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Some Crazy Ideas for the Open Center Spot

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NHL: New York Rangers at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s late August, and the Rangers still only have three real centers. While the defensive makeover this team has undergone is sure to improve the team’s ability to move the puck (although questions remain as to Marc Staal and/or Nick Holden’s role with the team), a center group of Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, and David Desharnais is not quite enough to make this team a bona fide contender. Aside from solving the problem in-house by moving JT Miller to center or hoping that Lias Andersson is NHL-ready, there is of course the option of trading for someone to fill the hole left by Derek Stepan.

Some of the more obvious, and most probable, ideas have been explored on this blog and elsewhere – but one of the things this team has taught me over the years has been to expect the unexpected. Who could’ve called the Brassard/Zibanejad deal last summer? Or the Kevin Klein/MDZ swap from a few years back? The trade that sent Gaborik to Columbus was similarly sudden in its character. While trading for Duchene or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins may be more likely to happen because of contextual factors (Edmonton being in something of a bind when it comes to the cap space they have committed down the middle and Colorado of course being Colorado), it may be worth exploring some of the more bizarre trades that the Rangers could make to fill out their center corps.

NAZEM KADRI

This first one is pretty unlikely to happen, given the way the Leafs fancy themselves a contender with their young, high-energy players (Kadri among them) and newly-added veteran Patrick Marleau.

Kadri is on a team-friendly contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $4.5 million that lasts until 2022, so the Rangers would certainly have to give to get. I wrote about the prospect of a Kadri trade over at TheLeafsNation.com, so I’ll keep this one brief. He’s a solid two way center who can put up serious points (32-29-61 last year), his contract is great, and he’s young. Unfortunately the price for the Rangers to acquire a player like Kadri would most likely involve a young rising star of their own who fills the Leafs’ need for a veritable #2/3 defenseman: Brady Skjei. Would our new found crop of defensive prospects (Pionk, Bereglazov, DeAngelo, or Sean Day) and the added value of Kadri be enough to compensate for the loss of the Rangers’ best young d-man since Ryan McDonagh? There’s only one way to find out!

LOGAN COUTURE

This next player in our crop of eligible bachelors would certainly cost the Rangers quite a bit in terms of price to acquire him as well as money against the cap, and it wouldn’t last long as he’s only signed through 2019. This almost certainly makes him a less attractive option, but if the right deal could be made it might not be such a bad thing, as a guy like Lias Andersson could be ready for the Show by 2019 anyways.

Couture’s offensive production in terms of shots and goals out paces what Stepan brought to the table, but unfortunately he’s not as reliable defensively. While he did notch 25 goals and 27 assists last year for the Sharks, his 5v5 Corsi Against per 60 minutes was 60.42 to Derek Stepan’s 55.2. That, in addition to the fact that a slight dip in defensive acumen down the middle might not matter as much when you’ve got Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh behind you moving the puck up the ice and manning the blueline once the puck is in the zone.

Still, $6 million against the cap is steep and he is certainly valued by the Sharks, so this road may not necessarily be the best one to go down.

SEAN COUTURIER

Next up in our series of “why on Earth would you trade this player (if the return is really good)” is Sean Couturier, Philly’s version of Anze Kopitar.

Although he only put up 34 points this past year his defensive numbers are strong and his contract is a great value to boot. Among players who logged more than 700 minutes (an arbitrarily high number chosen by me, sorry) he had a CA/60 of 51.86, which ranked 94th out of 448. Among those same players his CF% was 54.69, ranking of 35th. All of this is to say that while he may not put up crazy numbers on the scoresheet (his career high in points is 39), he most certainly will help you win hockey games, and he’s locked down for $4.33 million through 2022.

Couturier would also be the yin to Kevin Hayes’ yang, acting as a workhorse foil to Hayes’ flashier, less defensively adept style. This could make AV’s job a little bit easier behind then bench, allowing him to gain favorable matchups for some of his lines based on their strengths and weaknesses, as well as adding to the mix and match game of lineup composition. Still, it’s Philly, so they won’t trade with us. A sad trombone indeed, Rangerstown.

KYLE TURRIS

Flipping the script here a little bit from our last one is Kyle Turris; an offensively talented centerman who’s not quite all that defensively. He put up 55 points last year, although he ranks relatively low defensively – which wouldn’t do Vigneault any favors to be honest in terms of matchups.

A plus side to Turris is his contract, as it’s cheap and only lasts through next year, so the price to acquire him likely wouldn’t be too high. Given our new found friendship with the Ottawa Senators as of last summer, and given that the Sens’ star prospect Colin White also plays center, this one could actually happen.

BRYAN LITTLE

Although he logged fewer points than Derek Stepan last year, going 21-26-47, he did play in only 59 games – so it’s not out of the question that he could get his name on the board for the Rangers. He’s also a model of consistency, having scored below 40 points only twice in his professional career, including the lockout shortened season of 2012-13. A little bit more of a goal scorer and a little bit less of a setup man, Little would more or less be equivalent to Stepan in terms of shot generation and suppression, having logged a CF% and relative CF% of 50.94 and plus-2.13 to Step’s 50.77 and plus-3.83.

Little’s cap hit is $4.7 million and he’s signed only through the next season. Even if this trade opportunity doesn’t materialize right away, it could be an option as the season progresses and the market shifts.

VINCENT TROCHECK

This is another one that focuses on the Rangers’ long-term future. Trocheck is signed to team-friendly deal of $4.75 million through 2021-22 and is one of the game’s rising young stars. He is across the boards gifted, putting up excellent offensive and defensive numbers, with 54 and 53 points these past two seasons and logging a CF% of 54.38 that was above average relative to his teammates at plus-5.75 – all before the age of 24.

The only problem with Trocheck is that he is almost certainly considered a part of the Florida Panthers’ core, which would only increase their asking price, and Rangers don’t really have anything in particular that the Panthers would want. A goalie prospect and a winger might get it done, but Florida would in all likelihood demand either Shestyorkin or Buchnevich (or both, barf) and a high draft pick – which seems to me like a net loss beyond this year for New York. Still, if Florida falls out of the playoff race by the trade deadline and decides to sell their assets, a push for Trocheck would certainly move the needle for the Rangers at the right price.

LARS ELLER

Last on our list is a guy who’s not going to light it up night in, night out, but will help you win hockey games without breaking the bank in terms of cap hit or cost to acquire. This may be the most realistic option out here for the Rangers, especially if (gasp!) the Caps don’t make the playoffs by some freak chance.

Eller is signed to a $3.5 million contract through the end of this season, so he may very well be a deadline pickup. Although he only earned 25 points last year, his shot generation and shot suppression numbers mean he could do well with the right linemates. His HERO chart indicates he’s actually better than Derek Stepan in both of those departments, but he struggles at actually hitting the net.

There you have it, seven centers who the Rangers might consider taking a look at who aren’t named Matt Duchene or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. These are just ideas to wrap your mind around, and not actual trade suggestions (I’m the first one to admit that I’d make a horrible GM and that my hypothetical trade compass is severely out of whack).

Still, given the way Jeff Gorton and Co. have a habit of surprising us with unpredictable trades, don’t count these guys out. If nothing less, these ideas may help put into perspective what we, as fans, might want to see from the front office in terms of landing a center comparable to Derek Stepan, in order to propel us into the land of true Stanley Cup Contenders.

*All charts via Ownthepuck.blogspot.ca, 5v5 data via NaturalStatTrick.