The Rangers have a hole to fill in the middle, here’s some trade scenarios

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In the span of a couple days, the New York Rangers lost two of their four centers. Oscar Lindberg was selected in the expansion draft by Las Vegas, and Derek Stepan was traded to Arizona. In addressing the press about trading away Stepan, GM Jeff Gorton stated the team, “would fill the holes at center via the trade and/or free agent markets”. Last season, the two remaining Rangers centers, Mika Zibanajad and Kevin Hayes both missed time. Zibanejad missed 26 games due to a broken leg, and Hayes missed six games with a lower body injury. Hockey is a sport where injuries are a big part of the game. Imagine what this team would look like if one of these two missed significant time?

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Addressing the Middle

On July 4, the Blueshirts announced the signing of former Oiler and Canadien, David Desharnais. A prototypical fourth line center, Desharnais fills one of the gaping holes with speed and strong faceoff ability. But there is still a large hole in the top three line combinations.

This hole cannot be underestimated. The Rangers are actually fairly deep on the wings, and after adding Anthony DeAngelo via trade, and Kevin Shattenkirk, Alexei Bereglazov, and Neal Pionk on defense, they now have numbers there too. With this depth, the hope is Gorton will be able to swing a trade to address their need at center.

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Future is bright at center

The Rangers picked centers with both first round picks, Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil. While Chytil has no chance of making the team due to his age, Andersson is considered one of the most NHL ready players in this past draft. But a top 9 role may be too much too soon.

Cristoval Nieves, who had an impressive tournament in Traverse City, last summer, along with a strong training camp, had a rough season in Hartford.

He was injured with a concussion early in the season, and then had his season end prematurely with a second, worse concussion that caused him to miss 19 games. Nieves also suffered a concussion while with Michigan in 2015. That’s three in a short time span. Suffice to say it will be very hard to count on Nieves for any type of role until he gets to play some games and proves himself again.

With the need for depth at the center position a vital need, let’s look at some potential trades:

Tyler Bozak for Nick Holden

Yes, this trade is potentially a one for one deal, but Toronto acquires something else…Cap space. The difference in salaries is over 2.5 million dollars; with Holden making less. The Leafs get much desired cap space, and a defenseman that slots in at 4 on their depth chart in all likelihood.

Holden also is very capable of playing both the left and right side and would seamlessly replace Matt Hunwick, who went to Pittsburgh as a free agent. Both players are unrestricted free agents at season’s end. It’s a simple positional need deal. Bozak is great on faceoffs and right-handed, which are both pluses for New York. Holden could play in all situations in Toronto, and would fit their system nicely. This potential deal has been rumored in both New York and Toronto and has the best chance of happening.

Ryan Spooner for Nick Holden

Spooner had a down year last season in Boston and is on the trade block. He dipped to 39 points from 49 points the year before. In both years his +/- was not good (-8,-9), and he is scheduled to get a raise from the 1.9 mil he received last season. As with the previous hypothetical deal, the bruins could use a young veteran to provide experience, and cap space that will come with this exchange. Spooner is on the outs with the coaching staff according to Boston writers. While he has the potential to be a better player than he has shown, a change of scenary may be needed. He is a very good skater with fine passing ability, but has some weaknesses in the defensive zone. In my opinion, this trade is probably a last resort for both teams.

Vincent Trocheck for JT Miller

This is another straight positional trade for both teams. The Rangers have one too many wings, if all are healthy, to squeeze onto the top 3 lines. Put it this way, they didn’t bring in Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich to be fourth line players.

Florida lost a lot on the wings in trading Reilly Smith to Las Vegas, and walking away from Jaromir Jagr. They have Alek Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Derek MacKenzie and Jonathan Huberdeau, that can play center. Miller would be a first or second line LW for them.

Trocheck would be a second line center for the Rangers. He is right handed, and shoots the puck well and often. The Rangers are flooded with pass first forwards and could use a player that shoots like Trocheck. He also has an excellent contract in that he has 5 more years at 4.5 million per year. This is a great number for a second line center, and consistent 50+ points a year producer. He would also represent an improvement over Stepan in the faceoff circle. Though, he isn’t as good defensively.

Duchene (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Matt Duchene for Lias Andersson, JT Miller and a 2018 first round pick

There is no secret that Matt Duchene is available. The problem is GM Joe Sakic is seeking the sun, the moon and several stars for him. Let’s call this deal highly unlikely, but considering how good a player Duchene is, it would be foolish to at least take a swing at him.

In all probability if Jeff Gorton called and offered Brady Skjei, he would definitely get Sakic’s attention. Skjei is exactly the type of defenseman he has been asking for as PART of a trade. Though, I don’t think the Rangers are in a postion to offer Skjei. Duchene would slot in as the Blueshirts first line center, and play in all situations.

Because of Matt Duchene’s cap hit of 6 million dollars, Nick Holden would have to be moved for a draft pick in a separate transaction to a defenseman needy team to make it all fit.¬†At present the Rangers depth at center is dangerously thin. Coach Alain Vigneault has stated recently he doesn’t think JT Miller is ready to play center in the NHL right now, despite his superior passing skills. But, there were games last year that he tried Miller there in a pinch with mostly poor results. He is still a work in progress.

Despite, the coach’s misgivings, at times it may be necessary to give him a look in the middle if a trade cannot be consummated, or injury strikes. By all public comments, the organization must feel pretty confident they could swing a deal. It will be interesting to see which direction they choose to go in.

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