It might be a few months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about the Rangers and the NHL Trade Deadline.
The New York Rangers are in a very peculiar situation approaching the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 26th. The 2017-18 season, at its onset, looked to be one of hope, success and potential glory for the Rangers and their fans. Instead, the team has not yet proven to be contenders for a Stanley Cup. The strange thing is that they also do not look like they are completely out of the race, either.
The Rangers currently sit sixth in the Metropolitan Division. Despite their low standing, they are only five points out of first place. Yes, first place.
They are one of three teams in the division with a positive goal differential (plus-nine), are the second-highest scoring team in the division (87 goals for), have a very good home record of 11-5-2 and are third in the division in goals allowed (78). On top of all of this, they possess a still solid, future Hall of Fame goaltender and one of the league’s more potent offenses.
Yet they are also a poor defensive team with a head coach that consistently makes bad decisions regarding player deployment. Additionally, they are a poor five-on-five team that relies on special teams to garner both goals and momentum. On top of this, their top center is out indefinitely during a stretch where the Rangers will be playing most of their divisional rivals in the month of December.
Do the pros outweigh the cons? As of now, no they do not. In the NHL Playoffs, scoring chances, shots and goals are often lessened to a massive extent. The poor five-on-five play by the Rangers coupled with their dependence on “pretty plays” for goals (such as tic-tac-toe passing through the slot) will be their demise in the postseason. The Rangers will play better defensive teams and opportunities for those types of plays will be invariably scarce.
Now, if players were deployed properly, the Rangers would be a better team. They could even contend for a championship depending on the play of their youngsters. But, the absentminded head coach, Vigneault, does not seem to be going anywhere, and neither do the Rangers.
Players such as Rick Nash and Michael Grabner are currently “win-now” pieces at this stage of their careers.
Nash, 33, is headed towards the end of his massive contract, and his stellar two-way play coupled with his skill, experience and size would bring a championship-contending team, like the St. Louis Blues, for example, a player that could put them over the top. A player like Nash should be able to garner a first-round pick, another pick and even a very good prospect in return.
Grabner, 30, is renowned for his blinding speed. He is an excellent penalty killer whose wheels create scoring chances. He is also a player that can score 20-plus goals for a team as a bottom-six depth scorer. Any team would be pleased with him, as a rental, to chase a championship. They may even be willing to give a sizable return for a player of Grabner’s caliber.
? all 3 Grabner goals!! ??? pic.twitter.com/NlUAVtXeLe
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) December 2, 2017
What does all of this mean? It means that the Rangers—if Vigneault remains as the head coach—should be sellers at the NHL Trade Deadline.
What else does this mean? It means that the Rangers would effectively be denying Henrik Lundqvist a real shot at a Stanley Cup. It means that all of these years of free agent signings and dumping prospects would be wasted. It means that this is the end of an era.
Vigneault and winning a championship simply no longer go together. He denies good young players, such as Pavel Buchnevich, playing time solely on the basis that they are young. A player like Buchnevich will not see the ice after making one mistake. Meanwhile, Nick Holden will make six or seven mistakes in a period and will continue to play integral minutes as a top-four defenseman.
Now, it sounds counterintuitive to rebuild with a coach that is notorious for not giving young players playing time. But, either way, Vigneault is not a coach that can win the Rangers a championship. They might as well be younger and more skilled when his contract expires rather than be older and lacking any substantial and immediate future.
Since young star center Mika Zibanejad has been diagnosed with a concussion, I have thought a lot on this matter. Zibanejad is a player that has had a past with concussions. He has already been deemed to be out indefinitely.
Mika Zibanejad Out With A Concussion: OFFICIAL: #NYR Mika Zibanejad is not on the ice today and is out due to a concussion. — New York Rangers (@NYRangers) November 30, 2017 https://t.co/rc3wGbqHwW
— Kukla's Korner (@kuklaskorner) November 30, 2017
As of now, the two top-six centers on the Rangers are Kevin Hayes and David Desharnais. This is not a winning group by any means. Hayes is a very good third-line center, whereas Desharnais might be a decent third-line center. Two third line centers as your top two centers do not exactly make a recipe for success.
If Zibanejad is out for a substantial period of time, while Vigneault continues to make the same mistakes, the season can effectively be crumpled up and thrown in the garbage. The best-case scenario for the Rangers would be a typical first or second round exit.
The Rangers have to be smart here. If Vigneault does not change his ways, they will continue to perform poorly against the better teams in the league come the NHL Playoffs. They have to do what is best for the team, and if that means giving up on this season to do it, then they should.
It’s the beginning of December. The season is still young and I do not know what is going to happen. What I do know is that Vigneault’s decision making paired with Zibanejad’s injury could be catastrophic for the Rangers. So long as he is the head coach, the Rangers will struggle. They might as well build for a better future in the meantime.
Let’s hope for either a dismissal of our incompetent head coach, a speedy recovery for Zibanejad, an intelligent approach by management to contending or rebuilding, or, my choice, all of the above.