Is Chris Drury ready to pull the trigger on his first mid-season trade as General Manager, there are some indications that the Rangers front office chief could be making a move with just under two months left until the March 21st NHL trade deadline.
With the Rangers sitting 16 points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings, who currently sit third in the wildcard race for the Eastern Conference, it looks almost certain that they’ll make it back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 season – the 2019-20 play-in series loss to Carolina notwithstanding.
The high probability of a post season, means the Rangers are now buyers for the first time in five years. They also have both needs and assets, not to mention as much as $31M in pro-rated cap space this year, to make some changes.
Primary amongst the needs are a top six right winger and perhaps a left side defenseman that can add some stablity and perhaps some offense. The Rangers have struggled to generate consistent offense this year at 5v5, and part of the challenge has been the gap left by the trade of Pavel Buchnevich over the Summer, and the inability of the likes of Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere and to a lesser extent, Julien Gauthier, to fill that offensive void.
While Chris Kreider‘s league leading 29 goals have been a welcome surprise this season, the goal scoring starts to quickly drop off once you get past Mika Zibanejad‘s 15, with Artemi Panarin third at 11 and Ryan Strome yet to break double figures after 42 games played.
Meanwhile on defense the heavy reliance on Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren has perhaps started to impact their performances, with both making uncharacteristic mistakes in the last few games. As good as Jacob Trouba has been this year, his footspeed is still below league average, and though it has been manageable most nights, there are still games where it gets exploited. Compounding those weaknesses, is the relative plateauing of K’Andre Miller‘s play, who has looked more prone to losing the puck and/or his man, or getting beaten because of his overreliance on the stick check instead of taking the body.
Beyond that, the play of Patrik Nemeth – who signed a three year deal with an AAV of $2.5M has been far less than anticipated, and he sits at the bottom of the Rangers roster with a team worst -11 Goal Differential, with fill-ins Libor Hajek -6 and Jarred Tinordi -5, both in limited opportunities.
While these issues have been well known for much of the season, the recent stretch that saw them fall behind 2-0 and 3-1 to the Toronto Maple Leafs, a blow-out loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, where the Rangers looked completely overmatched, and even Saturday’s 7-3 win over the Phoenix Coyotes, all highlighted how much of this season’s success has been reliant on the play of Igor Shesterkin – who also happens to lead the league in Goals Saved Above Expectations.
Clearly Chris Drury sees these things too, and so when the news of interest in Arizona defenseman Jacob Chychrun surfaced, it made some sense. The 23 year old is clearly not a guaranteed solution, but the left hander would provide a bit of a different dimension to the Rangers on the left side, and perhaps be an answer.
Those rumors intensified a bit Saturday when Elliot Friedman and Jeff Marek shared in their 32 thoughts segment on Hockey Nigh in Canada, that the Rangers had made an offer to the Coyotes, that centered around Vitali Kravtsov. Given the supposed asking price – 2 former first rounders and a 1st round pick – you’d have to think that a trade proposal might also include the likes of someone like Nils Lundkvist or even K’Andre Miller as well, and in the wildest speculation, perhaps someone like Kaapo Kakko – who was a late scratch due to an on-going upper body injury ahead of Saturday Night’s game against the Coyotes.
It would make even more sense if the deal was to also include a forward, such as pending free agent right wing Phil Kessel…though that might make many fans a little uneasy. It’s worth noting that Kakko is coming off his ELC this Summer, and will be in line for a raise, something that would get more complicated with the addition of Chychrun’s salary. Another option might be the inclusion of Filip Chytil, who continues to struggle to find that next level of play in the league, and might benefit from a change of scenery.
In addition to interest in Chychrun, the Rangers have also reportedly looked into Boston Winger Jake DeBrusk. DeBrusk is perhaps a bigger question, given his inability to thrive in Boston, and his pending RFA status, coming off of a $3.675M contract. The 25 year old has a career high of 27 goals and 43 points, but has faded in the last couple of seasons, with 5 goals in 41 games last year, and 6 goals in 33 this year.
The reiteration of these rumors, along with the intriguing move of placing defenseman Jarred Tinordi on waivers Sunday, suggests the Rangers might be moving closer to a decision on some pesonnel changes. Moving the veteran down either to the minors, or the unlikely proposition of losing him on waivers, would allow the Rangers to add another veteran, having been somewhat limited over much of the season with Libor Hajek, Greg McKegg and Tinordi occupying the three depth spots on the roster.
Alternatively, the move might be nothing more, than making room for Morgan Barron to fill a spot for a game or two, without having to put Chytil or Kakko on IR for the week.