Rangers face difficult dilemma ahead of NHL trade deadline

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers have quite a difficult needle to thread ahead of the NHL trade deadline March 8. Sitting first in the Metropolitan Division and having won 10 of their past 11 games, the Rangers must decide how and where to improve their roster, all while not upsetting team chemistry.

It’s a very real dilemma facing general manager Chris Drury. On one hand, the Rangers have a real good thing going. On the other, Drury must find a way to make the Rangers an even better Stanley Cup contender, without, you know, screwing things up.

As they say, that’s why Drury gets paid the big bucks.

This is the time a GM can’t be swayed by emotions. Drury needs to be cold blooded here, and execute the best plan to help the Rangers make a run at their first Stanley Cup championship in 30 years.

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John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

There would appear to be three areas the Rangers could address. A top-line right wing to play alongside Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. A third-line center to, essentially, replace Filip Chytil, who’s out for the season. And a third-pair defenseman, or perhaps depth veteran who could step in if there’s an injury.

That’s a significant wish list. Especially when you can get caught up in the recent 10-game winning streak and New York fighting for the Presidents’ Trophy as the top regular-season team in the League.

The Rangers’ chemistry can’t be discounted either. It’s apparent in their ability to consistently erase deficits and come back to win games. And it’s been fortified by how well bottom-six forwards Jonny Broddzinski, Matt Rempe and Adam Edstrom have fit into the lineup.

But here’s the fine line Drury walks. Do you break up, say, the third line, which has shown excellent on-ice chemistry at both ends of the rink by bringing in a veteran 3C? That’d knock Brodzinski to the fourth line, where he’d replace Rempe or Edstrom. Then if you trade for a top-line right wing, Jimmy Vesey also slides back into a fourth-line role and someone else is bounced from a regular role – assuming no one is traded off the current active roster.

Now, bringing in Frank Vatrano to play right wing and Adam Henrique or Yanni Gourde to play center makes this a much better team on paper. But at what price, factoring in chemistry?

The 1994 Rangers faced this dilemma ahead of that season’s trade deadline. Sitting first overall in the League, the Rangers made five trades before the deadline. It was a stunning strategy, but one that worked out. The Rangers, with Stephane Matteau, Brian Noonan, Glenn Anderson and Craig MacTavish all playing big roles after the deadline, won their only Stanley Cup in the past 84 years in 1994.

Much is made of the fact that each of those players added grit and experience to the lineup, that they were more suited to playoff hockey than Mike Gartner, Tony Amonte and Todd Marchant, who were traded away.

But another key aspect was that those players fit seamlessly into their new team. Matteau and Noonan had played previously for coach Mike Keenan. MacTavish and Anderson were Stanley Cup champions, former teammates in Edmonton with Mark Messier, Kevin Lowe, Esa Tikkanen and Jeff Beukeboom.

That’s what makes Vatrano so intriguing now. Vatrano was an excellent teammate and a great fit on a line with Zibanejad and Kreider, when the Rangers made a run to the 2022 Eastern Conference Final. His familiarity here would not disrupt anything. That’s likely the same with Vladimir Tarasenko, the 2019 Cup champion who played well with the Rangers last spring and is now with the Ottawa Senators.

The Rangers, of course, are considering other options outside of reunions with players who previously wore the blue shirt. And that’s where Drury may have to swallow hard, stick to his convictions that he’s doing what he believes is best for the Rangers. Whether that’s swinging a trade or three, or standing pat with the current roster.

Then all he can do is sit back and watch and hope it all works out.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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