Igor Shesterkin’s play should guide Rangers trade deadline approach
The New York Rangers trade deadline approach may likely hinge on goaltender Igor Shesterkin. We’ve already seen potential target centers Elias Lindholm to Vancouver and Sean Monahan to Winnipeg. So the trade season is officially here.
And while the rumors involving what Rangers GM Chris Drury will do leading up to the March 8 deadline, there’s most definitely an elephant in the room regarding how aggressive New York should be. That would be Shesterkin’s average play in net.
Despite being named an All Star and making the most of his selection in helping Team Matthews win the tournament Saturday afternoon in Toronto, the 28-year-old has what could only be described as a down year on Broadway.
Igor Shesterkin and the Rangers trade deadline approach
The netminder is rocking a 2.86 GAA and a hard-to-believe .899 SV%, a far cry from his stellar numbers from his Vezina-winning campaign from 2021-22.
For nearly 20 years dating back to the beginning of Henrik Lundqvist’s Hall of Fame run, the Rangers have essentially gone as far as their goaltender allows them. That’s been the case this season for Shesterkin and the Rangers.
New York was 16-4-1 and atop the NHL in points percentage on Dec. 1. Shesterkin, meanwhile, was performing close to his career averages. He was 9-4 with a .916 SV% and a slightly above-average 2.55 GAA.
Since Dec. 2, Shesterkin is 10-8-1 with a .887 SV% and a 3.07 GAA. Unsurprisingly, the Rangers have gone 15-12-2 and have dropped in the overall League standings and have seen their once wide gap above the Metropolitan Division shrink to just four points (with Carolina having two games in hand).
Shesterkin has allowed four or more goals in 12 of his 32 games this season. For context, he reached that same number last year in 58 games.
The team’s poor defensive effort over the last two months have done the goaltenders no favors. But with that said, more is needed from Shesterkin, and he’s been open about having to play better.
All this is to say Shesterkin’s performance over the next five weeks should drive the conversation of how aggressive Drury will be at the Trade Deadline.
Rumors are abounding about who Drury is targeting, including Anaheim’s Frank Vatrano and Adam Henrique. Those two players would bolster the top nine, and Henrique is a strong two-way forward, but neither will be winning the Selke Trophy any time soon.
Jonathan Quick has performed above expectations since the beginning of the regular season and has kept the Rangers afloat in going 11-4-2 with a 2.35 GAA and two shutouts.
Any talk of a goalie controversy is foolish. The Rangers can’t ride the 38-year-old quick and nor should they. Shesterkin is the team’s No. 1 and no one is changing that.
But possibly as foolish would be Drury parting with picks, prospects and dare I say Kaapo Kakko for a rental or two (or even 1.25 years of Vatrano) if Shesterkin is still performing the way he has for a majority of the season.
There’s absolutely pressure on Drury from those in the owner’s inner circle. He fired the coach he inherited and then fired the one he picked thanks in large part to their relationship souring over the course of last season.
While no one is saying his job is in jeopardy, it’s difficult to imagine Drury getting the green light to not go for it and bolster his lineup ahead of the postseason in April.
But it’s difficult to envision the Rangers beating anyone — especially high-powered offenses like Toronto, Florida and even the New Jersey Devils if the two teams meet again — with Shesterkin playing the way he has.
Luckily for the Rangers, history is on Shesterkin’s side when it comes to elevating his game in the later stages of the season.
Shesterkin went an astounding 12-3-1 with a .934 SV% and a 1.98 GAA beginning last Feb. 26 to help the Rangers secure a playoff spot.
That should give Drury confidence he’ll return to form at just the right time. If so, Drury should make a splash, especially in what many feel is a wide open Eastern Conference.
This next month feels like a pivotal one for Drury, the Rangers and especially Shesterkin.