Two Months Until NHL Trade Deadline: NY Rangers Edition

Rangers beat the Avs (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

The New York Rangers currently have approximately $1.45 million in available salary cap space as of right now, with that figure (all else equal) projecting to hit a little over $3.55 million on the trade deadline.

One thing to keep in mind is that a simple trade can spark immeasurable consequences, for better or worse, when it comes to an NHL club. Specifically, when it comes to this team and discussing possible remedies, I’m reminded of the 2006-07 Rangers.

Consider the following:

The 06-07 squad started the season very well off: 18-10-4 in its first 32 games, up until mid-December. However, their Corsi-For ranked 18th in the league.

Then, from December 15th, 2006 to February 5th, 2007 the team hit a serious rut, going 7-14-0. Yet, similar to the Rangers this year, their possession numbers actually improved slightly despite the losing skid, ranking 17th in the the league.

But then a little-known winger by the name of Sean Avery was acquired for Jason Ward, and what happened? The team went on to finish the season 17-6-6, and for some reason its Corsi-For percentage sky-rocketed to 8th in the NHL.

That’s a parallel I can see with this team; a team so little removed from last year’s powerhouse club, yet struggling so much with elementary aspects like defensive zone coverage and breakouts.

Where’s the parallel, you ask?

This year, the team started 17-6-2 its first 35 games, despite being at rock bottom in the league’s possession stats. And now, tumbling through a 3-7-2 regression since December 1st, the team’s possession numbers have improved substantially. So tit-for-tat, with a trade most certainly looming between now and the February 29th deadline, it gives me a very reminiscent vibe of the 06-07 campaign. And I’m reminded that a simple trade of forwards can, for better or worse, affect the overall chemistry and composure of the team.

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In terms of New York acquiring a rental forward or defenseman at the trade deadline, one good bet would be to speculate that one of the Rangers’ goaltending prospects gets moved. The team, which was amazingly shallow in this area for several seasons, has drafted a group of young netminders the past 18 months to suddenly make it the team’s deepest pipeline position.

Specifically:

* Brandon Halverson (age 19)

* Igor Shestyorkin (age 20)

* Mackenzie Skapski (age 21)

* Adam Huska (age 18)

Halverson & Huska are representing their respective native lands (USA & Slovokia) in the ongoing 2016 World Juniors Championship. Shestyorkin, Russian’s starting goalie last year (and utter shoe-in for the job would he have been born a few days earlier, narrowly missing the cutoff for this year’s tournament), has put up phenominal numbers in Russia’s VHL & KHL. And of course, Skapski remains in the AHL, coming back from a hip injury sustained this summer.

So instead of single-handedly forfeiting the majority of the franchise’s prospective depth in a move ejecting, say, defenseman Brady Skjei or forward Pavel Buchnevich, I’d look for the Rangers to shop one of their goalie bluechips more than anything else. The Rangers do not have depth in their up-and-coming skaters, but have plenty of seedlings between the pipes.

Halverson & Skapski are already under contract, meaning they’d theoretically net the most return value. Halverson is the lone NYR contract that’s “sliding”, so a team at the 50-contract maximum could absorb him in a trade with no problem. Shestyorkin, who remains unsigned to an NHL deal of any kind, and playing in Russia, may have the highest ceiling of the bunch. Yet the inherent risk of him never coming over to North America would certainly cost points on trade return value. And Huska, drafted just last summer, continues to play in the USHL for Green Bay, perhaps getting ready for a jump to the NCAA, which would certainly hinder immediate trade value.

NYR prospect Brandon Halverson

Bottom line:

I can see New York, should they feel a deadline upgrade could put them over the top for a playoff run, trading Halverson or Skapski, and “doubling down” on their long-term hopes for Huska and/or Shestyorkin.

If the team is in the hunt for a rental right-handed winger, it could sure make a lot of sense in a deal for, say, Kris Versteeg (Carolina) or Radim Vrbata (Vancouver). Both of those franchises certainly could be out of the playoff picture come February, and likewise be shopping the market for goaltenders to step up a few years down the road.

Without an abundance of assets anywhere else, I’d suspect the next Rangers-trademarked “future prospect for immediate talent” deadline deal to include one of these goalies, should Jeff Gorton continue Glen Sather’s maxim in this respect.

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Zuccarello ——– Brassard ——- Ric. Nash
Versteeg ———– Stepan ———- Kreider
Hayes ————- Ril. Nash ——— Miller
Fast/Stalberg ——- Moore — Lindberg/Glass

McDonagh ———– Klein
Yandle ———— McIlrath
Staal ———- Boyle/Girardi

Lundqvist
Raanta

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If the question is, “who gets dealt at the trade deadline, should the Rangers be planning yet another deep playoff run?”… It all depends on what trades are being offered, and will be offered. So it’s tough to generically list individuals or assets. But rather, what pieces might be out of place in the grand scheme?

Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider and/or J.T. Miller:

I wrote a few months ago about how if the NY Rangers are serious about re-signing Keith Yandle, it would *likely* mean at least one of these three restricted free agents (all of whom are in-line for payraises next summer, all with the right to go to salary arbitration) would not be able to fit on the roster next season. And it goes without saying that both Hayes & Kreider have had declining years this season, perhaps making them tradebait let alone any peripheral 2016-17 cap concerns in re-upping Yandle. Miller, the youngest of the trio, sporting the smallest cap hit, is the only one of the three to have improved his points-per-game production this season.


