Thanks to the expansion draft, the NY Rangers should deal a forward prior to deadline 1
Feb 5, 2017; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) celebrates with teammates after defeating the Calgary Flames at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

As the NHL trade deadline approaches, the NY Rangers should be in the serious business of looking to off one of their talented forwards. 

The NHL trade deadline is March 1 and the New York Rangers should seriously consider dealing a forward, or a pair of forwards prior to that date or risk losing one in the expansion draft for nothing.

For those that don’t know, there will be a new team in 2017.  The expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights will begin play as the NHL’s 31st team in 2017.

This offseason, Las Vegas will participate in an expansion draft in which the Golden Knights will select a player from every NHL roster to comprise their team of 30. First and second-year pros are exempt from the draft. Current teams are able to protect up to 11 other players. These players will not be available to the Golden Knights.

Protect the King and his Knights

Henrik Lundqvist has a no-trade clause and is the franchise goaltender. The Rangers are forced to protect him. Unfortunately, that means that they will expose Anti Raanta as the team can only protect one goaltender.

They’ll also need to expose their bottom three defensemen. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi also have no trade clauses and there is absolutely no chance they’ll risk losing Ryan McDonagh. The real problem for GM Jeff Gorton and his front office face is having to decide which forwards to expose.

So Many Forwards to Chose From

The Forward rich Rangers can only protect seven of the following 10: Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Michael Grabner, Kevin Hayes, Mike Zibanajad, Derek Stepan, Jesper Fast and Oscar Linberg.

Jesper Fast and Oscar Linberg are decent players but are obvious outliers. They will both be exposed. That brings the list down to eight.

Rick Nash is the only one of the eight remaining players to have a no trade. Nash will probably not waive the clause and so he’s locked into one of the seven forward spots.

With Nash protected, there are six spots for seven players in this nightmarish game of musical chairs. Whichever player doesn’t find a seat when the music stops will be exposed to the draft and will likely be selected as a top six forward of the Knights.

Let’s assume the Rangers protect their top four scorers: Miller, Zucc, Kreider and Stepan. Now they can only protect two of three: Hayes, Grabner and Zibanajad. Zibanejad came to the Rangers this offseason in a blockbuster for Derick Brassard so losing him for nothing would be a hard pill to swallow.

If they keep Zibinajad, the Rangers now have a choice between young stud Kevin Hayes or reemergent Michael Grabner.

Jeff Gorton is a pretty resourceful GM. Does he have something cooking on the hot stove that would help him with his expansion draft dilemma?

Here’s a possibility:

Girardi is the Key

The first thing Gorton needs to do is to get Dan Girardi to waive his no-trade clause. With a cap hit of 5.5 million for the next three seasons, the 32-year-old Girardi is pretty much untradeable and both parties know it.

However, if Girardi were to waive his no-trade clause, the Rangers could expose him to the expansion draft. Again, the likelihood that an expansion team would select an aging defenseman with that kind of cap hit is near zero so there’s almost no risk here for Girardi.

The benefit to the Rangers though is tremendous. If Girardi is exposed the Rangers would be able to deal from their strength, forward, in order to improve their weakness, defense. They’d also be able to maintain roster flexibility to protect all their remaining forwards and whatever defenseman they receive in return for the forward they deal.

With only a few weeks remaining until the trade deadline Gorton is going to have to be creative. He has to maneuver very delicately while simultaneously considering relationships with aging veterans, 2016 forward line chemistry and the 2017 expansion draft.

Luckily for Rangers fans, he learned from the best (shout out to Glenn Sather).

I've wanted to write about sports since the first time I read Mike Lupica of the NY Daily News rip George Steinbrenner about the Boss' treatment of Dave Winfield. The Pen truly is mightier than the sword. I still look forward to reading the sports section in the paper every morning. Writing about sports, even in a part time capacity is a dream come true.