The New York Rangers are off to an amazing start — 17-5-3, 37 points, and a .740 winning percentage — and are admittedly a bit ahead of schedule on their timeline. Making the playoffs was a goal for this year, but this team is in a position to make some noise in the spring if they make some strategic additions, especially when you consider they have someone in goal like Igor Shesterkin who can steal games. It was suggested a few days ago that the Rangers should consider going after a certain right wing from Chicago, but I have a better idea. Because the team has some obvious holes that they have the means to fix, and there’s an option that would essentially be two for the price of one, the team should seriously consider trading for Claude Giroux if he’s made available.
I was thinking about the prospect of Giroux joining the Rangers via trade earlier this week, and figured now’s a good to time to look at things a little deeper.
So why could a player like Giroux, who is a captain on a rival team, even be a possibility? Giroux is in the final year of his contract, and his future with the team that drafted him 22nd overall in 2006 (the Rangers selected Bobby Sanguinetti 21st overall) is up in the air.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher recently fired head coach Alain Vigneault, and it is possible that he will look to rebuild — or at least, re-tool — a squad that’s currently 8-12-4, and has a projected $14,078,143 to fill 10 roster spots for next season. Giroux turns 34 in January, and it is unknown if he’s willing to stick around, or if it even makes sense for him to do so.
There was a report earlier in the year that Giroux could have interest in playing for the Ottawa Senators, but I think that could be something he’d entertain come free agency time as opposed to the deadline. It was also reported by Pierre LeBrun in October that Giroux and his agent Pat Brisson “would not look to extend right now, that they would all play out the year and see how they all feel, how the team feels, how he feels, the Flyers captain, before making those decisions.”
The Rangers and Flyers’ last major trade was the Eric Lindros blockbuster that went down in 2001, and I bring this up because you might be thinking there’s no way the Flyers would trade Giroux within the division, similar to how Terry Pegula didn’t want Jack Eichel to go to the Rangers.
The big difference here is that Giroux is a free agent in July, and has an active no-movement-clause which can help him controls his destiny. I also feel that Fletcher would be open to doing right by a player who has given his all for the franchise, and at the end of the day realizes that the Rangers have some good pieces which could help him retool his squad.
While Giroux has more than enough time to chase the Stanley Cup before hanging up his skates — and he will have the chance to sign with a top flight contender as a free agent in July — this year’s Rangers squad is a good interim fit for him, and an could represent an opportunity too good to pass up. Not only would it be a great opportunity on the ice, but it would be one of the better options that least disrupts his life off the ice.
If Giroux is made available by the Flyers ahead of the deadline, every team in a playoff race will inquire about him, but the Rangers would have the advantage of being the playoff team that’s located closest to where he currently lives. You could make a case for Washington too since the distance difference is 39 miles, but I don’t see as good a fit. I bring this up because we’ve seen in the past how players try and find a fit that helps them on, and off the ice, and it is something that could be of more importance in the time of COVID where players are limited in what they can do away from the rink.
If this is something that is a priority to Giroux and if he were to hypothetically make his trade deadline list New York or bust, or at the very least a small list that included New York, that could also help keep the acquisition price down which would make it even more palatable to the Rangers. The team is projected to have $33,672,030 in deadline cap space, so Giroux’s $8,275,000 cap hit won’t be an issue.
As for a potential cost? The Flyers could use a little of everything, and the Rangers have options. Philadelphia’s top 5 prospects, according to The Athletic, are defenseman Cam York, forward Morgan Frost, defenseman Egor Zamula, forward Tyson Foerster, and forward Bobby Brink.
The NHL roster could use some youth on the forward side outside of 21-year-old Joel Farabee, as their top forwards outside of Giroux are Kevin Hayes (29), James van Riemsdyk (32), Cam Atkinson (32), Sean Couturier (29), and Travis Konecny (24) who is also on the young side. On defense they have Ivan Provorov and Ryan Ellis locked up, need to make a decision on Rasmus Ristolainen, and will need to replace Keith Yandle and Justin Braun after the season.
Therefore the Rangers could offer options that include Vitali Kravtsov, Zac Jones, Matthew Robertson, Brett Berard, Will Cuylle, and even future draft picks. In totality the Rangers have assets at their disposal, and enough to make a deal that works for both sides.
Adding Giroux to the Rangers’ current mix would immediately upgrade their top-six, and give the team a pretty solid top-nine with promise. It would push some current players down the lineup, strengthen the overall group, and it would inject some extra skill that was lost over the season when Pavel Buchnevich was traded for Sammy Blais. It would also give the team versatility in deployment, and the chance to balance their talent and skill.
Giroux is an accomplished player that has tallied 879 points in 967 regular season games, and 73 points in 85 playoff games. As a 22-year-old he tallied 21 points in 23 games as the Flyers fell just short of winning the Stanley Cup, and that’s the deepest he’s ever gone in the postseason. Since that point he’s lost in the second round three times, lost in the first round three times, and missed the playoffs five times. This season he’s been worth 1.6 goals above replacement per Evolving Hockey, and posted a line of 9-12-21 in 24 games.
