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New York Rangers’ Jeff Gorton Has Prime Opportunity to Corner Trade Market Ahead of The Deadline

With top targets leaving the big board, and contenders battling injury bug, Gorton could get a nice return for Chris Kreider among others.

2018 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

This year’s NHL trade deadline decision day is shaping up to be one of the more boring ones in recent memory, and that’s something that should help Jeff Gorton and the New York Rangers.

The Rangers have remained relatively quiet, and there is no telling what they will do with their impending free agents, but the rebuilding franchise is in the perfect position to sell extremely high on Chris Kreider, and moderately high on a number of others.

Thus far we’ve seen the following moves of note go down:

  • Tyler Toffoli to Vancouver for Tyler Madden, a 2020 second round pick, a 2022 conditional fourth (if Toffoli re-signs with Vancouver), and Tim Schaller
  • Blake Coleman to Tampa Bay for Nolan Foote, a 2020 or 2021 first round pick (dependent on Vancouver making the playoffs, the pick was acquired in the J.T. Miller trade)
  • Jason Zucker to Pittsburgh for Calen Addison, 2020 or 2021 first round pick (if Penguins miss playoffs they have choice to send), and Alex Galchenyuk
  • And back in December, Taylor Hall to Arizona for Nick Merkley, 2020 or 2021 first round pick (lottery protected this year), a 2021 conditional third (upgrades to second if Coyotes win a round or Hall resigns, and upgrades to a first if Hall re-signs and Coyotes win a playoff round)

Of these deals, Coleman and Zucker aren’t rentals, but they are included for the sake of including teams who likely would have shown interest in someone like Kreider.

With contenders like Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay adding to their roster in the East, the question is whether those who could face off against them in the playoffs now feel the need to make a move to keep up.

Kreider remains the top prize across numerous NHL trade deadline boards, and it certainly feels like there is going to be a team who makes an offer that Gorton simply can’t refuse. Besides the trades that have already been made, there are a number of teams who find themselves in a position in which they may have to make a trade to stabilize things ahead of the playoffs.

Colorado Avalanche

First up are the Colorado Avalanche, a squad that’s been bit by the injury bug hard in recent weeks. They are currently without Nazem Kadri (multiple weeks, lower-body injury), Matt Calvert (multiple weeks, lower-body injury), and goaltender Philipp Grubauer (no timetable, lower-body injury).

Mikko Rantanen just joined the list after sustaining an injury on Monday night vs. Tampa Bay.

Losing Rantanen, again, is a huge blow for the Avalanche. This injury could force Joe Sakic to be a little more aggressive at the deadline than he would have been before, especially after the team missed out on Blake Coleman.

Given the Avalanche’s prior interest in adding a forward, which should be more intensified given the latest injury, it’s fair to say that there could be a fit with someone off the Rangers’ roster. Coleman has the ability to play all three forward positions, and him having another year on his contract would have made him a worthwhile add for Colorado.

The closest the Rangers have to Coleman in terms of age, contracts status, and positional flexibility is Ryan Strome. The 26-year-old forward has spent the majority of 2019-20 playing at center, but he can also play right wing. He’s posted a line of 14-36-50 in 58 games, and is due for a nice raise from the $3.1 million he’s making this season. He will be eligible for arbitration this summer, and could ultimately land a one-year award which allows him to test free agency in July of 2021.

In terms of replacing Rantanen in the interim, bolstering the group for the playoffs, Kreider is a worthwhile target. The Avs current top line had Andre Burakovsky on the left wing, Nathan MacKinnon in the middle, and Rantanen on the right. Kreider is a left-handed shot who typically plays on the left side, and luckily Burakovsky can play both wings. This would be an easy fix to make, and once Rantanen is back the team could reassess.

Even before the Rantanen injury, there are a lot of reasons why adding Kreider would make sense. This season MacKinnon has led the way offensively, and there’s a large gulf between his 82 points and Burakovsky who is second in scoring with 44 points. Rantanen has appeared in just 42 games this year, and he’s third with 41 points.

