The New York Rangers trade of Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild freed up some much needed cap space. Even though the team is projected to have $6,682,222 in deadline cap space per Cap Friendly, there are still opportunities to trim more fat.
The long story short is that this is a very talented team with flaws that need to be addressed if they hope to return to the Eastern Conference Final and avenge last year’s loss. This isn’t a team that is a player away, and the front office should be doing everything they can to have enough flexibility to be major players before and at the deadline.
The Rangers sit 4th in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 10-7-4 and 24 points, and currently hold the 1st wild card spot. From an underlying numbers perspective the Blueshirts have played very well, and certainly deserve a better record. The ability to finish has been a problem, and one would think that their shooting woes will eventually subside so that their actual goals marry up with their expected goals.
The Rangers have an xGF% of 53.96 at 5v5, a GF% of 49.94, and a 7.4 shooting percentage which is 7th-worst in the NHL per Evolving-Hockey. Part of the problem is luck, and the other half are the players on the roster. Here’s a quick look at the roster, and everyone who has scored a goal this season
- Mika Zibanejad - 10
- Chris Kreider - 9
- Vincent Trocheck - 7
- Adam Fox - 6
- Artemiy Panarin and Barclay Goodrow - 5
- Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko - 4
- Julien Gauthier - 3
- Alexis Lafrenière, Jimmy Vesey, Braden Schneider - 2
- Ryan Carpenter, Zac Jones, Libor Hajek - 1
Of this list, I’d like to see more goals for Lafrenière, but he’s someone who certainly deserves a better fate as he has posted an xGF% of 52.94 vs. his actual GF% of 45.93. He’s doing this while having the 5th-best CF% (56.97), so I am confident that better days are ahead. Contextually you also needed to consider the relative lack of power play time as the primary unit routinely eats up a good chunk of time, and most often the 2nd unit is starting their shift on the fly trying to setup in the zone after making an entry. Same can be said of Kakko, although a lot of what I just said applies to him to.
Missing from the list on the forward side are Sammy Blais and Vitali Kravtsov, two players who weren’t around last year and expected to add some overall depth to the team this year. Blais has appeared in 18 games, and Kravtsov has 52 minutes across 6 games due to some bad luck with injuries. The problem is that Blais is currently making $1.525 million, and that is very valuable cap space that could be utilized better.
It is unfortunate that he suffered an ACL injury last season, and it is true that players who have suffered such injuries need time to get up to speed, but the fact remains that the Rangers have Stanley Cup aspirations.
That means the team needs to be using all of their roster spots efficiently, and ensuring that they are spending wisely to extract as much value as possible. Blais is on a one-year deal, and this is all but going to be his last season with the team. That’s because even if he were playing amazing hockey, that would mean he’d price himself off the team come July.
But Blais isn’t playing amazing hockey, and in fact he’s last on the team in xGF% (41.17), 13th in CF% (48.3), but somehow he’s 2nd in GF% (67.21). Blais wasn’t expected to be a scorer, but he’s currently occupying a role in the bottom-six that could be filled by someone like Vesey if an acquisition were made. And while Vesey deserves credit for how he’s played, it is fair to say the Rangers can find someone externally who addresses the current needs of the top six better.
Blais is by far the only Ranger who isn’t pulling their weight, and someone who has been worse than him is Ryan Carpenter. Carpenter doesn’t draw as much ire because he’s only making $750,000, the same amount as Vesey, but at this point the Rangers should be looking into another option for the bottom-six. Carpenter has the 2nd-worst xGF% (41.38), the 17th-worst CF% (45.42), and the worst GF% (39.14). At this point he should be on waivers, and the Rangers should be considering other options so that they can have players who are pushing the team in a positive direction.
Lastly there’s the defense, and truthfully the Rangers could use at least two options here. I mentioned above forwards that haven’t scored, and two defender who haven’t scored for the Rangers are Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller, but I’m not overly concerned there. Both have defined roles and provide value in other ways, but they aren’t the biggest concern on defense right now.
