While Rangers fans are stuck in the moment, John Davidson and Jeff Gorton are planning ahead. As fans mull over every loss, and if Kaapo Kakko or Alexis Lafreniere received enough minutes, Blueshirts brass is looking at what players could be available via trade to finish the rebuild.
In asking around about certain prospects and where they fit, things became pretty evident for me. The Rangers are overloaded with high caliber NHL prospects on both the wings and defense. What they lack is another bonafide NHL center – and that’s what they are targeting this summer.
Rangers ready to use assets to make a blockbuster trade
I’ve written about it several times already, but a well placed sources pointed me to the very fact all these prospects won’t play here. Coupled with the tremendous amount of cap space they will have next season, a blockbuster trade becomes a real possibility.
The next question is who would the Rangers consider moving in a deal? Of course that depends on who the available player is. Prime example, the Blueshirts would give up more to acquire a 24 year-old Jack Eichel than a 34 year-old Evgeni Malkin.
As far as moveable assets, I think it’s easier to call out the three untouchables. That would be Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, and K’Andre Miller. A player like Adam Fox should also be added to that mix, as well as Igor Shesterkin. After that, almost anyone on the roster not named Artemi Panarin could be in a package.
From a prospect standpoint, Vitali Kravtsov would be at the top of the list. There could be some thought to Nils Lundkvist but I doubt it. In truth, outside of him I think every prospect could be included in the right deal.
Jack Eichel would be the prized target
For the Rangers it would begin and end with Jack Eichel. There’s been plenty of smoke dating back to this long offseason and I’ve been told that there’s at least a match burning still.
Jeff Gorton pushed hard for Eichel before the season started, but the Sabres would not move him. This isn’t surprising since it’s no secret that the Rangers want to add another star center to the roster. They have Mika Zibanejad but would love an upgrade at 2C, a 1 – 1A if you will.
Eichel’s immediate future in Buffalo seems very dependent on how the Sabres do this year and if they can keep Taylor Hall. If things go in the wrong direction, as many suspect, he could demand a trade.
If that were to happen, Jeff Gorton would undoubtedly make another try for the young star. Let’s not forget, David Quinn has a history with Eichel and would jump at the chance to coach him again.
Eichel has 5 years remaining on an 8 year deal with a $10 million AAV. Financially he’s due another $7.5 million signing bonus in 2022 that the Rangers would gladly pick up.
Who else could become available to the Rangers in a trade
There are plenty of other options for the Rangers to bring in a top center should Eichel not be available. As I mentioned before, Evgeni Malkin could be a nice upgrade and not cost what Eichel would.
Malkin has one more year left on his contract that comes with a $9.5 million AAV. There’s been plenty of talk about his future with the Penguins lately, and he could be had a reasonable price in the offseason.
When you look at other top centers that could be on the market due to cap issues, the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos is another. The 31 year-old has 3 years remaining on his deal with an $8.5 million AAV. This is a case where the package decreases the less Tampa’s willing to retain in salary.
Note: Both have No Move clauses.
Another option is 30 year-old Matt Duchene of the Predators. He’s already being rumored as a trade deadline candidate with Nashville looking to rebuild. While he’s struggled since joining the Preds, he would be another interesting fit on the Blueshirts.
Of course, his contract is prohibitive. He has no restrictions to where he can go, but with 5 years remaining on a deal that has a cap hit of $8 million AAV that makes him hard to move. If the Rangers believe he can top his career high of 70 points playing with Panarin, Kakko, and or Lafreniere he could be worth it.
The package to obtain him would also be predicated on just how much salary Nashville is willing to retain.
Finally, Aleksander Barkov is unlikely to be going anywhere. But if the Panthers were to put him on the block, very much like Eichel the Rangers would give up more. He’s a 25 year-old center with only one year left at a friendly $5.9 million. That’s what Jeff Gorton really wants, a center who will be here for years to come when the team is ready to contend for the Stanley Cup.