Then there’s the aforementioned Kadri with 36 points, and Joonas Donskoi with 30 points. Further down the list are players like Gabriel Landeskog with 28 points in 42 games, and Calvert who has tallied 25 points in 50 games. This is a long way of saying that a player like Kreider would be a welcome addition to a team looking to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup.

The goaltending situation is also interesting given Grubauer’s injury, and if the team gets a better sense of how long he could be out, at that point they can make a move. Alexandar Georgiev would be the best fit for financial and depth reasons, but again, they may not be in a position where they have to make a move.

Overall, with $29,741,674 in projected deadline cap space, the Avalanche have some flexibility.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Then there’s the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team who is currently holding onto a playoff spot by a thread. Injuries have really taken a toll on them, but the goaltending of Elvis Merzlikins has helped keep them afloat.

They very well could try and make the playoffs with the squad they have, and attempt to make moves that put them in a better position to contend next season, which is a real possibility given that they have only RFAs to deal with this summer. But with that said, I wouldn’t count them out completely as a team who would show interest in Kreider for this year and the future. If they decide to make some moves, Columbus has $25,317,390 in deadline cap space.

Boston Bruins

A little bit above I included a tweet that indicated the Bruins had interest in adding Coleman — who went to a team they may have to face this postseason. After falling short in the Cup Final last year, I’d imagine they’ll show interest in adding Boxford, Mass native Chris Kreider into the fold. This could be the last run the Bruins make with this current group of players, as Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara are both free agents. After this season it wouldn’t be surprising if the Bruins try and make some changes to support their aging core, and adding Kreider to this team in an attempt to win a Cup would make a lot of sense.

There’s a good chance the team could try and trade David Backes — who was assigned to the AHL, but will not be playing the rest of the season — or buy him out in the summer to create some cap space.

Patrice Bergeron is 34 and has two years left on his deal, 33 year old David Krejci has one year left, and 2020-21 is the last year that soon-to-be 33-year-old Tuukka Rask is under contract. It feels like the Bruins have been in the situation before in recent years, but their farm system doesn’t exactly have many players on the way that can help them — and that makes a Kreider trade challenging as well. The team would also need to free up some cap space, with a projected deadline cap number of just $3,121,667. They can’t afford to keep moving future assets, and they may not have future assets that would interest the Rangers enough for Kreider. Plus, if they were to include this year’s first-round pick, it would likely to be a very late one. Jake DeBrusk is 23 and an RFA this summer, but a team like Boston probably prefers to add to their current roster as opposed to subtracting.

St. Louis Blues

Lastly there’s the St. Louis Blues, a team that is 2-6-2 in their last 10, sitting with 74 points in the first spot of the Central Division with Dallas (74 points), Colorado (73 points) closing in on the top spot. The defending Stanley Cup champions have avoided a hangover this season, and they’ve done it without Vladimir Tarasenko for the majority of the season. Having just won a championship, there’s no reason to sell off major future pieces just to be able to win a second one, especially when the majority of the roster is set to return next season.

Captain Alex Pietrangelo is their most important UFA, and he’s due a sizable raise from his current rate of $6.5 million. Then there’s also defender Vince Dunn who is an RFA, but outside of that there aren’t many major pieces. Kreider would be a pure rental, but much like the Blue Jackets, I could see the Blues being a team who take solace in the fact that they can tweak things in the summer. They just won a championship, and I think they wouldn’t get blow back from the fans if they stayed the course. If they do decide to add, they have $5,695,000 in projected deadline cap space.

There are bound to be other teams who could be in play, but the above are the most pressing/likely in my opinion.

While Kreider is the top prize, there could be some competition that draws interest from other teams taking them out of the Kreider derby.

