The New York Rangers face a question they likely haven’t considered much in recent seasons: should they be buyers or sellers when the trade deadline approaches?
Through 49 games, the Rangers have earned 53 points with a 24-20-5 record; that puts them just outside of the second wild card seed, where the Pittsburgh Penguins stand with 55 points.
Five teams in the Metropolitan Division are ahead of the Rangers in the standings, and all five are currently in a playoff spot. Right now, the Rangers are two points behind both wild card seeds, three points away from the Philadelphia Flyers in third place, and eight points behind the first place Washington Capitals. On the other hand, they’re only three points away from the Carolina Hurricanes at the bottom of the division standings. Technically, only two teams are behind the Rangers in the division standings – the Hurricanes (who have a game in hand) and the Islanders (who are actually tied with them, with both 53 points and a matching record).
So, with the trade deadline approaching it’s time to assess the Rangers and try to establish which direction they should go in over the next month.
The first question was whether we believe the Rangers should be buyers or sellers; we unanimously agreed that the Rangers should be sellers. The fact is, this team is flawed in almost every way – except for in net, and their stellar goaltending masks most of their deficiencies.
The Rangers have only won three games in regulation since December 19, with the first coming January 16 over the Philadelphia Flyers. On their current road trip, they’re 0-3, and last time they led in a road game was in the Winter Classic against the Buffalo Sabres on January 1.
#NYR Since December 10th (last 19 games):— HockeyStatMiner (@HockeyStatMiner) January 23, 2018
- 3 regulation wins
- 13 times allowing 35+ SOG
- just 1 regulation win in 9 games against top-16 NHL teams (3-4-2).
- have been outshot in 8 of those 9 games
This team looks destined to finish in the middle yet again, and it’s not worth leveraging their future to force something that isn’t there.
So with that in mind, which player should be their number one priority to move and why?
Tom: Rick Nash
He is a player with tremendous value. Nash is a threat while he is on the ice and still possesses elite offensive ability, although nowadays he scores in spurts and will end up with closer to 25 goals than he will 40. I think Nash has transformed his game and become a much better defensive player, and as such, he kills penalties more than he did earlier in his career.
If you take Nash and pair him with an elite level center on a team with other top talent, he can be an under-the-radar guy who isn’t the be all, end all. I think his most recent playoff performances show that he can contribute and he would enjoy a change of scenery. He may end up returning in free agency, but it makes sense to “loan” Nash to another team so he can play in the playoffs and try to win a Cup.
Kevin: Rick Nash
With Nash beginning to get hot, I think he’ll be the most valuable asset to the Rangers when it comes to the deadline. Grabner may lead the team in scoring and his speed/PK ability are enticing, but Nash’s size and power game will cause more GMs to open their vaults to Gorton come the end of February.
Mike: Michael Grabner.
Grabner represents a unique asset to teams who have serious Cup aspirations. He has proven that he is capable of scoring goals and making a difference without seeing PP time or top-6 minutes, which should prove tempting to teams that need rental depth scoring. His two years in New York have almost certainly earned him a significant pay raise, which is something that Gorton and the Rangers need to be weary of if they are tempted to hold on to him through the deadline.
Joe: Ryan McDonagh
As much as you might not want to move him – and it does seem drastic to start the selling process with your captain – he’s the guy who is not only going to get you the best return, but let you know how you need to move forward. I believe Michael Grabner/Rick Nash should also be on the block and they should bring pack a nice package (think 1st round pick+ each), but you’re not getting much to help right now. McDonagh has the highest trade value with two playoff runs for the team getting him, and he’s a guy the Rangers would need to think long and hard about when it comes to his extension. I love McDonagh and I think he brings and brought a lot to this team, but the Rangers need to kick start this rebuild and he’s the best way to do it.
Miika: Michael Grabner and Rick Nash
A middling team that may very well not make the postseason generally benefits from selling off their “rental” players, or those who are set to become unrestricted free agents by July. In this case, the Rangers fit the mold. Their rental players with the most value are Grabner and Nash, so those would be my “must” sell-offs (of course Paul Carey, David Desharnais, Nick Holden, and Ondrej Pavelec are also impending UFAs). The briefest glance at past trade deadlines tells you all you need to know about the possible return value for Grabner or Nash.
Bryan: Ryan McDonagh
As much as it pains me to say it, McDonagh is the answer if the Rangers are truly committed to this whole “rebuilding/retooling” on the fly. He’s certainly going to look to cash in on his next contract, which should rightfully caution the Rangers before they are willing to commit long-term. Moving pending UFAs like Rick Nash and Michael Grabner are certainly going to get you high returns as well (1st round picks at least), but there’s no term attached to it compared to McDonagh, and they are more draft pick oriented deals. The acquiring team would be getting two playoff runs out of McDonagh, which typically makes the return higher and he’d easily be the best defenseman on the market right now.
