With pitchers and catchers being about a week away from reporting and the NFL season just wrapping up, February is the time of the year where I turn my full attention to my beloved New York Rangers. The Blueshirts usually start making their push to the playoffs around this time of the year, but so far, the 2017-18 Rangers have not made a convincing case to be one of the 16 playoff teams to compete for the Stanley Cup starting in mid-April.
The Rangers currently sit outside of a playoff spot in the Metropolitan division, as they hold a record of 25-24-5. While they are still in contention for a playoff spot, the team has simply not played well enough over the past month to warrant them being a playoff team.
One of the main reasons that the Rangers have stayed in playoff contention for this long is due to the stellar play of the winningest goaltender in franchise history Henrik Lundqvist. This has been the case for over a decade as Lundqvist has been the backbone for the Rangers organization since he made his debut in 2005. This year has been no different for Lundqvist, as he was recently named to his fourth career all-star game.
However, Lundqvist needs a quality team around him in order to win that Stanley Cup that he very much deserves. Lundqvist is also getting up there in age as he is set to turn 36 on March 2. It remains to be seen how many more seasons of elite play the Swedish goaltender has left in him, but the Rangers need to make some moves to retool their team starting at this season’s trade deadline.
The rumor mill has been buzzing lately about the Rangers being sellers at the deadline. It is tough to agree with the rumors, but I believe that the best thing the Rangers can do going forward is to be sellers at the deadline. Some players that have been linked to trade rumors include veteran forwards Rick Nash and Michael Grabner, who are both set to be unrestricted free agents this summer.
The 33-year-old Nash, who joined the Rangers prior to the 2013 season recently submitted his no-trade list to the organization. The list includes 18 teams that Nash refuses to accept a trade to. Although Nash is not the 30-goal scorer that he has been in years past, he would still prove to be valuable to a team that is contending for a Stanley Cup this year. Nash has been streaky this season with his 15 goals and 10 assists, but, he still is capable of going on a hot streak with goals at any time.
The 30-year-old Grabner would also be a solid pickup for a contending team. His quick skating abilities and effective penalty killing skills make him an ideal bottom-six forward.
This is where selling gets tricky for the Rangers, with team captain Ryan McDonagh set to become a free agent after the 2018-19 season. The 28-year-old defenseman who has been the top defender for the Blueshirts since 2012, and has a modest cap hit of $4.7 million on his current deal. If the Rangers don’t believe they will sign McDonagh to an extension, then they should look to deal him before this year’s trade deadline or perhaps this summer around the time of the draft.
While it would be tough to trade the team captain, it would be a move that would include a plethora of players and draft picks that the Rangers would acquire. The Blueshirts are no strangers to trading their team captain, trading Ryan Callahan to the Tampa Bay Lightning for future hall of famer Martin St. Louis. The trade would propel the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final that season. While I’m not saying that will happen with this year’s Ranger team, if one looks at the move from a purely hockey standpoint, it makes sense for the Rangers to trade McDonagh.
This season has been tough for the Rangers so far, and it will get tougher to watch if they do indeed sell at the trading deadline. It is important to keep in mind that these potential moves general manager Jeff Gorton could make are to benefit the future of the team.