The Rangers Maddening Search For A Center…

The Rangers continue to seek a trade to bolster their center position on the NHL level. People I trust have told me that teams have been talking trade; much more than usual for this time of year.

Most managers are content with what they have right before training camp, and want to see their team on the ice, in the salary cap era. One big reason this year is different was the expansion draft. Las Vegas drafted a lot of defensemen and centers, hoping to spin a lot of them off in trades for future picks or prospects. They were not able to move as many players as they wanted to. Another reason for increased chatter is the availability of Matt Duchene.

Avalanche GM Joe Sakic held firm on a very unreasonable asking price for the last 7 months, according to all hockey insiders. It seems now Sakic is under pressure to deal and has changed his demands somewhat. Teams are checking back in aggressively, with Columbus leading the pack of around 1/4 of the league being serious bidders.

Like I mentioned in an article last week, coach Alain Vigneault seemed pretty sure in an interview with Dan Rosen, that his team would add another center. The Blueshirts coach has been adamant about not moving left wing JT Miller to center. So realistically where can they go for a trade? They do have some cap space, which most of the league does not. So, that works in their favor. But what teams have an excess at that position?

Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks depth chart at center is Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter, Bo Horvat, and Markus Granlund. Horvat is about to sign a 6 year deal for over 5 mil per year. Sedin is a Vancouver signature player, so he isn’t being traded. Sutter has a no move clause for 2 more years, out of the 4 years he has left on his contract.

His AAV is 4.375. Sutter brings a lot of hockey smarts, and outstanding faceoff skills (54.3%). He is also right handed, and thrives on matching up with top players. His offensive numbers aren’t very strong(17g 17a), and will probably regress or stay flat. He would have to agree to any trade, which is an obstacle.

Granlund is not cut out to be a 4th line center. He is a skilled offensive player that broke through for 19 goals and 13 assists last year. His contract is a very manageable 900k, as he is only 24 years old. Of these two players I would think Granlund may be a better fit.

Los Angeles Kings

Right before the trade deadline the Rangers and Kings were scouting each other religiously. Despite, the heavy attention these two teams paid each other, no trade was consummated before the deadline. With Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter probably untouchable, the Kings have several players that may be available. They also have a crying need for a defenseman like Nick Holden. Nick Shore or Nic Dowd are your basic, low paid, low scoring, 4th line types. Trevor Lewis has played some center and is tenacious, speedy and likes to leave his mark on the game. But, he is very poor on faceoffs (40%) and is more suited for the wing. While the Kings have numbers at the position, they aren’t the best fit. On the other hand, these players are low paid and could be obtained cheaply.

Las Vegas Golden Knights

GM George Mcphee drafted many centers in the expansion draft. If you look at their depth chart at the position Vadim Shipachyov, Cody Eakin, Erik Haula and William Karlsson are a solid group. But they also grabbed Jonathan Marchessault, Oscar Lindberg, and Tomas Nosek, who all prefer playing center.

Shipachyov is their top line center. Haula was just signed by the Golden Knights to a 3 year deal, and like him as a 2nd or 3rd line center. Eakin was drafted by McPhee in Washington, and is a personal favorite based on his two way game. Marchessault scored 30 goals last year and is probably not available. Which leaves 2 Swedish players in Karlsson and old friend Oscar Lindberg. Karlsson has skill and vision, and has potential. He is probably a player that Las Vegas wants to keep, and build on.

Lindberg may be shifted to the wing for this team. Which makes me wonder how much of a future he has there. Rangers GM Jeff Gorton, looking back, should have made a deal to protect Lindberg. He knew trading Derek Stepan was most likely going to happen. Losing half of your rostered centers is not a good idea without having a backup plan.

A reunion with Lindberg, in my mind, is the best, realistic, player they could trade for. Sure I think Duchene, and Tyler Bozak are better players. But it seems like Bozak isn’t available, and Duchene is most likely headed somewhere else. Lindberg has a salary of 1.7 million dollars. The Rangers are very familiar with him and his capabilities. He was a first line center in Sweden and in Hartford. If he played on a third line, he could be a 20 goal 20 assist player that kills penalties. Why would Vegas trade him? They seem to have put a lot of players ahead of him. What would the Rangers give up for him? A second round pick? A goaltender prospect like Tyler Wall? I can’t see Nick Holden being an option, due to the Golden Knights depth at defense. I could see Holden getting moved for a pick to a team that needs a defenseman (Edmonton, Toronto, Los Angeles).

Gorton has to be aggressive and creative to fill the hole in their lineup. While they have cap room, they don’t have enough to big game hunt a Matt Duchene. Another name out there is Ryan Spooner from the Boston Bruins. The Bruins do have a need for a veteran defenseman. A trade in the NHL is all about matching up with another team. Brassard for Zibanajad was a lefty for a righty. The Rangers badly needed a right handed forward as the Sens needed a lefty. That the Rangers saved a bit on the salary was a bonus. McPhee drafted a lot of players hoping to acquire futures. He hasn’t gotten all that he wanted. Maybe it’s time to see if there is a fit.

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