Shayna: Michael Grabner
I think the first players the Rangers consider moving first are Rick Nash and Michael Grabner; I’m leaning towards Grabner as the number one priority because I don’t see the Rangers bringing him back next season (I think he’ll get offered that Benoit Pouliot contract that they can’t afford).
I understand changing the core and considering more drastic moves with Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello, but I think it’s important to gauge the worth of their pending free agents first. I’m also hesitant to completely dismantle this core yet again as long as this coaching staff is behind the bench. Since 2013-14, the Rangers have made numerous changes to their core and it hasn’t been enough, so I think they need to consider that before breaking up this core any further.
Where do you think that player will be traded?
Tom: In terms of teams, I don’t think the Rangers would want to trade him within the conference, but I could see a return to Columbus (for Nash) for sentimental reasons, and they could use him now. In the Western Conference, the Dallas Stars (Hitchcock connection), the Nashville Predators (since Forsberg is currently injured and he would be a good fit for Peter Laviolette) are both options. St. Louis is also a good fit stylistically and they could use another winger, in my opinion; Ivan Barbashev and Dmitri Jaskin are their 1,2 wingers on left side right now with *Jaden Schwartz out.*
Kevin: You always take the best deal offered no matter what team offers it, but there definitely more teams out West that would be a nicer fit for Nash than there are on the east coast. I definitely see teams that need an extra scoring punch like Dallas, St. Louis, or Nashville make a play for Nash. This is also beneficial for the Rangers since whoever misses out on Nash can then turn towards Michael Grabner, so if Gorton plays his cards right, this can be a huge boon for the Rangers.
Mike: Any competitive team that needs depth scoring (which is to say many teams). Nashville, St. Louis, Boston, Pittsburgh, and San Jose all feel like good fits on paper. It’s even possible that Tampa would be interested in him because of their poor penalty killing. A guy like Grabner could help a lot of teams and that means there will be plenty of suitors competing for him – that’s good news for the Rangers.
Joe: I can see him going to Toronto and turning them into instant contenders, and they have plenty of young assets to give back.
Bryan: The ideal scenario would have McDonagh heading out of the conference, but I can see Toronto being a perfect fit given their situation. They are one elite defenseman away from being true contenders, acquiring McDonagh vaults them right to the top of the list. There’s also some very skilled young talent ripe for the picking in their system and plenty of it to get a deal done.
Shayna: If Edmonton was still in the mix, I’d point to them first for Grabner. They wanted a speedy player to keep up with McDavid and Chris Kreider wasn’t exactly an attainable option. Even if they didn’t seem to have a chance at the playoffs, I thought general manager Pete Chiarelli would still make a push because his seat is definitely (and rightfully) heating up after his last offseason. The injury to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins changes that, and I think it’s becoming more clear to the front office that they need more help than some deadline rentals can get them.
With that in mind, I’m looking at a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are without Ondrej Palat for the next 6-8 weeks. Winnipeg is another interesting option, especially considering their penalty kill (at 4v5, according to Corsica.hockey) is the worst in the league in terms of expected goals for percentage (7.12) and Corsi against per 60 (119.89). Along with Grabner’s play at even-strength, his penalty killing is a major asset, so that should interest the Jets. Nashville has also been dealing with injuries, and they may want some more insurance considering the injuries they faced last postseason too, so Grabner’s a low-risk option for them as well.
As sellers, what should they prioritize as a return? Is there a specific (attainable) player that you think the Rangers should target and why?
Tom: I think draft picks are something to consider; can’t go wrong with first rounders. I think you also go younger and try to grab prospects. A team loading up won’t want to dispense a current roster player. I don’t have any particular prospects in mind from CBJ, but from Dallas I’d love to swing a deal for Valeri Nichuskin or Julius Honka; from Nashville, Dante Fabbro or Alexandre Carrier; and from St. Louis, Klim Kostin or Tage Thompson.
Klim Kostin scores again and it’s 5-1 Russia pic.twitter.com/ywcmlQzkEm— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) December 29, 2017
Kevin: The Rangers farm system is pretty barren after the past few years of “win now” moves that left the team without much in the way of early round picks or high end prospects, so any return that yields either high picks or solid to good prospects is a win. That being said, I would like the Rangers to look towards getting high-yield prospects as the centerpieces of a return for Nash. First-round picks are always a great return and if the 1st comes from a team closer to the 10-15 lottery range you snag that, but contenders will likely have later first round picks so target their prospects first and use other assets to gain picks (i.e. a Grabner trade).
