The New York Rangers must play it smart at the trade deadline — and that could mean trading away one of their best offensive weapons.
Through 56 games, it’s safe to say the New York Rangers are exceeding expectations.
Are they playing at the early season level which resembled one of the most prolific offenses in NHL history? No — but it was nearly impossible to keep up with that pace. But their deep offense has helped the Blueshirts overcome a struggling defense and an inconsistent campaign from Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers are currently 37-18-1 and their 75 points put them in a three-way tie for second place in the Metropolitan division.
With new faces all over the roster, many believed the 2016-17 season was going to be one of a rebuild. Instead, the Garden Faithful are dreaming of a deep playoff run — and maybe even an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
But if the Rangers are going to do just that, the roster needs to change.
And that’s where fans need to temper their expectations. GM Jeff Gorton shouldn’t sacrifice a long-term goal for a short-term gain.
The organization is typically one of the more active teams at the trade deadline. When the Rangers swapped captains with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2014 and brought in Martin St. Louis for Ryan Callahan (and a first and second round pick), the move paid off. While they failed to bring the Cup back to New York City, the team did appear in the Final for the first time since 1994 — and St. Louis was a key catalyst behind the team’s magnificent playoff run.
Furthermore, the Rangers pulled off another blockbuster just one year later. Looking for a boost on the blueline, former GM Glen Sather acquired premiere offensive defenseman Keith Yandle and spare parts for top prospect Anthony Duclair, John Moore, a first-round pick and a second-round pick. The Blueshirts fell short of their ultimate goal once again but Yandle was a big-time contributor, both in even strength situations and on the power play.
Unfortunately, however, all deadline deals haven’t worked out as well as the St. Louis and Yandle transactions.
The Rangers convinced themselves they were legitimate contenders back in the 2012-13 season and went out and got themselves Ryan Clowe. Not only were they bounced in the second round of the playoffs but Clowe collected just eight points in 12 games. The move cost the organization three draft picks and the veteran ended up signing elsewhere in the offseason.
Last year’s trade, too, was a total failure. Similar to that of the Clowe situation, the Rangers thought they had the chance to make a deep playoff push and acquired an aging Eric Staal at the deadline. He was relegated to third line duties, collected three goals and three assists in 20 games, and was a part of a team that was embarrassed by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the postseason. Gorton gave up a quality prospect in Aleksi Saarela and two second-round picks for Staal’s services.
As we inch near the March 1 deadline date, it’s safe to assume the Rangers will make some sort of move. But they shouldn’t trade Ryan McDonagh for another player wearing the “C” for another team. They shouldn’t sell the farm for Ryan Shattenkirk, especially because they could get him in free agency.
But if Gorton is going to make a move, he should take a page out of the old playbook.
Right before Clowe was brought into the fold, the organization stole the headlines with a blockbuster move during that same season.
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For a short period of time, winger Marion Gaborik was the face of the franchise. During that season, he failed to resemble the three-time 40-goal scorer that Rangers fans came to love as he scored just nine goals and totaled 19 points in 35 games.
Moore may have been a bottom pair defenseman but his offensive prowess, puck-moving ability, and speed made him an asset. As mentioned earlier, he helped the Rangers nab Yandle. Meanwhile, Dorsett didn’t spend a long time in New York but played a pivotal role on a fourth line that found a ton of success during their run to the Stanley Cup in 2014.
Of course, Brassard blossomed on Broadway and went from an athletic enigma to a bonafide top-six center. Sure, he could’ve been better in his own zone and on the faceoff dot but Brassard was a key contributor during the Rangers’ most recent run and was a beloved by the fans.
The organization has the chance to pull off a similar move and retool this season — and their trade chip could be Rick Nash.
Ever since he was acquired five years ago, Nash has been the epitome of someone that shows up in a major way during the regular season but fades when the bright lights are shining. Sure, Nash does a tremendous job on defense and can be a physical force — but he’s paid to score.
With tremendous depth at forward, the Rangers can afford to move Nash. Michael Grabner, Chris Kreider, and J.T. Miller all have more goals than Nash while both Mats Zuccarello and Mika Zibenajad can easily pick up the slack. Don’t forget about Kevin Hayes, Pavel Buchnevich, and Jimmy Vesey, all of whom can get a better look in bigger roles.
If Nash is indeed available, there will be plenty of teams vying for his services — and a team like the Ottawa Senators can be an ideal fit.
The Sens are doing well for themselves this season, as evidenced by their 64 points, a number that has the team in second place in the Atlantic division. One area they need to address, however, is on offense; Ottawa is currently ranked 18th in the NHL with 2.62 goals per game. Nash would give the team a top option on offense and someone that could take the Senators to the next level.
But if the Rangers are going to give up a talented player, they need value in return. Like in the Gaborik trade, Gorton must target young players and/or role players that can fill a number of spots on the roster. Forward Curtis Lazar and defenseman Cody Ceci have criminally underwhelmed as members of the Senators, and a change of scenery could benefit the youngsters. As members of the Blueshirts, neither player would be relied on nearly as much and could thrive in smaller roles.
The Rangers need to stop thinking about the right now — this offseason was a step in that direction.
Trading Nash could hurt in the short-term. But with the bigger picture in mind, retooling is the best way to go.