Once again, the New York Rangers look to be buyers at the NHL Trade Deadline. 78 points in 59 games has the Rangers in the Wild Card right now, a deceiving position since they currently own the 6th best record in the entire league. New York is a lock for the postseason, but still has some needs to address if they are going to make it past any of the other Metropolitan Division powerhouses in the playoffs. Such is the life of a team playing in a division reminiscent of the Thunderdome.
What the Rangers Don’t Need
The Rangers’ offense has been prolific this season, currently sitting third in the league in goals for per 60 minutes. Contributions have come from some new faces, including former Senator Mika Zibanejad, top prospect Pavel Buchnevich, and Michael Grabner. Zibanejad only has 22 points, but that is because he missed 25 games with a broken leg. Buchnevich also missed significant time, sidelined for two months with back spasms after logging 6 points in his first 7 NHL games. Grabner leads the team in goals with 26, a surprising emergence after registering a mere 18 points in 80 games last season with the Maple Leafs.
JT Miller has also had a breakout season in his 3rd full Rangers’ campaign, leading the team in points with 46. All of these performances, coupled with the Rangers’ regular contributions from Nash, Kreider, Stepan, and Zuccarello leave the Rangers not needing to add any weapons at this trade deadline.
The only way the Rangers would move a forward at the deadline is to deal with the upcoming expansion draft. Teams are able to protect 7 forwards not under entry level contracts and need to expose at least 2 to the draft. Currently, the Rangers have 8 eligible forwards they’d really like to keep. They may want to move one of their forwards that they are afraid of losing to Vegas to guarantee some return value but I am not sure who exactly that would be. If this does happen, it will certainly be part of a deal for help at the blueline.
What the Rangers Do Need.
The primary problem with the Rangers this year has been defense. Though they are 7th in total goals against this year, the Rangers are 21st in 5v5 goals against. The primary reason for this has been glaring defensive breakdowns that have left both Raanta and Lundqvist out to dry. This has probably been the catalyst to some of Lundqvist’s struggles earlier in the season. One player in particular that has struggled at even strength is Dan Girardi.
At even strength, Girardi has posted a 46.9% Goals For mark and an ugly 44.5% Corsi For. To compare, Ryan McDonagh has a 53.1% Goals For and a 47.2% Corsi For. All the Rangers defenders have a Corsi For below 50%, largely due to the whole Rangers team generating less shot attempts than their opponents. But to have a Goals For 6 points lower than McDonagh and a Corsi For nearly 3 points lower is indicative of Girardi’s struggles both generating and suppressing scoring chances at even strength.
Girardi has a No Movement Clause in his contract and must be protected in the expansion draft if he is still around. Unless the Rangers are content with Girardi’s performance, they are facing the same decision for the second year in a row: Trade Girardi and eat some of his salary, or bite the bullet and buy him out. Either option would have to happen in the offseason, but it highlights the Rangers need for a top pairing D man in the long term.
Enter Kevin Shattenkirk
It’s no secret that Kevin Shattenkirk has been on the trading block for some time now. In fact, he has been one of the most talked about players at this trade deadline. According to Darren Dreger, the Blues have even committed to trading Shattenkirk, but he comes with a steep asking price.
Dreger: "I can tell you the asking price for Shattenkirk, even as a rental, is incredibly high. It's a prospect and a first." #stlblues 1/2
— Chris Nichols (@NicholsOnHockey) February 16, 2017
A prospect and a first is a huge asking price, but given recent deals, it doesn’t seem out of the question for a contender to pay up. The Penguins just gave up a second round pick and Danny Kristo just to land Ron Hainsey. If this is what it will take to land an aging D man to effectively serve as a band aid while the Pens heal-up, the asking price for Shattenkirk does not seem unrealistic.
But would the Rangers pay up to land Shattenkirk? The jury seems to be out on that one. Shattenkirk does seem like a perfect fit for the Rangers, and it has been reported that he wants to play for New York. To get Shattenkirk at the deadline, the Rangers would have to shed assets that they may not want to. The Rangers have not had enough picks in recent years and do not have a 2nd round pick in 2017. This pretty much takes their 2017 first rounder off the table.
The 2017 entry draft is rumored to be weaker than others, so St. Louis may not be looking for a first round pick this year, anyway. This could actually give the Rangers’ 2018 first round pick more value in a trade. In 2018, the Rangers have 8 picks, including two second rounders, which makes me wonder if they would be willing to part ways with their first rounder next year for Shattenkirk.
In addition to their 2018 pick, the Rangers would have to give up one of their younger forwards, and maybe even more. I doubt that they would want to give up Pavel Buchnevich, though. If St. Louis is interested, I think Jimmy Vesey would be a piece the Rangers would let go of. The highly touted 23 year old is in his first NHL season and has high upside. A player like Vesey could peak the Blues’ interest, but it still may not be enough to land Shattenkirk.
In order to complete a deal with the Blues, the Rangers will need to shed some salary while also including a player that somehow makes this deal more appealing. I believe the player that completes this trade to be Nick Holden, who is 29 years old with a cap hit of $1.5 million and has registered 27 points on the year. Holden may not be a high end player, but is a solid top 4 D man that can move the puck and is mobile. He could step into Shattenkirk’s spot on the second pairing and hold his own. Replacing Holden on the blueline next year could be Ryan Graves, who logged the hardest slapshot in the AHL All Star skills competition this year at 103 MPH. The trade would help the Blues get a significant return for Shattenkirk, while improving the Rangers’ long term situation on defense. I believe it to be a win-win.
But What Forwards get Protected?
What this trade does not address for the Rangers is their expansion draft dilemma of having too many forwards. I believe this is an issue that will be solved right before the expansion draft when all the teams are posturing for who they are going to expose. Right now, teams are more focused on buying or selling, and will wait to see what happens on March 1st before addressing their expansion draft problems.
More and more, I am hearing that the Shattenkirk sweepstakes keeps coming back to the Rangers. It almost seems like he is too good of a fit there to pass up. But if the Blue Shirts do not land Shattenkirk on March 1st, don’t fret, Ranger fans. There is still a chance you could get him in free agency. Your Connecticut boy may be coming home, one way or another.
Feature Image Credit Kim Klement- USA Today Sports