It’s incredibly hard to predict the return on trades involving goaltenders. Put a winger or defenseman on the market and the procedure is fairly standard. There will be many teams interested because even teams strong at the position will see value in reinforcing their depth spots with overqualified players. The St. Louis Blues entered the last offseason with a strong defensive corps and a very good power play. They didn’t need Justin Faulk, but they saw plenty of value in trying to stack the position. So, they paid a high price to make it happen.
It does not work the same way with goaltenders. Only one plays every night, and typically one plays a lot more than the other. As such, the market is often narrow and fleeting. Carter Hart is quickly proving to be a franchise cornerstone, and yet if he hit the trade market one could immediately eliminate at least half of the league as potential suitors.
It’s difficult to assign trade value to a goaltender the way we can with skaters. The trading team is at the mercy of the market. Sometimes, Martin Jones hauls in a first-round pick and a prospect after only 29 NHL starts. Sometimes, Devan Dubnyk’s return is a meager mid-round draft pick. The goaltending carousel can be dizzying.
The Rangers appear ready to at least entertain offers for Alexandar Georgiev and it will be even more difficult to predict his return. Draft picks are defined quantities, but the Rangers appear to have no interest in that, instead opting for a more abstract demand of a young forward “who is either ready to play, or close to it,” according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. That could plausibly describe a depth prospect like Tim Gettinger just as well as it could an immediate top-nine NHLer, though Friedman’s assertion that it “won’t be cheap” hints towards the latter end of the spectrum. What’s more, though the Rangers have plenty of motivation to trade Georgiev sooner rather than later, they absolutely can and should ride it out until the summer if they don’t feel the offers on the table match their expectations.
How many suitors are there, how desperate are they, and what exactly is the Rangers’ threshold for pulling the trigger? These are all relative mysteries, but let’s try to feel it out anyway. Here are some potential suitors for Alexandar Georgiev and what returns might fit the description.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks have been a massive disappointment this season and there are many contributing factors. Their most obvious issue, and it’s one that’s endured for multiple seasons now, is their goaltending. Martin Jones has been arguably the worst starting goaltender in the NHL. Aaron Dell is a 30-year-old who is, at best, an okay backup. The Sharks desperately need some competency at the position. Not just now, but for the long-term. Their pool of goaltending prospects is weak. Perhaps they’d rather wait until the summer to address this issue, and perhaps they’d prefer a veteran option rather than a lesser-known commodity such as Georgiev, but until we hear otherwise they’re as obvious of a potential trade partner as exists.
The Ideal Return Would Be
Kevin Labanc, a 24-year-old forward from
Long Staten Island. He’s a middle-six winger who can play up the lineup and will safely produce 15-20 goals and 40-50 points, with maybe even some room for more. General Manager Jeff Gorton sniffed around last summer and the Sharks didn’t exactly tell him to take a hike, though nothing came of it. It’s possible the Sharks have since shifted their stance, as Labanc is putting together another productive season and, given, their current standing, they may be less inclined to part with capable young players.
The Sharks were able to leverage Labanc into taking an incredibly team-friendly $1M salary over the summer. They won’t have the same kind of luck in 2020 with him continuing to produce and now eligible to elect for arbitration. They have a lot of long-term contracts on the books and little salary relief on the way over the next two seasons. If the Sharks earmark Georgiev as their guy for the future, or if GM Doug Wilson feels heavy pressure to get something done soon, the Rangers might be able to snag Labanc even if they have to add a draft pick to make it happen.
But They Could Settle For
Numerous years of moving out prospects and draft picks in a win-now agenda have left the Sharks with a depleted pool of prospects. Ryan Merkley and Mario Ferraro are good prospects but play on defense. The Sharks do have a few decent forward prospects but nobody that really stands out as an enticing return for Georgiev. Dylan Gambrell and Noah Gregor played well at lower levels but have struggled mightily in their NHL appearances. Joachim Biefield and Alexander True could be potential NHLers but are dime-a-dozen depth prospects who don’t possess the certainty or upside which warrants inclusion.
