The New York Rangers look legit this season with the stellar play by Igor Shesterkin, Chris Kreider having himself a season and bid for the next captain of the team, and Adam Fox avoiding the sophomore slump. That being said at some point this year they should be looking to add help to shore up their forward group. There’s a lot of inexperience among the forwards, so they were already looking to add some reinforcements, but with the recent season-ending injury to Sammy Blais, their timetable would have to be moved up.
This means that the Rangers should be actively shopping for middle-six forwards, not exclusive to the wing, to add that extra bit of help and replace what they lost for at least until the end of the season. (“Rangers trade targets: Eight forwards who could fill their middle-six need, from Calle Jarnkrok to Phil Kessel”, The Athletic, Nov. 19, 2021) That should narrow their sights down to forwards on struggling teams with players on expiring contracts. Even teams that are more competitive but have a player that may be in need of a change in scenery can be worth a call from the Rangers.
We will look at some possibilities of players in the last year of their deals. Keep in mind, cap space isn’t much of an issue for this team, as Fox and Mika Zibanejad’s new deals don’t kick in until next season and many of these youngsters don’t need contracts off of their entry-level deals until next season or beyond.
We will first look at the most expensive of the targets that the Rangers should consider. The San Jose Sharks had a nice start to the season but have fallen off a bit. I, and many others, predict that fall to continue until they are completely out of the playoff picture down the line this season.
The Sharks are in a tough place right now with three defencemen amounting to 32.5 percent of the cap space and each signed on for at least three more seasons after this one. There has been an ongoing issue with last year’s top point-getter in Evander Kane, and the forward group and team have gotten younger as a whole.
Tomas Hertl is one of three unrestricted free agents (UFA) after this season and he is now 28 years old. If the Sharks want to try and get even younger and enter a rebuilding mode, they have to start by selling high on players that have value and may not be a part of the future plans. There has also been speculation that Hertl won’t be returning to the team next year anyway. I believe if any of the rumours of a player on your team intending to walk in free agency could be true, trade him if the team isn’t contending for a Stanley Cup that season. Too many times teams have thought they could bargain with a player to stay and end up losing him for nothing.
Hertl would be a perfect fit for the Rangers and they would still have money left over for a veteran defence. He can play either at centre or the right-wing, allowing for the team to have options along with Ryan Strome who can play the same positions. It replaces the void left by Blais in the middle of the lineup and gives the Rangers another threat offensively.
A couple of Rangers’ top prospects like Morgan Barron and Braden Schneider may have to be sent the other way for Hertl, but other prospects not on the current Rangers’ team like Lauri Pajuniemi, Tim Gettinger, or Vitali Kravtsov could be traded as well. The Rangers have all their first- and second-round draft picks for the next three years, while also holding St. Louis’ second round this year, so if they want to hold onto prospects, there’s no shortage of picks available.
One of the players this season that will garner the most interest by any team with a thought of competing this postseason or even trying to get into the playoffs. Vladislav Namestnikov has all the boxes checked for teams looking to add a forward.
He comes at a very cheap price for the production he puts up at $2 million average annual value, so anyone in a cap crunch won’t have to maneuver the cap too much to add him to their forward group. Namestnikov’s contract is over at the end of the year so anyone acquiring him won’t have to commit to any plans past this season. He can play left wing, right wing, and centre, so the team can utilize him in any way they need.
Having said that, the best spot for him in the Rangers’ lineup if they acquire him is on the third-line right wing beside Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere. He would bring some experience and would be better suited playing lower in the lineup so the matchups favour him and the line. Namestnikov tends to be a regularly moved player at the trade deadline, so it’s nothing new for him and he’s probably gotten used to changing teams and having to step up immediately.
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What the Seattle Kraken failed to calculate for in the expansion draft, they now have a chance to correct before the trade deadline. They figured this team would be competitive based on the goaltending and defence, but they were sorely wrong so far. Their forwards have been the most impressive part of their team, but with the worst start to an inaugural season since the Ottawa Senators in 1992, things don’t look good for the rest of the season.
The Kraken have multiple players on expiring deals, but Calle Jankrok would be the most enticing for any team. Just like Namestnikov, Jarnkrok can play any of the three forward positions and is a UFA at the end of the season with a cap hit of just $2 million. Jarnkrok has consistently put up goals since he has been in the NHL, recording six consecutive seasons with 10 or more goals and four of six with 15-plus goals. He has done this while playing middle-six minutes and would fit perfectly in that role for the Rangers.
With how the season has started for the Kraken, they should be looking to sell and bring in picks or prospects for the players they can move.
If the Rangers try and acquire Chris Tierney from the Ottawa Senators, it would allow them to shift Ryan Strome over to the wing without much worry of if they’re covered at centre. Tierney could play on either the second or third line, depending on where he finds chemistry or what the Rangers want to do with Chytil. If they would like to give Chytil more of a chance, they could elevate him with support from Artemi Panarin and Strome and also slide Kaapo Kakko down to the third.
The Rangers have so many options and line combinations as it is right now, but adding another talent to that forward group would make things a lot more fun. With the cap hit of any of these possible trade targets, it makes it possible to even add more than one, but that’s a little unlikely as they don’t want to package away too much of their future and bank on one season.
The Rangers have a bright future ahead of them, not only this season but well beyond that. They should be smart about their moves and not overpay for a player. There are lots of options out there, and maybe adding early after the loss of Blais would be the best course of action.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Philadelphia Flyers. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with the NHL Stat Corner and trade talks from around the NHL.