The good thing is that what they are spending on their bottom options isn’t a lot, and if they are able to trim fat from the forward group they should have room to add some help here while not compromising the ability to add a forward as well.
Collectively Libor Hajek, Zac Jones, and Braden Schneider have some underwhelming results, and I think there’s the potential for better utilization. First, here’s their individual numbers.
- Braden Schneider: 55.21 GF% | 45.35 CF% | 46.52 xGF%
- Libor Hajek: 52.07 GF% | 43.17 CF% | 45.84 xGF%
- Zac Jones: 49.65 GF% | 47.51 CF% | 45.55 xGF%
For the most part each is enjoying some luck in terms of GF% vs xGF%, and neither are doing much to push play forward, although there’s potentially a reason for that.
Schneider has primarily played with Zac Jones (149 minutes), and his second-most frequent partner has been Hajek (86 minutes). The best combination has been Jones and Schneider, and their pair has posted a CF% of 49.1, and an xGF% of 52.19. The combination of Schneider and Hajek has been dreadful, and their numbers include a CF% of 38.06, and an xGF% of 32.12.
Based on what we’ve seen with rotations of players in and and out of the lineup, I think it is time for the front office to bring at least one defender in who can help stabilize things, and doing some will allow for a player or two to be assigned to Hartford to play a bigger role and develop.
The kids are the future, this is more so the case with the forwards, but it is fair to say that the team can be doing more to ensure that their young defenders are put in the situation that is best for them. Adding a competent NHL player to show them the way is one option, but a stint in the minors is another approach that could work. Obviously Patrik Nemeth didn’t work out for the team last year, but Justin Braun was serviceable. Ideally the team would aim to add someone more than serviceable, but the bar to clear right now isn’t all that high.
Despite the above which could come across as pessimism and negativity, I feel that the Rangers are a really good team that have a lot of the right pieces in place. But... they are currently doing a disservice to themselves by continually trotting out lineups that are unlikely to move the needle forward. We got a taste of their potential last year, obviously buoyed by elite goaltending by Igor Shesterkin, but with a few tweaks and additions they could be a true contender.
The fringes of this roster are occupied by known (and mostly bad) commodities, and there isn’t much room for growth or better play. Part of that is a by-product of how the team has spent money, but they have an opportunity to remedy that if they cut costs ahead of the deadline.
Ideally this team needs a top-six right wing, another top-nine forward, and two NHL caliber defenseman. There isn’t a top-six option in the system, and that will need to be an external addition. I say this as someone who thinks there’s potential with a hypothetical top-six that includes Lafrenière and Kakko, but if you add someone that pushes one of them down, the team becomes that much better and deeper in the process.
It is possible that the top-nine forward could be in Hartford, and as time goes on you wonder if someone like Jonny Brodzinski will get another shot, if Gustav Rydahl will get a look, or when the team will try and see what Will Cuylle or Bobby Trivigno can do.
On defense there are some options, but not a ton of great ones. Andy Welinski is an interesting option as a player who was signed for AHL depth, and is up to 10 points in 14 games after tallying 19 in 39 games last year with the Stockton Heat. He’s played in 244 AHL games, 46 NHL games, and conceivably could be an internal Justin Braun like option. There’s also Matthew Robertson who is bound to get his shot at some point, but he’d be another youngster thrown into a role where he has to learn on the fly.
The longer the team waits, the less time they will have to see how potential additions mix with the current group. It would be great if the team made an addition or two, see how they fit, and still have the time and resources to make more moves at the deadline based on how things panned out. And I think it is how they should be approaching things.
A team that made a deep playoff run last season should be operating from a mindset of focusing on how things can be better, and how they can position themselves to be ready for tougher competition. We already know a lot about this team, what they do well, and where they can be better. We’ve seen the potential of some of the kids, and what they can be in the right situation.
It is clear that some things are missing, and if the Rangers start making decisions now, they will ultimately give themselves the best opportunity of competing for a championship this year and next.
Stats via Evolving-Hockey unless otherwise noted.