The New York Rangers brought in two NHL-caliber players at the trade deadline last year: Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov. Spooner was part of the Rick Nash trade, and Namestnikov was an asset received in the Ryan McDonagh blockbuster. Over the summer, general manager Jeff Gorton extended both restricted free agents with matching two-year, $8 million contracts. Since then, their paths have split in dramatic fashion. Spooner was recently put on waivers after being traded for Ryan Strome, while Namestnikov has been a mainstay in the Rangers’ lineup.
After being dealt to the Oilers, Spooner has picked up just three points in 24 games. Namestnikov, on the other hand, has two goals and six assists in his last 24 games with the Rangers. Needless to say, neither of those stat lines really jump off the page. But Namestnikov has managed to bring more to the table than his modest counting stats. He’s also proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he’s a more balanced and valuable forward than Spooner.
Coach Hitchcock discusses today's meeting, the #Oilers placing Rattie & Spooner on waivers, Klefbom's status & more ahead of tomorrow's game vs. Detroit prior to the #NHLAllStar & bye-week breaks. pic.twitter.com/8rmVwcCkEG— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) January 21, 2019
Namestnikov has now played in as many games as a New York Ranger as he played for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2017-18 season.
It should come as no surprise that Namestnikov’s production in his last 62 games with Tampa Bay dwarf the numbers he’s put up in his first 63 games in New York — after all, he’s not playing with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov this year.
The linemates he’s spent the most time together with this year are Brett Howden and Jimmy Vesey. As a trio, that line starts most of its shifts in the neutral and defensive zones and has a 45.57 Corsi for percentage. That’s just above the average shot share relative to the team (0.55 Rel CF%). There are just five Rangers lines that have played over 70 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey together, and Namestnikov-Howden-Vesey ranks fifth in that group in the shot share. Their 39.93 xGF% is also the lowest of that group. That ain’t good.
As it turns out, Namestnikov may be the only thing keeping that line from utterly unraveling. Without him, Howden and Vesey have an alarming 41.23 CF% together — but that hasn’t kept David Quinn from having them on the ice for over 300 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season.
Namestnikov has definitely worked his way out of the doghouse that he found himself in back in October. He escaped it by playing a more physical brand of hockey to meet Quinn’s expectations — which is something that Spooner utterly failed to do. Namestnikov is hitting more this season than he ever did in his four seasons with the Lightning. He’s also lining up at wing for the Rangers far more often than he ever did in Tampa.
The former Bolt will be extremely fortunate to crack 40 points this year, but that doesn’t mean he’s been a bust in New York. Namestnikov’s ability to play wing has been valuable to Quinn and his affinity for juggling the team’s lines. With him on the ice, the Rangers have taken almost 46 percent of the shot share, which is about one percent better than when he’s on the bench. It’s also worth noting that he has the third-lowest PDO (96.47) among the Rangers’ forwards — which has definitely not done his counting stats any favors.
Unfortunately, Namestnikov has just one point in his last 10 games, and that isn’t doing his trade value any favors. Elliotte Friedman reported that there was some interest in Namestnikov in late October, and Brett Cyrgalis wrote that he was playing himself onto the trading block two months later. But one month into the New Year, it’s hard to gauge what the Russian forward would bring back in a deal.
Namestnikov is signed through the 2019-20 season with a $4 million cap hit. That price tag could rule out a lot of potential suitors, but the Rangers could also retain some of his salary like they did in the Spooner deal. On the plus side, he isn’t just a rental for teams to invest in.
Whether or not Namestnikov will still be in New York after deadline day is hard to say. It’s obvious that he’s not nearly as important to move and showcase as Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, and Kevin Shattenkirk are. There’s also a chance that his two-way game and experience playing with skilled players could prove valuable to Quinn’s Rangers because of the young, skilled forwards who will be looking to step into bigger roles after the deadline and in the 2019-20 season.
With that being said, if the Rangers can find a good deal for Namestnikov in the next month, Gorton should pull the trigger. The Russian’s stock has been in a free fall since the Rangers acquired him from Tampa Bay.
By this time next year, Gorton could find himself trying to sell Namestnikov at a rock-bottom price before he hits the market at a free agent on July 1, 2020.
Data courtesy Corsica.hockey, naturalstattrick.com, CapFriendly.com