If something absolutely had to be worked out here, then Sasha Chmelevski is the closest match. The 20-year-old center has 14 points in 22 AHL games, performed incredibly well at the 2019 World Junior Championship, and addresses a positional need. He has upside as a bonafide, two-way, third-line center, but the Rangers would probably have to wait a year longer than they wish to before he might ready to step into the NHL.
The Sharks have an obvious need for someone like Georgiev, but there are no obvious one-for-one swaps to be made here. The two teams might have to get more creative if they want to get this done.
Minnesota has had a rough first half of the season and sit outside the playoff picture. A look under the hood reveals that they’ve actually played better than the results suggest, and part of their undoing has been arguably the league’s worst goaltending. Devan Dubnyk’s play has taken a sharp downswing in the last few seasons. Alex Stalock hasn’t really ever proven to be an NHL-caliber goaltender of any sort.
The Wild are in a precarious position. They’re good enough to make the playoffs, but not really a realistic contender. There’s an argument to be made that they should tear it down and become a younger team, but how does General Manager Bill Guerin even begin to pull that off with so many aging players on long-term contracts? Maybe Georgiev offers them some welcome plausible deniability in both directions. He can plug an immediate leak and help them push into the playoffs this year while also offering long-term value.
The Ideal Return Would Be
Kevin Fiala and Joel Eriksson Ek were subject to trade rumors earlier in the season, but that’s when Minnesota was dying on the vine. It’s hard to imagine those two would be available right now. Jason Zucker’s future has been in limbo for a while, but that would require a much more complicated trade.
More realistically, Jordan Greenway sticks out. He’s a clear NHLer but he’s been relegated to Minnesota’s fourth line. Greenway is a massive power forward who played for Quinn at Boston University. He’s a strong defensive winger with the ability to contribute offense from the net front. While he could never match the high-end game that Chris Kreider brings to the table, Greenway would offer the Rangers some contingency in terms of size, board play, and power play slot presence in the event the Rangers did move on from Kreider.
Big, strong depth players who are perceived to play a straightforward style are often landmines, but Greenway is the real deal.
But They Might Settle For
Ryan Donato is currently Greenway’s fourth-line linemate, and he may be the easier one to pull given that he’s taken a few turns in the rumor mill. This could (and maybe will) be the subject of a separate article, but the Rangers have major long-term question marks at third-line center. Donato hasn’t quite developed into a top-six difference maker like evaluators once thought he was capable of becoming, but he’s at least a two-way center who drives play and provides supplementary offense.
New Jersey Devils
Mackenzie Blackwood has been forced into a starting role he’s not currently, and may never be, ready for. They have a couple of goaltending prospects, but nobody particularly exciting. Unequivocally, this team needs a goaltender.
All things being equal, the Rangers will want to leave the Devils drowning in their search for competent goaltending rather than throwing Georgiev over as a life preserve. This is a business, though, and New Jersey will eventually find a goaltender one way or another. As long as the Rangers don’t perceive Georgiev to be someone who could give them nightmares for the next decade, they should take a trade with New Jersey seriously if they’re willing to make the highest bid. If I were a betting man, this doesn’t even come close to happening. But New Jersey do need a goaltender and Georgiev is ostensibly a fit.
The Ideal Return Would Be
It’s difficult to come up with realistic options here even in the idealistic sense. Jesper Bratt is a hell of a player. Jesper Boqvist is a 20-year-old winger who’s having a rough rookie NHL season but also possesses plenty of offensive upside. But the Devils are a bad team with a shortage of talent at virtually all positions. Unless the team’s goaltending evaluators are absolutely smitten with Georgiev, why would they part with a high-caliber youngster when they could make a play for a different goaltender over the summer who will complement Blackwood at a cheaper cost of acquisition? The Devils fired General Manager Ray Shero literally yesterday evening, so who knows what the team is planning to do on any level.
