What an offseason it’s been for the New York Rangers.
First, they won the second-overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery, then fan-favorite, John Davidson, returned home to replace Glen Sather as the new caretaker of the franchise.
Armed with blue line depth and ample salary cap space, the Rangers are ready to make a splash on the trade market this summer. If they play their cards right, they could add a couple missing ingredients to the mix.
Typically, an NHL roster is comprised of 20 players (18 skaters and two goaltenders). Right now, the Rangers have a logjam on the blue line, but that dynamic could change this offseason. You have to believe that general manager, Jeff Gorton, is working the phones to acquire those missing pieces, which could speed up the organization’s rebuilding process as he’s dealing from strength for the first time.
Rangers Who Could Be Dealt
The makeup of the roster has forced three veteran defensemen, Marc Staal, Kevin Shattenkirk and Brendan Smith, to compete for one roster spot next training camp. Thus, all are possible trade candidates, but their fate might not be determined until the start of the 2019-20 campaign.
Each player has had a distinguished NHL career and worked through struggles on the ice to reinvent themselves for the better. Rangers coach, David Quinn, recognized their hard work at the practice rink by increasing their ice time (Staal 19:25, Shattenkirk 18:56 and Smith 15:18). All three responded by playing smart and not becoming a liability during their shifts. Moving forward, the Rangers have emerging young talent that’s ready to contribute at the NHL level, which could force one or two of these players to be moved this offseason.
Staal and Smith’s Trade Values
The probability of Staal being moved is remote at best. He’s an organizational mainstay (12 seasons with the Rangers) who comes to training camp and accepts the role given to him by the coaching staff each season. He isn’t known for his offensive prowess, but his ability to clear opponents from the front of his net is one of the key components to a Rangers victory on most nights.
He is an ideal candidate to mentor the group of young, inexperienced defensemen for one more season. Place one of these youngsters with Staal as a third line defense pairing and watch how that young man’s game flourishes over time. However, if traded, you would expect the Rangers to work with Staal and move him to a team of his choice.
Smith has carved out a nice career as a versatile skater who can play forward or defense in a pinch. No question, in his first full season with the Rangers, he bore no resemblance to the player acquired from the Detroit Red Wings in the 2017 Trade Deadline deal. He looked lost and disconnected from his teammates, and he compounded the situation by taking stupid penalties that put the Rangers at a disadvantage early in contests. The only solution to this growing problem was sending Smith to AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack as a wake-up call to find his game again.
A new coaching staff is a perfect opportunity for Smith to hit the reset button with the Rangers. Under Quinn, Smith has shown the ability to play as an extra forward who can move the puck and battle for possession in the corners.
However, it might be tough to attract suitors on the trade market as Smith’s price tag (little over $8 million spread over two years) might be too much of a cap hit to absorb. Still, a Stanley Cup contender might sacrifice cap flexibility to acquire a veteran who understands his role as a spare part on the roster and will be fully prepared to play when called upon.
Shattenkirk’s Offense Makes Him a Commodity
Injuries have prevented Shattenkirk from playing to his full offensive potential with the Rangers, as his production has been very disappointing. He has scored in the mid-20 point range both seasons in New York, but that’s coming off four consecutive seasons of 40-or-more points.
Still, Shattenkirk possesses a lethal shot from the blue line, which makes him an attractive trade option for a Cup contender looking to revive their struggling power play. Ideally, the Rangers would love to package him in a trade, but potential suitors cannot ignore his lack of production of late. In order to get a deal done, the Rangers may have to eat some of his salary, worth $13 million over two years.
Gorton cannot allow their pending departures drag into the regular season and become the narrative for his young team. The Rangers don’t have the experience necessary to navigate through the constant questioning from the media on the possible trade of these veterans.
Rangers’ Needs in a Trade
You may be wondering what the Rangers are looking for on the trade market. The roster’s biggest deficiency is a lack of goal scoring, as the Rangers were ranked 26th with an average of 2.70 goals-per-game last season. Mika Zibanejad was the team’s lone 30-goal scorer and Chris Kreider finished with 28 goals. If these two weren’t capitalizing on scoring chances, then goals were hard to come by.
This has been a cause of concern for far too long. Adding another proven goal scorer to the lineup will balance out the offense. The solution to the Rangers’ scoring issues may be on the roster already. Pavel Buchnevich scored 21 goals this season, but he must show more consistency with his production before gaining the status as a proven goal scorer.
There will be no shortage of goal scorers available on the trade market this summer. Their availability could be for salary cap reasons or a necessary change of scenery. It has been already reported that Pittsburgh Penguins’ Phil Kessel rejected a proposed trade to the Minnesota Wild, so the Rangers will have their hands full in trying to entice him to relocate to New York.
Another trade candidate is Dallas Stars’ Jamie Benn, who could become available if team management decides to break up their nucleus this offseason. Benn’s departure may have been accelerated by Stars CEO Jim Lites seething commentary about his star players last December.
In either case, it will take a hefty package to pry them away from their respective organizations as both players are cornerstone pieces to their offensive attack. Plus, Kessel and Benn have either a full or limited no-trade clause in their contract, which guarantees them their next stop is of their own choosing.
No question, the Rangers are in a good position and heading in the right direction. They’re on target as far as the timeline to contend for a playoff berth. However, Gorton and his staff can expedite the rebuilding process by dealing from strength. If the right trade proposal is offered, then the Rangers must act fast, especially if it advances them to their goal faster.
It could be a memorable summer in New York.
Thomas Conroy covers the Vegas Golden Knights for The Hockey Writers Network He has been writing about sports since 2007, first as a contributor for Bleacher Report and Football Nation. Recently, Conroy was a co-editor for the Bolts Beat website on Fansided. To read more his work, please him on Twitter @tsconroy