an assortment of options Gorton will have considered, so it makes sense to examine what those options are ahead of this month’s trade deadline.
What The Rangers Can Do:
Although New York doesn’t have any glaring holes in their forward depth chart, that hasn’t stopped the talking heads of the hockey world from connecting the team to some of this year’s rental forwards. Martin Hanzal and Shane Doan of the Arizona Coyotes, and Jarome Iginla of the Colorado Avalanche have been some of names bandied about as possibilities to land on Broadway. Of those players, Doan is the one with the most smoke between him and the Rangers, with rumors of mutual interest between the two sides dating back to the summer of 2012.
Bringing in Shane Doan, or almost any other forward, is a scary proposition to imagine. With the forward depth chart being as crowded as it is, adding another top nine player into the mix would create more problems than it would solve. Alain Vigneault’s current lineup (Brandon Pirri and Matt Puempel in the press box) is the best group of twelve forwards in the organization.
Acquiring another forward for the sake of “veteran presence” would require Olympic-level mental gymnastics from Vigneault and Gorton to justify playing someone like Doan or Iginla over Jesper Fast, Jimmy Vesey, or Pavel Buchnevich. Fortunately, the odds of a move like this happening are slim to none. The only way to create room for another forward would be trade one of the current roster forwards in a separate deal, and “hockey trades” like that are rarely the types of moves that occur at the trade deadline.
Another option at Jeff Gorton’s disposal would be to re-tool the team without necessarily being “buyers” in the strict sense of the word. Glen Sather did this during the 2013 and 2014 deadlines, shipping out Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan while bringing in Derick Brassard, John Moore, Derek Dorsett, and Martin St. Louis in the hopes of shaking the Rangers up ahead of the playoffs.
Despite the difficulty of moving high priced players with term on their contracts at this time of the year, it is something that needs to be considered to make New York better today and tomorrow. If you can move Derek Stepan and bring in a defenseman to anchor your Top 4, how can you say no to that? If a team desperate for scoring is willing to pay through the nose for Michael Grabner, how does Jeff Gorton justify turning them down? Those might be some of the questions the Rangers’ general manager will have to answer as the phone calls pour in from teams across the league.
What the Rangers Should Do:
While acquiring a defenseman is the obvious move for New York to make, the team isn’t in a position where they can afford to go all in. Opinions on the team are varied throughout the hockey world, so how good the Rangers really are is up for debate. Regardless of that, Jeff Gorton can’t break the bank to acquire an impact player. As tempting as dangling a 1st Round Pick might be, Gorton must resist going down the path of his predecessor. There are enough defensive options on the market that New York will be able to avoid a bidding war with the other Stanley Cup hopefuls.
Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis Blues) is the flashiest name available, but if the rumors about him wanting to play for the Rangers are true, than there’s little sense in shelling out assets for a two month test drive. With cheaper options such as Cody Franson, (Buffalo Sabres) and Josh Manson (Anaheim Ducks) available, New York can afford to be patient and avoid any debacles, such as last year’s Eric Staal acquisition. In addition to outside options, the team could test their most prominent in-house option, and call up Ryan Graves to see if he is ready. If Graves needs more time to develop in Hartford, then standing pat and regrouping after an early playoff exit is an acceptable option. As long as Henrik Lundqvist maintains his high level of play, then the Rangers can head into the offseason with an eye towards the future.
Regardless of how Jeff Gorton chooses to approach his second trade deadline as New York’s decision maker, he can’t afford to change what little the team is doing right by adding another forward to the mix. If Gorton can acquire an impact defenseman by sending a forward the other way then he should make that move, bur bringing in an extra body up front without moving on out is pointless. If he swing a deal for help along the blue line, than his best move would be to remain quiet and let the deadline come and go without any activity.
Of course, that’s what he should have done last year as well. And we all know how that turned out.