Maybe the best option would be winger Joey Anderson. The 21-year-old had a very successful college career and earned 34 games in the NHL last year, posting seven points, but suffered a serious ankle injury mid-season. He’s spent this season in the AHL, posting 25 points in 35 games. Anderson has historically spent a lot of time in shutdown minutes and people in positions of power perceive him to be a high-character player, for whatever that’s worth.
But They Might Settle For
Here is an interesting one. Miles Wood spent the previous three seasons as a productive, edgy middle-six winger. During those years he used his speed to battle for pucks and create transition offense.
He’s completely lost his identity this season and playing more passively. His offensive contributions have taken a slight dip with just 13 points through 44 games, but it’s the other side of the puck where he’s become an anchor in New Jersey. More stable teams would probably bide their time and trust that Wood would regain form, but the Devils are in turmoil and need seismic changes. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported in early December that the Devils put him on the trade block. Taking for granted the idea that the Devils want Georgiev and would move Wood in that kind of deal, would the Rangers want to take a gamble on a 24-year-old with a $2.5M cap hit the next two seasons and bet on him finding his game again in a new environment?
Toronto Maple Leafs
The surging Leafs still have a massive hole at backup goaltender. Michael Hutchinson and Kasimir Kaskisuo have combined to give up four-or-more goals in eight of their 10 starts this season. An upgrade to even a mediocre backup would do them wonders. Not only in terms of winning games but also ensuring that Freddie Andersen isn’t burnt out when the playoffs roll around.
Toronto is a major candidate for Georgiev and they definitely have some players of potential interest. The difficulty with matchmaking here is that, unlike the rest of the list, Toronto’s interest in Georgiev is almost exclusively driven by short-term need. It’s easier to convince Minnesota or Ottawa to part with a player on their rosters because they’re building for the long-term and trying to acquire a starting goaltender for the future. Do the Leafs want to hurt the forward depth they’ll need in the playoffs and lose a player who could factor in for the next five years in order to add a backup goaltender for the short-term?
Here’s where the Rangers could gain leverage. The current goaltending market projects to be absolutely horrendous. At best, the ones up for grabs might be Craig Anderson, Jimmy Howard, Ryan Miller, and Aaron Dell. If Toronto wants to wait another six weeks, then maybe Corey Crawford or Robin Lehner will become available as well. If the Leafs want to add a competent backup anytime soon, there don’t appear to be many alternatives to Georgiev.
The Ideal Return Would Be
Again, it’s going to be difficult to convince Toronto to sacrifice players of substance from its NHL roster, but a few more bad appearances from Hutchinson and they might feel forced into action.
Is Pierre Engvall a pipe dream? The 6’5 winger had a decent 2018-2019 season in the AHL but exploded onto the scene this year, registering 16 points in 15 games before being promoted to the NHL. He has seven goals and five assists in 23 games. He’s big and is learning how to use his body effectively at the NHL level, but he also has a nice skillset for his size. He’s got a booming shot and loves to shoot, which would appeal to a team whose coaching staff believes it doesn’t possess enough shooting mentality.
But They Might Settle For
At face value, there’s no more obvious match for a Georgiev trade than one involving Jeremy Bracco. Bracco was a second-round pick in 2015 and he’s been a favorite in some scouting circles. The 5’11 winger oozes creativity. He’s dynamic with the puck and can make high-difficulty passes. Last season he finished second in the AHL with 79 points. This season, he has 28 points in 36 games. On many NHL teams he would have already received a chance at the top level, but the Leafs’ incredible forward depth has left him as an outsider.
There are concerns about Bracco’s NHL upside and whether there are enough dimensions to his game to contribute at the NHL level. Is his skating good enough? Does he stay to the perimeter too much?
Even beyond that, though, I question if, rightly or wrongly, the Rangers would be concerned about adding another pass-heavy forward to their group. Bracco has just three goals to his 22 assists so far this season in the AHL, and though he’s scored more than that in the past (he had 22 last season), the general trend has held for his entire career.