NYR 2016 Trade Tinkerings Part One: Rental Forwards
After yet another defeat against the red-hot Florida Panthers last night, all of the citizens in Rangerstown must admit: this team needs adjustments. For whatever reason, the roster so relatively similar to last season’s President’s Trophy winners has fallen oh so far from its former self. The December slump has now officially extended into the fresh soil of 2016. The inherent problems plaguing this team have revealed themselves to be less-than-temporary. The success enjoyed in October & November has almost completely evaporated, as Broadway is now pushed to the very cusp of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Here are the facts:
* The team currently sits with a tad over $1.5 million in actual salary cap space as of today.
* If the roster remains the same up until the NHL Trade Deadline (February 29th) then that figure projects to be a hair over $3.355 million.
* This leaves (23 games & 57 calendar days) remaining for Jeff Gorton to pull the trigger on any trades in hopes of improving this free-falling team.
Here is the question:
Within the next eight weeks, is there a potential trade or two that could put the Rangers back as a playoff-bound team with a chance at winning it all?
If the answer is “no,” then the type of trades that we should discuss are more akin to the Broadway Purge of 2004 than anything else. That is to suggest liquidating the more sizable contracts of the elder players for younger, less-immediate talent. Probably doing so in a manner which shies away from a “true” re-build, as to not stray too far from a window of contention before Henrik Lundqvist, absorbing 12% of the team’s cap space, is rocking chair bound and no longer able to contribute.
Realistically, I don’t think this is likely at all, even if it truly is the optimal course of action. Why?
Gorton, in his first year as General Manager, probably thought (as did most of us) that he was inheriting a team surely capable of at least making the 2016 postseason. And while that still may be true, desperate trade(s) are almost assuredly going to be the knee-jerk response, in an effort to right this ship more so than systematically recalibrate it.
In other words, the team is bottoming out and regressing, but it hasn’t hit rock bottom. You can ask fans of Anaheim or Columbus about that. Thus, a total one-eighty in the mind of the front office of this organization isn’t particularly likely to occur; or at least in the next two months.
That conclusion, coupled with the apparently obvious truth that this team needs SOMETHING, leads me to believe we’re in for another classic New York Rangers’ trade deadline. One where small or remedial improvements will come at greater expense. Here’s a brief look-in at some of the team’s past deadline moves:
I’ve crunched the numbers on three different HYPOTHETICAL types of trades (broken down into three parts). As always, when submitting these types of ideas, I want to urge that I do not nesecerrily condone nor support these swaps. I’m merely posing them, as to analyze & exhume what they would mean, what ramifications they would have, and what the Rangers’ roster would then look like (and at what cost).
Let’s get started.
TRADE PROPOSAL 1: “Forward Rental Upgrades”
This hypothetical is in the spirit of those deals for rentals like Nik Antropov, Ryane Clowe, Jody Shelley, or James Sheppard. By “rental” I mean someone whom is set to be an unrestricted free agent after the playoffs are over, and in all of these cases, the player was never re-signed after acquisition. Meaning the aggregate price paid for these players was all for a single playoff push a piece, as is the standard reality and risk of acquiring a “rental.”
So let’s continue this common practice into 2016. Here in Part 1, we’ll focus solely on rental forwards, as we assume Dan Boyle, Dan Girardi & Marc Staal have refused to waive their No-Movement-Clauses, and we’re not particularly keen on trading any of the other four defensemen. What kind of rentals should we aim for?
Personally, it would seem the Rangers could benefit from a right-handed shot in the top two or three lines. Derick Brassard, Emerson Etem, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Oscar Lindberg, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, & Mats Zuccarello are all lefties. In fact, Jesper Fast & Derek Stepan are the only right-handed shots in the entire top-nine (and Fast ideally in the first three lines is highly debatable, in my humble opinion).
But even more specifically, I truly believe Kreider could benefit from a linemate who is not only right-handed, but a more offense-oriented opposite winger. When looking at his 2015-16 slump, and trying to determine causation… look no further than his new batch of linemates this season:
Kreider's most frequent 5-on-5 linemates: 13/14: Step, Nash, Zucc, Richards 14/15: Step, MSL, Zucc, Brass 15/16: Step, Fast, Hayes, Miller
— HockeyStatMiner (@HockeyStatMiner) December 30, 2015
Chris Kreider is a good COMPLIMENT to offensive-driven wingers. But now that he's being asked to BE that type of winger, he's hitting a wall
— HockeyStatMiner (@HockeyStatMiner) December 30, 2015
So let’s set our sights on a rental winger whom is right-handed and more offensive-oriented in his game.
My candidates are Radim Vrbata (Vancouver) and Kris Versteeg (Carolina), both of whom match this description, and will be unrestricted free agents in July. And frankly, while probably premature to speculate this, but here it goes: it would be less than shocking if both or either tested free agency and did not re-sign with their current clubs.
However, as we’ve alluded to, deadline markets are usually a seller’s market, thus making temporary acquisitions quite pricey. So before gobbling up one of these rental wingers for a premium draft pick or prospect, is there any “cheaper” alternatives?
