With the trade deadline looming, there’s plenty of talk about what teams can do to either better their chances at a deep playoff run, or on the contrary, set themselves up nicely for future seasons. One team that has remained quiet up to this point has been the New York Rangers, and quite frankly, it would be in their best interest to continue down that road of trade-deadline silence.
Rumors have swirled with regard to acquiring players – centers to be exact – such as Antoine Vermette and Tyler Bozak, but it’s time that the case gets made for just staying put come deadline day. The Rangers are good, and sitting comfortably towards the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Is it really necessary to make a move that may shake up the chemistry which has developed in recent days?
If you ask me, absolutely not.
Let’s start by looking at the basic numbers.
NYR By the Numbers
For starters, the Rangers have worked their way to the top of the Metropolitan Division standings, which in and of itself is nothing short of outstanding. Then consider the fact that Henrik Lundqvist hasn’t played almost a month, and what the Rangers have accomplished goes from outstanding, to truly phenomenal.
During King Henrik’s absence, Cam Talbot and the Blueshirts have gone an impressive 9-1-2, and have earned 20 of a possible 24 points that were on the table. Widen the scope a little further, and you’ll notice that the current squad has a 27-6-2 record since the December 8 overtime win over the Penguins.
Let that sink in for a moment. That is darn good, and while some of those wins have been less-than pretty (good teams win games even when they don’t necessarily bring their “A” game), at the end of the day a win is a win and that is the ultimate goal in sports, it doesn’t always matter how it happens. When the fat lady sings, six regulation losses over a 35 game span is good whichever way you want to slice it.
Now, the Rangers are just two points back of the Division lead with 82 points, but have three games in hand over the Islanders, the team with which they are battling with atop the Metro. The team is also just three points behind Montreal for the Eastern Conference lead with a game in hand. Did you really think any of this was possible on November 10, the day after the team’s brutal 3-1 loss at the hands of the lowly Oilers which put the Rangers record at 6-6-2?
I didn’t think so.
The Rangers have hit a stride, and it’s been a mighty good one as of late. They have scored 3.12 goals per game, which is second best in the NHL, their power play is ranked 10th and is converting at a 19.1 percent clip, and they have the best goal differential in the league at plus-42. And you still mustn’t forget that Henrik Lundqvist has been sidelined for the majority of February, for this remains a key part of the story.
Now, with all of that said, you’re going to tell me that this team should make a change? You’re telling me that they might move a key piece of the puzzle to bring in someone such as Antoine Vermette or Tyler Bozak, who, let’s be honest, will probably take more to acquire than they’re actually worth. That should make most of us cringe, and I mean that wholeheartedly.
Always Room for Improvement, But is it a Dire Situation?
Sure, I understand that there are places where the Rangers could improve. Would another depth defenseman be nice? Of course it would, but there isn’t a team in the league who wouldn’t benefit from the luxury of another blue liner to pad the depth chart. The more likely possibility, though, would be the addition of a center.
There is no denying that the Rangers’ weak spot is down the middle. While Stepan and Brassard have become all but interchangeable as far as the top-line center slot is concerned and Dominic Moore is a perfect fit for the fourth line center position, the third line is where the Rangers could use some help.
Kevin Hayes, who is not by any stretch of the imagination a natural centerman, has played the role of center for the majority of this season, and he has struggled quite a bit in the faceoff circles. Despite 12 goals and 17 assists for 29 points, and his scorching hot play of late, Hayes has won just 36.9 percent of faceoffs this season, and that is just not good enough for someone playing center.
Enter the possibility of Bozak or Vermette. Yes, both are better at faceoffs, and both could probably help the Rangers strengthen themselves down the middle, but at what cost? JT Miller certainly could go, but he’s been a big part of the third line, which despite the issues at center, has arguably been one of New York’s strongest trios. Would it be worth sending him away, and would it even be enough to please either Arizona or Toronto? Your guess is as good as mine.
Perhaps draft picks and a prospect would suffice, but that isn’t a small price either for the cap-hit that would be coming in. It just doesn’t make sense given the team’s current standing.
One curious idea, which was thrown out by ESPN yesterday, was one that had Scott Gomez coming back to Broadway. Admittedly just the thought of that flips my stomach upside down, but after thinking a little more logically about it, I realized that while it still would be absurd to see him back in Ranger-Blue, and I still don’t think it’s a move they should make, he just might be the rental answer the team is looking for. At a low $550,000 cap hit, he could actually be the third line center to shore up any holes down the middle, and I can only imagine the asking price would be somewhat reasonable. Again, good idea? Not particularly. But the worst proposition I’ve ever heard? Certainly not. And while 46.5 percent on faceoffs isn’t anything to write home about, it’s a good deal better than 36.9 percent.
Rangers Trade Deadline Silence is the Answer
All of that said, though, my overarching point is this: The Rangers can certainly improve, specifically at center. But if the cost is too high which I certainly presume it would be (just look at what it’s taken for teams to acquire guys like Sekera and Jagr), the Rangers need to just walk away and be confident moving forward with the group at hand.
Winning. It’s what the team has been doing, even in the absence of their star netminder. Why force a square peg into a round whole if it isn’t absolutely necessary?
The Rangers are riding high, teams around the league recognize their speed and talent, and they are setting themselves up nicely for a second consecutive deep playoff run come the spring. A rash decision would only be a colossal mistake as far as I’m concerned.
Things are clicking in Rangerstown. There is no reason to try and fix what isn’t anywhere near broken.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.