Giroux is a legit star that has played all three forward positions during his career, but he’s mostly been used at center and left wing. At the faceoff circle he’s won 9,182 draws, and owns a career win rate of 55.6%. This is something the Rangers have struggled mightily with, at 45.4% they rank 31st in the league just ahead of Buffalo, and Giroux would give the team the flexibility of deploying him on a line with Mika Zibanejad or Ryan Strome, and moving him to the wing after he takes a key draw. In the post lockout era (since 2012-13) Giroux is sixth in points (636), and fourth in assists (432), and ideally on the Rangers he’d play on the right side, or he could even slot in at center.
Right now the top-nine looks like this:
Chris Kreider — Mika Zibanejad — Kaapo Kakko
Artemiy Panarin — Ryan Strome — Dryden Hunt
Alexis Lafrenière — Filip Chytil — Julien Gauthier
This group, with everyone playing to their potential, has a lot of promise. Thus far Panarin, Zibanejad, Kreider, and Strome are the only ones doing so. Kakko has looked better since returning from injury, Hunt is playing better than most thought, and while the third line has shown a lot of promise in terms of expected goals, there isn’t significant actual production to show for it. In terms of GAR, Lafrenière is currently at -0.2, Chytil is at -0.1, and Gauthier is at 0.5. They are doing a lot of the right things that should lead to generating offense, but the team needs more in general.
While the overall group has been fine in the regular season, carried by the top end talent, successful playoff teams have depth, and this squad is lacking in that department.
If Giroux were acquired, and it likely wouldn’t cost a player currently on the roster, here’s a few potential deployment options.
Option A - Fewest Changes Possible
Chris Kreider — Mika Zibanejad — Kaapo Kakko
Artemiy Panarin — Ryan Strome — Claude Giroux
Alexis Lafrenière — Filip Chytil — Julien Gauthier/Dryden Hunt
This would be a basic swap, and cause the least disruption at the start. And if the kid line finds a way to convert their expected goals into actual goals, there’d be no reason to mess around too much with the exception of swapping Hunt with Giroux.
Option B - Top Line Giroux, Kreider Upgrades Line 3
Alexis Lafrenière — Mika Zibanejad — Claude Giroux
Artemiy Panarin — Ryan Strome — Kaapo Kakko
Chris Kreider — Filip Chytil — Julien Gauthier/Dryden Hunt
This option sees Giroux bump each of the Rangers’ right wings down a peg, and swaps Lafrenière with Kreider. The reason here would be to bolster the third line, and spread the talent out a bit.
It also gives Lafrenière a chance to score some goals playing with a great passer like Giroux, and it would reunite Kreider and Chytil, a duo that’s had success in the past. This also reunites the Panarin-Strome-Kakko line which was great last season, and looked good before Hunt took Kakko’s place.
Option C - Giroux at Center
Chris Kreider — Mika Zibanejad — Kaapo Kakko
Artemiy Panarin — Claude Giroux — Ryan Strome
Alexis Lafreniere — Filip Chytil — Julien Gauthier/Dryden Hunt
And for good measure, here’s an option that slides Strome to wing, and puts Giroux at center. I thought about putting Strome on line three, and moving Chytil to the wing, but that might be a bit bold for now.
There are other potential combinations that could be tried, but the overall point is that Giroux would give the team options.
With all of that said, I only see two courses of actions that make sense for the Rangers come the trade deadline. Option 1 would see them add a top-flight rental like Giroux, someone who can help bolster the overall depth and infuse skill for a lengthy run, doesn’t throw off the future salary structure, and doesn’t cost a ton. It allows the Rangers to take advantage of the situation they are in, doesn’t mortgage too much of the future, and provides the flexibility to make bigger moves in the offseason if needed.
Option 2 would be trading for an established player with term who makes the team better now and in the future, but at the expense of a current roster player (plus). Based on the current structure, that could involve shipping someone like Strome out, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. It certainly feels like the team will try and keep Strome, so unless the newly installed President of the Vancouver Canucks Jim Rutherford makes Elias Pettersson available, he assuredly wont, I don’t foresee a big move coming to fruition. Theoretically the Rangers could ask Montreal about someone like Tyler Toffoli, but it could be hard to fit him long term.
And for that reason I think Giroux represents the best fit. The Rangers could try and add someone like Phil Kessel or Reilly Smith, but those types of players don’t really move the needle enough in my opinion. The Rangers need proven top-end talent who can fill a defined role, and have a proven track record of doing so. For all we know, Giroux may not be made available. He may just decide to ride things out this year with Philadelphia, and start thinking about his long-term future. But if he is available, he’s the guy the Rangers need.
In some respects, this current team under new head coach Gerard Gallant has some similarities to the 2013-14 squad that took some big steps early on under Vigneault, and a squad that felt the need to make a deal for Martin St. Louis. The team as constructed has more game-breaking talent up front, but the fact remains that they are a promising group that could use something extra. The 13-14 Rangers ultimately lost in the Final, and the following year almost made it back, but came short in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on home ice. Giroux isn’t the champion St. Louis was, but he’s a damn good player who’d add a lot to the Rangers.
During the summer the Rangers added some grit and grind in the form of players like Blais, Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Reaves, and all seemingly have been good additions for the room. The Rangers could still use some more help on defense for depth, and could use another NHL forward in the event Hunt or Gauthier regress, but filling those needs shouldn’t be difficult. Come the trade deadline the biggest needed is pure talent, and Giroux would add that, and a whole lot more.
Stats via Evolving-Hockey unless otherwise noted.