Keith Yandle

You would think a player such as Yandle would be Alain Vigneault’s go-to defenseman on the power play. You would think he would be the team’s go-to defenseman in 3-on-3 overtime situations. You would think after giving up Anthony Duclair and a couple of premium draft picks, Yandle would not only implemented as the second-coming of Brian Leetch, but pursued for a contract extension in the same way.

And yet, it seems as though Yandle is under-deployed by the Rangers’ coaching staff. I’ve heard nothing on the front of contract extension negotations, which will undoubtedly amplify in speculation as we inch closer to February 29th. In cases like Callahan, Girardi & Zuccarello… the trade deadline for impending unrestricted free agents has become New York’s personal deadline for “extend or eject.” Will Yandle fall into this same category this year? Could he actually be traded should no contract extension be finalized?

Emerson Etem

Akin to last season’s Lee Stempniak, Etem is a low-cost, low-risk, yet lowly-used winger whom has also been under-deployed. Upon acquisition in June’s deal for Carl Hagelin, an export in which the Rangers had to reduce salary, but yet surely had plenty of suitors interested in Haglein. Therefore, I truly believe Etem was more of a “pick of the litter” targeted-acquistion than simply a “throw-in.”

But his remarkably responsible play (6.5 takeaways for every 1 giveaway) has not helped him get many auditions in the top-six forward rotation, even when Jesper Fast has gotten it over and over and over again. In fact, with the struggles of Kreider, you’d think Etem would’ve been tried with him more than he has; but no. Specifically, 9 other forwards have been experimented with Kreider more than Etem has.

Dan Girardi and/or Marc Staal

It’s no secret that these two have been in the unfavorable eyes of advanced stats guys like myself for quite a while. Honestly, if these two were given sheltered minutes on the 3rd pair, they’d probably have a ton of their criticisms reduced. The real question is, will the team itslef identify these two as so problematic with regard to big-minute workloads as to ask one or both to be traded? Remember (for the millionth time), neither blueliner can be traded this season without the player’s permission. Thus, it remains highly unlikely.

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Finally, I’d like to share with you a pet theory of mine:

The Rangers should aim to enter the playoffs dressing 11 forwards & 7 defensemen in the lineup. Improving the defense core is theoretically the way to go, but it’s practically immovable.

Why do I think this?

The most expensive, arguably most-desired defensemen to move in a trade (Boyle, Girardi, Staal) all have No-Movement Clauses. Conversely, the cheaper and least-desired defensemen to move (Klein, McDonagh, McIlrath, Skjei, Yandle) are genuinely the only ones feasibly traded, as they have the more economical contracts and can be dealt without player consent.

In other words, the players you’d look to trade first are the ones whom are the trickiest to export. And vice versa. For a cap-strapped team like the Rangers, this makes for a sticky makeup of contracts with which to tinker come the deadline dance.

So, if you want to improve the defense, you should entertain the idea of carrying 8 defensemen on the roster. And, unless Vigneault would be willing to scratch Girardi & Staal regularly, which is extremely doubtful… the concept of dressing 7 D & scracthing 1 comes to fruition. Or at least, in this lonely blogger’s mind it does.

Since Vigneault took over the team in 2013, one of New York’s trademarked strengths has been their well-rounded distribution of icetime among the 4 lines. Thus, it theoretically wouldn’t be much of a strain for A.V. to start playing forwards like Brassard, Nash, Stepan and Zuccarello an extra few minutes per game.

If this is the optimal case, the question becomes: Skjei or acquiring a rental?

If Skjei is ready for regular time in the NHL on the 3rd pair, the team can allocate their limited cap space to acquiring a forward. So, perhaps option A would be:

[Rental forward] – Stepan ——– Nash
Zuccarello —— Brassard —– Kreider
Lindberg ———- Hayes ——- Miller
Fast —————- Moore

McDonagh ———– Klein
Yandle ———— McIlrath
Skjei ———– Boyle/Girardi

Lundqvist
Raanta

[Scratches/roster removals: Etem, Glass, Staal, Stalberg]

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Or, if Skjei is not ready for 3rd pair minutes in the NHL, then perhaps acquiring a deadline defenseman ON TOP OF the current batch becomes optimal? In this case, option B could be:

[Rental forward] – Stepan ——– Nash
Zuccarello —— Brassard —– Kreider
Lindberg ——— Hayes ——– Miller
Fast ————— Moore

McDonagh ———– Klein
Yandle ———— McIlrath
[Rental d-man] – Boyle/Girardi

Lundqvist
Raanta

[Scratches/roster removals: Etem, Glass, Staal, Stalberg]

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Is either scenario a one-or-two move solution that will surely solve the Rangers’ recent struggles in defensive lapses during enemy break-ins, or puck-fumbling amidst breakouts? No, probably not. But as we discussed above, performing a root canal given the defensemen contracts is virtually impossible. Especially given the time of year it is (hint: not the off-season). Super-especially given that the Rangers’ coaching staff seem to remain in denial that Girardi and Staal, NOT McIlrath and Yandle, are the low heads on the totem pole.

Two months until the trade deadline.

Remember, a trade as simple as the 2007 Avery-for-Ward deal could end up being a catalyst that gets this team back to winning.

Here’s to hoping.