Rangers Should Target Kessel or Tarasenko to Strengthen Right Wing

The New York Rangers started this season on a high note and found themselves top five in the standings under first-year head coach Gerard Gallant. The team’s early success through the first 12 games was heavily reliant on goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who has been lights out in goal. His play has him in the very early conversations of the Vezina Trophy race. 

This rock-solid start has held the team in many games and helped the struggling offense win several one-goal games. However, winning in this fashion is not sustainable for long periods of time. Eventually, Shesterkin will need offensive support if the team wants to remain in the win column. Since the hot start, the Rangers’ game is quickly fading due to their lack of offense. 

Recent Losses and the Offensive Woes

The struggling Rangers have now lost three of their last four games and are heading in the wrong direction. During this stretch, the team has been outscored 18 to 10 and only managed to score five of these goals at even strength. Even with the team having a top 10 power-play unit, they currently sit 27th in the league in goals-for-per-game. 

This complete lack of 5-on-5 offensive production is putting a lot of stress on the back end and goaltending. Unless the team can start producing goals in all situations, this current losing trend could extend out even further. Although the entire team as a whole is struggling to find the back of the net, there is a glaring hole and lack of production coming from the right winger position in particular. Outside of surging Chris Kreider, the current lineup at right wing has done nothing to generate offense. Kreider, who is playing right wing on the first line, has nine goals in 13 games. 

Chris Kreider New York Rangers
Chris Kreider, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The other three filling in on the right side are Kaapo Kakko, Sammy Blais and Ryan Reaves. These three have combined for a whopping total of zero goals and two assists in the first thirteen games. The most alarming of these is first-round pick, Kakko, who has zero points in his nine games. Needless to say, there needs to be serious changes on this side of the ice to help jumpstart the offensive production. 

When looking at options to fix their right wing deficiencies, there currently is not much in-house to help remedy the situation. The team has already moved Kreider, who naturally plays the left, to the right side to help out the struggling unit. Still, the Rangers will need much more than one line-producing offensively if they want to be successful. 

To make matters worse, their top right wing prospect, Vitali Kravtsov, is refusing to come across the pond from Russia and join the organization.

Related: Rangers Could Have Avoided This Second Kravtsov Temper Tantrum

With no easy options to fix the problem or potential prospects, the best option could be to look elsewhere and find someone outside of the organization.

Top Trade Options to Fill the Void at Right Wing

The Rangers’ front office has done a great job-saving room on the team cap in the last few years. They currently have the eighth-most cap space available with $9.32 million free. Having this much cap space in today’s flat cap era is definitely a luxury and will go a long way in helping management execute a trade. However, the front office still has to negotiate with a little frugality in their trade talks. They must keep some cap space available for the upcoming offseason to re-sign some key pieces coming off their entry-level deals. 

The team has many promising pieces in place and the potential to make the playoffs if they can start generating some offense. But, even if they make the playoffs, they are still a young team and far from being true Stanley Cup contenders. Thus a rental player (player on an expiring contract without a new deal) doesn’t make much sense unless they can execute a sign and trade. With the Jack Eichel talks off the board, the two best fits for the team’s current need at right wing are Arizona Coyotes’ forward Phil Kessel, or the St. Louis Blues’ forward Vladimir Tarasenko. 

Phil Kessel Sign and Trade Option

The struggling Coyotes, who are in the midst of a rebuild, have been open about wanting to trade Kessel to gather draft picks and prospects for the future. Kessel is in the final year of his current deal carrying a cap hit of $8 million average annual value (AAV). He is a natural right-shot winger, who has been a 12 time 20-goal scorer, with half these years topping 30 goals. His ability to shoot from anywhere and proven history of putting the puck in the net would certainly be a help to the Rangers’ current Right wing dilemma.

The most intriguing aspect in this trade is his expiring contract. As aforementioned, the Rangers’ can not get locked into long term deals with high prices. Kessel, at 34 years old, would be a perfect option for a sign and trade. They are one of the few teams which have the current cap space available to bring him in at $8 million this year. Then re-sign him to a short-term team friendly deal for far less money. The sign and trade would be mutually beneficial.

Phil Kessel Arizona Coyotes
Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Rangers’ get a proven veteran goal scorer on the right side to help the struggling offense, while still having cap room available in years to come. Kessel, who is not getting any younger but believes there is still something left in the tank, gets a contract with a team that can contend in the next year or two. If the front office can negotiate this deal with Kessel and not give up draft picks as just a rental option, he could be the perfect quick fix solution for the organization moving forward.

Vladimir Tarasenko Wants Out of St. Louis

Another viable option on the right side would be Tarasenko, 29 years old, who openly asked for a trade out of St. Louis this offseason. He is a prolific goal scorer throughout his career. He has four 30-goal and one 40-goal season. On top of this, he doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Even playing in a situation where he has been vocally unhappy, he has four goals and 11 points in his first 10 games this year. Obviously, a goalscorer of his quality would help the Rangers, but this trade will take much more cap space moving forward compared to the proposed Kessel trade. 

Unlike the aging Kessel, Tarasenko, at 29, is still in the prime of his career. He has another year after this on his current contract, which carries a cap hit of $7.5 million AAV. Again, the Rangers have the cap space to make this work for the remainder of his contract, but re-signing him in the 2023 offseason is going to be very expensive.

In order to enter the Tarasenko sweepstakes, teams will definitely have to give up a first-round pick, along with other picks and prospects. Between the draft picks and cap space, the Rangers have all the pieces to make this happen. However, they need to evaluate the present and the future in this trade.

St. Louis Blues Vladimir Tarasenko
St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (AP Photo/Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

If they give up a substantial amount of futures and prospects to acquire Tarasenko, they need to be 100 percent positive he wants to be in New York long-term following this current contract. If they make this trade, guys with expiring contracts in 2023 will be harder to re-sign as the majority of the cap space will be used up in re-signing Tarasenko.

However, some of the expiring contracts are current right wingers who are struggling in Sammy Blais and Kappo Kakko. If Tarasenko continues to produce at the rate he always has, he would be well worth the money and could replace multiple guys on the right side. With him and Kreider then anchoring the right side, management could fill in the rest of the unit with cheaper prospects. 

Both these trade options will cost the team high-end draft picks, but in turn, add immediate help to the right wing by inserting a proven goal scorer into the lineup. The current 5-on-5 scoring struggles and the obvious hole on the right side make a trade almost inevitable at this point. Now it will be up to general manager Chris Drury and management to decide if the short-term option in Kessel or the long-term option in Tarasenko is better suited for the roster construction in years to come. 

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