If I were a betting man (I’m not), I would put a small wager (I won’t) on the Rangers not looking a whole lot different after the March 1 trade deadline.
I could be wrong.
The Rangers, historically, are active at or just before the deadline. Often it’s a case of ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’ – substantial trades that were rumored, that could be seen/heard coming from miles away, and ultimately came to be.
For example, everybody had heard about the Ryan Callahan-Martin St. Louis deal in 2014, even though the Rangers tried to sign and keep Callahan right up until hours before the deadline. And we all heard that they’d be in on Eric Staal in 2016, as long as they could get him for less than a first-round pick (they did).
Then there are those that come out of left field, i.e. the Keith Yandle deal just ahead of deadline day in 2015.
We also should be smart enough to know that Rangers GM Jeff Gorton will be scouring every corner to try to improve his team and give it a better chance to make a playoff run, and he does have $10 million in cap space with which to play for the remainder of the season.
I also expect that this will be a quieter than usual deadline throughout the NHL, especially with the new trend of teams making their deals in the week leading up to the trading close. It started with Arizona trading defenseman Mark Stone to Calgary for draft picks Monday, a relatively small-scale deal.
Some think the deadline is going to be slow this season, given how the overtime/shootout losers’ point and the shootout win have inflated teams’ point totals and kept most within shouting distance of a playoff berth.
That the salary cap is expected to remain flat could also deter teams from taking on contracts.
Then there is the cloud unique to this season, the upcoming expansion draft and the way GMs will have to dance around their “protected/unprotected” lists while they make deals.
Let’s face a few things about the Rangers. Their strength is their depth, and it’s doubtful they want to rob from that to make a bigger splash than a lineup tweak or two. They’re more likely to go the rental route.
But even there, any newcomers are going to have to fit into Vigneault’s puck-moving, fast-skating style and system, which has the Rangers right in the thick of the best division in the league, and skating into Tuesday’s home game against Montreal with seven wins in eight games.
This in a season which was seen as possibly being a step backward – a bit of a reconstruct – after the way last season went and the fact that the Rangers had no choice but to let Yandle walk away, and knew they’d go into the summer unable to sign a big-ticket free agent or take on a significant contract.
But things change, and the Rangers’ young players and their newcomers have flourished, and some of the crucial veterans have bounced back to varying degrees – but few, if any, have regressed. So they have to think they have a shot.
And it would be silly to believe there’s a team in the league the Rangers couldn’t beat four out of seven. The question though, is can they do it more than once? Of course, which matchup(s) they get will also help determine their fate. Fourth place in the Metro Division could bring a much less resistant path to the Eastern Final, via the Atlantic bracket, than having to go through some combination of Pittsburgh, Columbus and Washington in the Metro.
The league will have a lot of rentals from which to choose – the veteran types like Jarome Iginla and perhaps Shane Doan, maybe ex-Ranger Brian Boyle and one of the Lightning’s two goalies, one of whom will be lost to Las Vegas in the summer, most likely. There will be the grit-and-depth guys like Alex Burrows, and pages of defensemen of varying skills.
One of those, and perhaps the most skilled, is New Rochelle native and lifetime Rangers fan Kevin Shattenkirk of St. Louis, who’s set to be an unrestricted free agent in July. It would cost a team a ton to pry him from the Blues, and it will cost a fortune to re-sign him in the summer.
That would be a blockbuster. Don’t bet on it.