After trading away to of their top forwards, the New York Rangers have struggled to find that offensive spark since the deadline.
It was a tough decision, but it had to be done.
Two weeks ago the New York Rangers traded away two of their top forwards in Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes. It does not come off as a surprise. Both of the forwards are in their contract years and given the Rangers cap situation, they had to be traded.
Thankfully for the Rangers sake, they were able to get in return some draft picks and a good young player in Brendan Lemieux.
It was the right thing to do.
Letting those players walk at the end of the year and getting nothing back in return would have hurt the Rangers in the long run, but instead, they’re being given more to build off of.
However, now the Blueshirts find themselves in yet another predicament. Zuccarello and Hayes were crucial to the team’s scoring success. Ever since they got traded, the Rangers offense has been practically dormant (with the exception of a few games).
In the nine games since Hayes and Zuccarello were initially scratched from the lineup, the Rangers are 2-2-5. Both wins against the New Jersey Devils, who are in last place of the Metropolitan Division.
The Rangers do have 25 goals in the last nine games. Admittedly, those numbers do look good, especially when considering they’ve only been outscored by only two goals (when including shootout losses), but those numbers are misleading. Nine of those goals came in the two wins against the Devils. The other five came in one game against the Washington Capitals in which they still couldn’t win. The Rangers have been held to two goals or less in five of their last six games.
The loss of the two, particularly Zuccarello, has had its effect on who is presumed to be the Rangers No. 1 center for the future, Mika Zibanejad. Prior to the trade, Zibanejad was on fire. In the 10 games leading up to the benching, Zibenejad had six goals and four assists to average a point a game. In the eight games since, he still averages about a point a game.
Thanks in part to a couple of multi-point games against the Devils and Capitals. But in the Rangers six-game losing streak that was snapped on Saturday night, Zibanejad only put up three, going pointless in four of those games. Now, he has no points in five of his last six games.
In the special teams department, the Rangers have not scored on their last 21 power-play opportunities. Without Hayes and his puck handling capability in that open ice, the power play unit is certainly suffering.
It goes to show just how valuable Zuccarello and Hayes were to this team. It’s hard to replace the intensity of Zuccarello and crafty puckhandling skills of Hayes.
It’s going to take a little time to get those assets back in the lineup, this is a rebuild after all. Maybe the newly required Lemieux will bring the same intensity and physicality that Zuccarello brought once he reaches his prime. His Gordie Howe hat trick last night was a good sign of things to come.
The highly-anticipated free agent, Artemi Panarin, is rumored to come to the Rangers in this offseason. Assuming the Rangers sign him, maybe his finesse puck handling skills will replace what the Rangers gave up when they delt Hayes to the Jets.
It might take a while to get it done, but the New York Rangers need to fill in those shoes. They are big shoes to fill, but if the Blueshirts want to be competitive again, they need to bring in the attributes that Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello took with them to Winnipeg and Dallas.