With the trade deadline fast approaching, and with the Buffalo Sabres being the Sabres, there will inevitably be talk of the New York Rangers making a move for Jack Eichel. From the Rangers’ perspective, it makes sense. It gives them an elite top or second-line center to go along with Mika Zibanejad as well as take some of the scoring burdens off of Artemi Panarin’s shoulders.
While the addition of Eichel would obviously be great for New York, they would have to give Buffalo a ton of value in return, including Alexis Lafreniere. Some people would be ok with that (me), but others would not want to give up on the 1st overall pick so soon.
But, excluding Eichel, who else could the Rangers target at the deadline to potentially add a Stanley Cup caliber second-line center?
Yes, I understand current second-line center Ryan Strome has been putting up good numbers this season as well as the last. If at any point in his career he put up these numbers without playing with somebody like Panarin, then I would consider him a possible second-line center on a Cup-winning team. In reality, Panarin makes Strome look like a million bucks. Well, actually $4.5 million, to be exact.
If I’m Jeff Gorton, I sell high on players that I don’t think can sustain their high levels of play, but who could be a center I would want in return?
Cirelli gives off Pittsburgh Penguins Jordan Staal vibes. A young, defensively responsible, and creative center playing on the third line of a Stanley Cup-winning team. When the Penguins won the Cup in 2009, Staal was slotted in behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. For most of the 2019-20 season, Cirelli played on the third line behind Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point. Come the Cup finals against Dallas, Cirelli primarily saw second-line action alongside Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson.
While Tampa Bay has been a great team for as long as Cirelli has been there, he has never really seen extended minutes alongside Tampa’s elite forwards. He has excelled at skating with players who are good but not great.
Given the chance to play alongside Panarin on New York’s second line, Cirelli could reach his full potential and thrive in a larger role.
A Numbers Game
And here is where it would make sense for Tampa to complete this move. Brayden Point has two years left on his bridge deal at $6.75 million. Cirelli has three years left at $4.8 million. Tampa is already struggling to stay under the cap as it is right now. And Point will be looking for his well-deserved extension and raise in the next few seasons. Strome has two years left at $4.5 million. When both contracts are up, Tampa can more easily re-sign Point, who is obviously going to be the main priority at that time. And if in the near future Tampa needs to buy a player or two out, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn will most likely be the ones deemed expendable.
I don’t believe that Strome can be a 2nd line center on a Cup winning team. But he can serve as a very solid 3rd line center, especially for such a deep team like Tampa.
The trade can be completed in a few different ways. The Rangers can retain salary on Strome and potentially receive a mid to late-round pick from Tampa as compensation. Or Cirelli can be moved for Strome and a mid to late-round pick of the Rangers.
Ultimately there is no rush to get this move done at the deadline. This is a hypothetical move that can easily be made in the offseason. But with the departure of Lemieux, we might have seen a glimpse of how active Ranger management will be from now until the deadline. Eichel would be great for the Rangers, but he is not the only center that can make a difference.
Junior writer covering the New York Rangers for The Hockey Writers.