Potential players of interest include but are not limited to —

  • Ilya Kovalchuk, 21 points in 36 games ($700K cap hit, UFA)
  • Tomas Tatar, 53 points in 61 games ($5.3M cap hit, UFA after 2020-21)
  • Kyle Palmieri, 41 points in 54 games ($4.65M cap hit, UFA after 2020-21)
  • Mike Hoffman, 47 points in 59 games ($5,187,500 cap hit, UFA)

With the Canadiens fading from Wild Card contention, Kovalchuk is likely good as gone given his super cheap cap hit. He’s been a very productive player since joining the Habs with six goals and 12 points in 19 games, and would be a value add.

Tatar is another piece from the Habs who could get a nice return, although he’s got a higher cap hit which might make trading him to a contender more difficult without salary retention. He will turn 30 in December while in the last year of his contract, but has been a very productive player for Montreal. Last season saw him finish with 58 points in 80 games, and this year he’s already at 53 through 61. He could be a piece for Montreal to hold onto for next season, but given the returns thus far, Marc Bergevin may attempt to cash in and finally “blow up” the Canadiens.

The Devils have been strategically moving players off their roster, and Palmieri is someone who could fetch a nice return, potentially even more if there’s some salary retention. In his five years with New Jersey, Palmieri has been good for at least 25 goals and 45 to 50 points a season. He’s been part of some less than stellar teams, and as a secondary or tertiary piece on a contender he could be a productive contributor. Part of me wonders if Gorton could be waiting to see who else New Jersey sells off, but a deal for Kreider and Palmieri are bound to look different regardless given the extra term.

Lastly, Hoffman’s an interesting case as the Panthers are currently in the playoff hunt. He is one of the team’s pending free agents, and someone who will cash in on the open market because he’s been good for about 25 goals and 50 points just about every season he’s been a full time player in the league. He’s the team’s third leading scorer, and keeping him around would make a ton of sense.

With all of this said, the stars appear to be aligning for the Rangers to get a nice return for some of their players at the deadline. I believe the team will still try and find a contract that works for both them and Kreider, but the Rangers finally have an opportunity where they can be the center of attention. In recent deadlines Mark Stone and Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators held a lot of things up, and the Rangers found themselves making some deals at the last minute. Kreider has a list of 11 trades he won’t accept a trade to, and there’s bound to be a few who are interested in him that aren’t on his no trade list.

While Kreider is certainly the main focus, there’s certainly reason to cash in on Jesper Fast, Ryan Strome, and potentially Tony DeAngelo. Alexandar Georgiev too if there’s a market, but that’s something I think gets resolved in the summer. If the Rangers make up their mind on Kreider early and find a deal, whether it be for him to stay or get traded, I think they will see what else they can flip. If things are drawn out with Kreider, he could be the only major move they make.

In many ways this deadline is a role reversal of sorts for New York. Over the last decade they’ve usually been the team who is going all in for the top prize whether it be considering trading for Brad Richards or Rick Nash, landing Marty St. Louis or Keith Yandle, This time they can be the team holding the cards and attracting bidders.

The way things have unfolded has been like a perfect storm. for the Rangers. The team has taken some steps forward by playing competitive hockey, and finds themselves in a situation where making the playoffs is a long shot, by no major fault of their own. They are ranked No. 21 in the league standings, but are No. 6 in regulation wins at 26. The Metropolitan Division is stacked, and has six teams with 70 points or more, of which only four or five may end up making the playoffs!

In prior years a selloff would signify throwing in the towel. In this situation, I don’t think the fans or team would look at it that way. It would simply be management taking the necessary actions which are in line with the franchise’s long term goals.

The front office still needs to identify who is and isn’t going to be in the long term plans, which will lead to more tough decisions, and likely more additions this summer. If Gorton plays his hand right, he can really help to put the team in a better overall position going forward, and on the right track to being a team that belongs in the playoffs and can win at least a round in 2020-21.

Stats via unless otherwise noted, trade details & financial numbers via Cap Friendly.