This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but no one told the Rangers that. Last season was extremely disappointing for the Rangers, not only for the early playoff exit but also because the quality of the play was sub-par. The rangers got out-worked, out skated and out-skilled against the eventual Stanley cup champion Penguins. Over the off season they lost two defenseman and traded Derrik Brassard, their #2 center. They received Mika Zibanejad (Zib) for Brassard, signed Michael Grabner, signed Jimmy Vesey, and traded for Brandon Pirri. On the back end they called up Brady Skjei and traded for Nick Holden.
The moves that the rangers made on the surface seemed to be more rebuilding than competing, and with Lundqvists’ window closing it was a tough realization. Under the surface though the Rangers built a team centered around speed and skill. Kevin Hayes made huge strides over the off season and has meshed well with J.T Miller and speedster Grabner. Grabner leads the team in goals.
The Rangers have changed completely from the Torts era and sport a plus 43 goal differential, ranking 3rd in goals per game and 10th in goals against per game, a far cry from the Torts defensive minded teams.
What are they? Stand-pat –> Buyers?
It’s tough to say what the Rangers will do at the deadline, and one reason is the expansion draft. The Rangers are stacked up front and roll four lines deep, with their fourth line playing like most teams’ third. The depth up the middle with Stepan and Zib have stabilized all 200 feet of the ice and the emergence of Hayes has stabilized the third line which can go toe to toe with any in the league.
If the rangers forward group is so prolific its defensive group is the opposite. Ryan McDonagh his a monster at both ends of the ice, unfortunately he is paired with Dan Girardi. I have said that Girardi is washed for the last two years but recently he has been playing a lot smarter. He still will make defensive miscues in his own zone and he doesn’t have the speed to compete in today’s NHL but he soaks up minutes and blocks shots.
Marc Staal, another veteran D-man on this rangers squad, has been paired with Nick Holden, the acquisition from Colorado to start the year. Both play a lot better when paired together and the trade for Holden, for just a 4th round pick, is looking like a steal.
Brady Skjei, the rookie on the blue line, has played marvelously. He has contributed in the offensive zone and played good defense for a rookie. He takes way too many penalties in his own zone, but as he matures he will limit those. He hasn’t been talked about nationally and that is fine, the Rangers know how good he is.
Klein/Clendening: Weak defenseman. Clendening has been a career 7th defenseman and while Klein has helped the rangers in the past he really has lost a step. He no longer puts the puck in the net to make up for his defensive breakdowns.
In Goal: Lundqvist who is finally rounding into form. Hank has had a great February and hopefully his early season troubles are behind him. Antti Raanta is the back up ‘tender who has been a pleasant surprise in New York. The new father has a .920 sv % to go along with a 2.32 GAA, those are top goalie stats.
Trade Ammo per cap friendly: The Rangers have in the past traded away a lot of their picks and that is why I am guessing we hold on to ours this year. The rangers have plenty of deadline cap space as well but have a lot of contracts this off season that need to be negotiated, mainly Zibanejad and possible Miller/Hayes extensions
Really there is one major target for the Rangers right now and that is Shattenkirk. Shatty, who grew up a Rangers fan from just outside the city, has expressed interest in coming back to the Northeast. The issue then is what is the cost and what happens at the end of the year.
If the rangers trade for Shatty they will have to give up a lot of assets, mainly a young forward. I would hate to see J.T. Miller or Kevin Hayes go for a short sighted trade.The move would help in the short term but long term hurt and here is why:
With Shattenkirk AV can bench either Klein/Clendening and knock Girardi to the third pairing, move Skeji up with McD or put Shattenkirk with McD.
If the Rangers work out a sign and trade then Shattenkirk will be protected at the expansion draft. This is where it gets tricky, if Shatty is protected (assuming a Girardi buyout) then Holden, who has proven his worth, will be left exposed. McPhee may take a shot with the defenseman after seeing how he performed with the rangers.
If the Rangers wait to sign Shattenkirk in the off season they retain their young talent while also protecting Holden (with a Girardi buyout).
The defensive core will be a lot stronger next year under the scenario where they sign Shattenkirk rather than give up assets.
In addition, giving up Nash for Shattenkirk is a bad trade, even if a deal gets worked out. Nash is one of the best players on the team, plays a two way game, scores goals, and is a leader on the ice. People argue that we can then protect Grabner, who as great as he has played has been a product of the system and in my opinion either won’t be picked by Vegas or is replaceable.
Other Trade Ideas
Trade Grabner: Depending on value and the possibility of losing him in the expansion draft it may be best to sell high. If the Rangers can get a decent defenseman, maybe a #4 defenseman, who will improve their defensive capabilities then they should do it.
Trade for another D-man besides Shattenkirk: I wouldn’t hate trying to pry one of the young/controllable D-men from ANA/Minn/CAR either at the deadline or in the off season. If they got someone like Vatanen or Doumba then sign Shattenkirk the defense goes from liability to top in the league. McD, Vat, Skjei, Shattenkirk, is a nasty top 4. Doing this would hurt the forward group and I am grateful I don’t have to make those decisions.