In terms of actual players to target; big 6’5 Tage Thompson, a RH C/RW in the Blues system; Dante Fabbro, a mobile defenseman in the Predators system; Denis Gurianov, a smooth skating Russian winger from the Dallas system; or Kailer Yamamoto the diminutive winger drafted by Edmonton last year. All of these players offer things the Rangers don’t really have a lot of in their system – dynamic upside. When building around a core of Pavel Buchnevich, Filip Chytil, and Lias Andersson up front, it would behoove the Rangers to add more firepower in the system.
Mike: Young blue line prospects or high draft picks. If the Rangers are going to be sellers, they should empty the cupboards. That means McDonagh, Nash, Desharnais, Holden, and Grabner (and possibly Zuccarello). There is a clear need for an overhaul of the organization’s defensive depth. DeAngelo feels like an already scratched lottery ticket Gorton has found on the ground and the odds are against Sean Day, Neal Pionk, and Ryan Graves all making it to the NHL and becoming top-four defensemen. If McDonagh is truly on his way out, the Rangers need to address the future of the blue line before July 1.
Joe: Young talent that’s in the NHL right now (cough, William Nylander, cough) and then draft picks. The Rangers have few game-breaking talents in the system, and they may need to graduate the two they do have sooner rather than later. Depending on how the Rangers go about this, they can use McDonagh to get forward help, and then Mats Zuccarello (I am also crying at the thought) for young defensive help.
Bryan: Sticking to the McDonagh and Toronto script, a package centered around a young roster player and a combination of picks/prospects should get the conversation started. In terms of roster players, the two names that would be the most intriguing are William Nylander and Mitch Marner. Nylander would obviously be the preferred target, as he gives the Rangers a true game-breaking talent and he loves to shoot the puck. I’d also ask for a first round pick at the very least, while targeting Toronto’s defensive prospects to build some depth behind the loss of McDonagh. This type of deal would be a perfect scenario for the Rangers as it gives them immediate help at the NHL level, while also restocking the system by acquiring prospects and picks in addition to Nylander.
Miika: One team that specifically catches my eye is Winnipeg. They are a team doing quite well in the standings with very strong postseason security (as of Monday 1/22, MoneyPuck.com had the Jets posted as 97% probable to qualify). But more specifically, they are a franchise that is absolutely starving for some sort of postseason success. Going back to their Atlanta inception: the Jets/Thrashers have zero wins in two postseason appearances (both times resulting in a sweep). Add to this that their contractual situation really points to a team that believes it is entering a window of earnest contention.
Consider they have handed out large long-term contracts to the players they have entrusted to bring success: 24-year-old Mark Scheifle is making over $6 million per year for eight years and 21-year-old Nik Ehlers just signed a seven year, $42 million extension. Bryan Little was extended to $5.3 mil per year for six years after the current season. Now couple that with Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien, paid handsomely themselves, both now on the wrong side of 30.
So, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff might be a buyer, despite Winnipeg’s historically low-budget approach, as the time may be right for bold moves in the interest of a playoff campaign
Not to mention: Winnipeg is currently one of the worst 4v5 penalty killing teams according to Corsica. If an avenue they pursue is improving their penalty killing personnel… would bundling Grabner AND Nash together be so unfathomable? Logistically this could again work to benefit both sides as Jeff Gorton could retain [up to 50%] of the rentals’ salaries, as New York has “money to burn” where Winnipeg does not.
It is no secret that players who break into and sustain a spot on an NHL roster in their late teens or early twenties are “good” to have, but especially for cap-era Broadway, such players are most importantly bang-for-buck-offsetters for otherwise bloated and overpriced contracts. In other words, the Rangers are looking at having anywhere from $3.6 (Girardi) to $6.7 (Girardi+Staal) million in buyout penalties. For if this team truly hopes to be Cup contenders as soon as a year from now, bang-for-buck is the name of the game.
Now to pull it all together: Winnipeg has a nice crop of such young players who are, theoretically, the type of asset I would target if I were Gorton. These names include Kyle Connor, Jack Roslovic, and Josh Morrissey (players currently on the roster who are still in their entry-level deals). This, in my mind, presents the opportunity for New York and Winnipeg to hash out some “rental” deal to the extent of mutual benefit.
Shayna: The idea is obviously high draft picks and young talent. It’s time for the Rangers to be on the other side of the equation of the trades that sent players like Anthony Duclair and Aleksi Saarela elsewhere.