I spot one: Sam Gagner (Philadelphia).
Here’s the scoop: Gagner has had a dissapointing season in Philly. He was recently waived (for the Flyers to make cap space for Mark Streit returning from injury), cleared waivers, and assigned to the minor leagues. I honestly believe the Rangers may’ve been interested, but simply couldn’t claim him as they did not have the cap space available.
Now, Philly is still being charged for $2.25 of SG’s $3.2 million cap hit, which they assuredly do not like. The team is tight for cap space, and already being charged $4.05 million for Andy MacDonald’s minor league burial as well.
What if the Rangers traded for Gagner, with Philadelphia retaining some salary? This would alleviate Philly’s cap commitment to minor-league Gagner, offer an attempted remedy to the Rangers need for a right-handed winger, AND leave Philly getting SOMETHING for Gagner days after they risked losing him for NOTHING.
Again, as no team claimed him on waivers, Philadelphia wouldn’t charge as steep a price as other rental teams, even configuring Gagner is admittedly a (likely) step down from Vrbata or Versteeg.
NYR ACQUIRES: C/LW Sam Gagner (50% salary retained by PHI)
PHI ACQUIRES: 2016 5th Round Draft Pick
Given the normal trend of deadline rentals, this seems like a good deal for New York, and Philly frees up $650,000 worth of cap hit AND gains a draft pick without losing anything. So let’s go with this.
One thing I’d like to bring up with Vrbata, however, is this: he’s struggled in Vancouver this season, after a successful campaign the year before. Personally, I think his dynamic coupled with Kreider and Stepan would be just what we’re looking for. So let’s explore this further.
I’ve written before about my theory that the Rangers’ ideal trade fodder for this deadline would be giving up a goaltending prospect. The team has four promising netminders in the system, where if they were to find a team potentially interested, it could be a natural fit. And my eyes, in this respect, are set on Vancouver.
The Canucks currently have Ryan Miller (who turns 36 in July) & Jacob Markstrom (26) on their roster. The two minor-league goalies they have under contract are Richard Bachman (29) & Joe Cannata (26). Frankly, I doubt the team’s first thoughts are “long-term goaltending solution” reside in any of these four. Miller and Markstrom are also 18 months removed from unrestricted free agency.
Now, Vancouver does have a promising goalie in the pipleline: Thatcher Demko (Boston College). So the team is not completely devoid of goalie prospects. But with Demko likely to complete his senior year of college next season, and no guarantee of ever signing a contract with the Canucks… it could be another 18 months until his first professional game.
Whereas a Rangers’ asset like Brandon Halverson or Mackenzie Skapski, both of which are actually under NHL contract, would be immediately available to the team’s development in the AHL/ECHL. Not only that, but perhaps the Canucks’ front office could be keen on someone like Emerson Etem, an upcoming restricted free agent with a meek contract and limited upside; a player whom Alain Vigneault has, for better or worse, shown very little interest in giving a regular role.
So, let’s say in addition to nabbing Gagner from Philadelphia, the Rangers also acquire Vrbata from Vancouver. Of course, this should go without saying, but these trades assume both trade partners are no longer in the playoff picture come late February, thus willing to sell these assets to New York.
NYR ACQUIRES: LW/RW Radim Vrbata
VAN ACQUIRES: G Mackenzie Skapski, RW Emerson Etem & 2016 4th Round Pick
Perhaps both deals with Philly & Vancouver are on the optimistic side for New York, but whatever. You get the gist. The team gives up a few medium-quality draft picks, a goalie prospect & Etem for a couple of possession-positive righty wingers whom are only under contract for another 6 months.
Rangers’ Theoretically-Modified Lineup:
Zuccarello ———– Brassard —————- Nash
Vrbata —————- Stepan ————— Kreider
Gagner ———- Hayes/Lindberg ———— Miller
Fast ——————- Moore ——- Glass/Stalberg
McDonagh ———- Klein
Yandle ———– McIlrath
Staal ——- Boyle/Girardi
(NYR would be $105,745 under the cap if these moves were done on the Trade Deadline day.)
These are band-aids more than reconstructive surgery, to be sure. But it could certainly be worth a shot, don’t you think? Vrbata plays with Kreider and Stepan, Gagner hopefully brings veteran wiley to the very young third line, and the Zuccarello-Brassard-Nash connection remains intact. Hopefully the pressure to be their line’s offensively-driving force is lifted from Kreider & Hayes respectively and they go back to roles more similar to their 2014-15 season.
And if Gagner and/or Vrbata fail miserably as Rangers? They’ll be gone in July.
This has been Part 1.
In Part 2, we will tinker and examine with ideas more akin to that of a bigger deadline deal (a la the 2015 Keith Yandle trade), this time targeting changes in the defense. And in Part 3, we will talk about “shooting the moon”; a trade of galactic proportions which would require the stars to allign, so to speak, and a good amount of luck.
Thank you for reading, stay tuned!
… To be continued …