With the NHL Trade Deadline less than three weeks away, the excitement and speculation is already underway, as we await yet another frenzy of trades and seeing who goes where. There are plenty of names on the block, which only adds to the suspense. I am not going to bother making predictions this year, just suggestions and observations for the New York Rangers, based on what their needs are. For a first place team, they have plenty of dead weight that they could afford to lose, and plenty of places to plug a player here and there. If they want to stay in first place and actually advance past the first round this season, the Rangers are going to have to be active. This does not mean a complete overhaul by any means (since when has Sather ever done that anyway, except for the 2004 fire-sale?) but rather a series of non-blockbusters (I hesitate to use the phrase “small deals”) that will sure up the team’s flimsy offense. Below are some options, as well as some other things we must consider:
The Brad Richards Conundrum
Before we go ahead and put Brad Richards’ face on the back of a milk carton, let me just point out that the reason for his struggles is because, quite frankly, he has no one to pass to. He was brought here to be Marian Gaborik’s center, but that did not work out, and luckily, Gaborik found some chemistry with Derek Stepan. So where does that leave Richards? Stuck in a never-ending array of changes, mainly being flanked by grinder Ryan Callahan, and the struggling Brandon Dubinsky, who probably could not hit the ocean if he was standing on a pier. It is imperative that the Rangers find a winger that will thrive with Richards, and boost his confidence as well as his stat totals. Should they fail to do this, Richards will have the worst offensive season of his career, even though he is the league’s highest paid player salary-wise, not by actual cap hit.
Here is the most intriguing and likely option, as it will not cost an arm and a leg to bring him in. Most likely, Ruutu can be had for a 2nd round pick and a roster player or mid-level prospect. Given that he is struggling himself this season and has absolutely no playoff track record, that would certainly be a fair price. However, Ruutu plays a very grinding, in-your-face game, much like Callahan and Dubinsky. Should he be acquired, he would not be able to go with Richards, because he would be perfect with Callahan, and Dubinsky switching back to center. It would be a very hard line to play against, despite the fact that they won’t put many pucks in the net.
A few months ago, there were some serious rumors of the Rangers having an interest in Bobby Ryan, because of Anaheim’s struggles. But now, it has gone quiet and does not seem like Ryan is on the block, as the Ducks try to reclaim what seemed like a lost season. However, this does not mean Ryan cannot be had, especially with the trade magician, Glen Sather, at the helm—it is just going to cost a lot, and by a lot, I mean draft picks, prospects, and at least one roster player. Is it worth it? Most definitely, because Ryan is young and signed for three more seasons. He would be a perfect fit with Brad Richards and finally give this team legitimate secondary scoring, and take some pressure off Marian Gaborik. It almost makes too much sense, and it is only too bad that the rumors have cooled off.
Here is a player that could work out for the Rangers, but with a stipulation. Ryan Smyth is a powerplay specialist, as he makes his living around the net, creating havoc and putting home rebounds. He has more than 150 powerplay goals in his career, and the Rangers would salivate at the thought of finally sparking their annually dismal man-advantage. However, here is the contingency: if Smyth is going to work out, the Rangers will need to bring in another player that can play the point and actually gets shots through on the powerplay—someone who is not afraid to blast away. Watch one powerplay from the Rangers in recent weeks, and you will see that their offensive fundamentals are a nightmare. Not only do they fail to get simple shots through, but they seem afraid to actually take a one-timer. Seriously, when was the last time a point-man blasted one off a pass? They always have to stop the puck and take that extra second to attempt to make the perfect play. Smyth’s age and salary are not an issue at all with me, because he is an impending free agent, but he will be a complete failure unless the Rangers can acquire someone who will get pucks to the net for Smyth to work with. Who could that player be? Perhaps Lubomir Vishnovsky on Anaheim, but he still is still signed on for next year at $3 million, and could disrupt the team’s defensive chemistry.
So, what roster players on the Rangers are expendable that teams would actually want? Well, it looks like Brandon Dubinsky is the odd man out, and will most likely be included in any deal for a major player, despite his struggles (he still has potential, size, and strength). He is a player that could come in handy with someone like Ruutu if he was acquired, but otherwise, so long. He has been outstanding on the penalty kill, I know, but his offensive prowess has been extremely disappointing, and some of his play has not been bad, it’s just been downright stupid. Then there is Wojtek Wolski and his $3.8 million just wasting away on the bench. Would anyone even want to risk a trade for him, given his injuries and the fact that no one knows if he can even hold up down the stretch? He is a one-time 20 goal scorer, and has decent skill, but unless he is showcased, he will not be moved. Artem Anisimov is also a player that teams may inquire about, but I still do not want to give up on him just yet—his size and defensive responsibility will save him here.
Looking Ahead to Zach Parise
Putting aside the fact that the Devils say they are not going to trade him this season, are Rangers fans really serious in thinking they would deal him to New York? How many blogs and message board posts I have read concerning the matter—it’s a pipe dream. Though I think the Rangers will make a push for him this summer, he will ultimately end up in Minnesota, where his father played and where he was born. He has made it known publicly that making money is going to be a major factor (nice to see some honesty) and with the Devils’ financial situation and having some other free agents that need to be signed (including two goalies), I think Zach will slip away somewhere else. Parise was the franchise player, until Ilya Kovalchuk came, of course. Even though Kovalchuk has been excellent this year, the team will never be Parise’s, and he does deserve to be the highest paid player in New Jersey, something that will be tough unless they doll out another long-term deal. Also keep in mind that Parise will likely be the most sought-after free agent in NHL history, because as the years go by, there will be less and less of them. As these long-term deals are signed with regularity, before long, there will be a time where Free Agent Frenzy is nothing but a pool of lower-level players filling out rosters.
Where the Rangers Stand
Everyone is excited that the team is in first place. I am not going to nitpick them and say they have not been playing perfect hockey—everyone knows that. This is a team that finds ways to win, plain and simple, and only now the lack of skill is really starting to catch up to them. Their offense is hard to watch sometimes, but we must remember, the Rangers are still rebuilding, a word often associated with teams on the bubble or out of playoff contention. Very rare is it that a team in the Rangers’ overall franchise position actually maintains first place for a long period of time. The ultimate goal of this season is to win the Stanley Cup, and I don’t care whether or not coach John Tortorella will admit it. However, even if they do not win it, the season was not lost. This year is really about the development of a very young, homegrown core, and that is being accomplished. At the beginning, this was a season to pave the way for the future. The Rangers can be in win-now mode, but not at the cost of sacrificing that future. Rest assured, though, the team is in good hands.