Having said that, there’s one caveat – (again) I’m not sure if this coaching staff is necessarily the best in player development, so investing in young players to have a Pavel Buchnevich 2.0 situation (or really, any young players between Vancouver and New York) isn’t ideal. If you’re actually rebuilding on the fly and doing the damn thing, there have to be changes from their flawed systems to developmental tactics. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Along with restocking their farm system, they should look for talent that helps keep the team competitive right now (while simultaneously getting more cap friendly and younger), because Henrik Lundqvist is still in net and he’s their greatest asset.
From Winnipeg, Miika’s selections catch my eye, as does Honka in Dallas (but please, let’s not move him from the Stars’ pressbox to the Rangers’). I also wonder about the Golden Knights, since they’re most likely bound for the playoffs; they have a number of draft picks that could be moved and some talent between minors and juniors (the Rangers could also take Nikita Gusev’s rights off George McPhee’s hands in a package deal, since it’s highly unlikely that he signs in Vegas) – although, with the number of pending free agents they have, I don’t think they need anymore rentals.
And if a player like McDonagh is moved, someone like Nylander is the hope as part of the return. The idea isn’t to have a DeAngelo 2.0 situation though, where they move a roster player for assets that aren’t used at the NHL level (which happened until the Shattenkirk injury); it has to be a move that will help them now and in the future.
On the other hand, if the Rangers are buyers, what moves should they consider? Do you think there’s a way to buy without completely leveraging their future?
Tom: I would explore James van Riemsdyk because he is a pending UFA that brings a lot to the table, and I think when he re-signs it will be for less than the $7.8 million Rick Nash makes now. He’d be another Shattenkirk situation – a player coming home (so to speak as he grew up 45 miles from Manhattan in Middletown, NJ); he grew up a Rangers fan and has memories as a kid of the 1994 Cup run. I think he’d be a good fit.
9th time's the charm for James van Riemsdyk, Leafs tie the game at 2-2 pic.twitter.com/u1QuR1bA7E— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 11, 2018
Kevin: If the Rangers think that they’re buyers, they should look to acquiring some depth scoring. When fully healthy the Rangers are still lacking in the depth scoring department and they could use another, established, RH shot for the power play; ideally players like David Perron from Vegas or Ryan Strome in Edmonton. If the Rangers looked to make a big splash they could go after Mike Green to bolster the blue line with Kevin Shattenkirk out of action for the foreseeable future.
Mike: If the Rangers are buyers, the organization is in a great deal of trouble. With that being said, I think the least damaging move would be moving prospects that have soured like Ryan Gropp to acquire center depth or a defenseman with offensive upside. The problem is that the price for the most palatable targets will be too high. It is possible to operate outside of the market and make small trades to improve the team’s depth, but Gorton will have to tread carefully. Any household name will carry with it an immense price tag.
Miika: It’s hard to justify a “buyers” course for New York that I would be in love with, but if there was anything with a methodical madness it would be a move to improve the center position. Perhaps acquiring a “rental” center with specific and logistic hopes of re-signing? But again, the tradition purchase of a rental skater or two for picks and prospects does not wash with a team that is intent on “rebuilding on the fly.” Quite simply: why buy the milk in February, unless a Cup run is feasible, when the cow is free in July? Hard to image a situation of “buying” that isn’t the Rangers desperately trying to band-aid the current roster into a Cinderella run.
Bryan: If the past is any indication with the Rangers buying at the trade deadline, more often than not they like to make a pretty noteworthy addition. Last year it was Brendan Smith and in years prior it has been Eric Staal, Keith Yandle and Martin St. Louis. Following that trend, I think a player like Mike Hoffman would be an ideal player to target if the Rangers were looking to push their chips forward yet again. Hoffman would give the Rangers the heavy volume shooter they have been severely lacking for years, while also giving them a player under control for the next two and a half seasons.
Shayna: If the Rangers insist on being buyers at the deadline, they should have two main priorities: looking for youth, so it’s not a deal just focused on “right now,” and a player that isn’t an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of this season, so it’s not a traditional playoff rental. Instead, they should seek players at least signed through the 2018-19 season so they have more than one playoff push with them. Someone like Mike Hoffman comes to mind, since he has two more seasons after this year and Ottawa is interested in moving him. Alex Galchenyuk is still an option worth exploring too; he also has two full seasons remaining on his contract after this year.
Outright buying, though, is counterproductive and only digs the Rangers deeper into the hole they’ve created over the last few years.
* Jaden Schwartz was activated off IR after publishing.