Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brian Boyle is one of two puzzle pieces Jeff Gorton and the New York Rangers need to target at the deadline.
There’s no reason to beat around the bush: the New York Rangers would seriously benefit from adding a physical defenseman and a “playoff guy” for the fourth line.
The Blueshirts boast an undeniably stout group of forward talent with a rare combination of speed, skill, and grit. However, I’m confident that even a first-time hockey viewer would be able to break down the team’s biggest problem within a few minutes of puck drop. The problem that could legitimately deny the King and his club another shot at a deep Stanley Cup run come springtime if left unaddressed: a lack of physicality.
The current defensive corps has been better of late. Am I condoning a total philosophical shift back to the stylistic dark days of John Tortorella, when players regularly sacrificed their bodies as Henrik Lundvist’s personal puck-seeking shields? Absolutely not. This team is built on Alain Vigneault’s up-tempo, high-flying offensive system that usually passes the eye test and results in two points at the end of the game.
What is clear, though, is that this Rangers team is not all that far away from putting themselves on par with the NHL’s elite.
Imperatively, now is the time for Jeff Gorton to get serious about the team’s positioning and aspirations for this season in particular, as the NHL’s Mar. 1 trade deadline is less than a week away. This is especially true in a stacked Metropolitan division, populated by the perennial contender Washington Capitals, the reigning champion Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as the ferocious upstart Columbus Blue Jackets.
While there are a variety of directions Gorton can ponder, if he wants to take full advantage of another team excelling in the regular season, he needs to actively be looking for a little toughness. The glaring hole in the current six-man backend rotation is a physical, crease-clearing d-man who can skate too. Ideally, the Rangers should target a guy who can move opposing forwards away from the area directly in front of Lundqvist and also chip in with timely offense.
As currently constructed, this defense has allowed players such as Jamie Benn and John Tavares to show off their best WWE impersonations, muscling and bullying their way to the front of the net. This simply will not suffice for twenty-plus minutes a night during a best-of-seven series in the second season. While Adam Clendening has played decent hockey this year and has some offensive potential, AV has showed a hesitation to give him consistent time, and he is not the physical presence the Rangers should be after.
Further, even assuming Buchnevich, Lindberg, and Fast all see ice time in a potential Rangers playoff run, the two forward options the team has right now for injury cover are Brandon Pirri and Matt Puempel. While each of them offers some offensive potential, would you be happy inserting either right into a fourth-line battle against the Caps or the Pens? A familiar face is the best man to solve this fourth-line struggle.
The following are two options the Blueshirts should strongly consider before all external routes disappear next week. Note that these two would cost the Rangers next to nothing. Jeff Gorton should still put forth his due diligence and call in on Jacob Trouba and Kevin Shattenkirk, but these moves would not jeopardize the future of the team, and still propel the Rangers chances for this season.