Prior to Henrik Lundqvist’s injury, GM Glen Sather needed to be a magician in terms of making a deadline deal given the New York Rangers scarcity of cap space. With Lundqvist out and the Rangers having to factor rookie Mackenzie Skapski’s salary into the cap equation, Sather is going to have to channel his inner Houdini if he wants to make any significant changes by 3pm on March 2.
In an ideal world, Sather would add a third–pair defenseman to team with Dan Boyle, a third line center who is strong on faceoffs and some additional depth among his bottom six forwards.
Since Sather does not operate in a perfect world, at best he might have to settle for a depth defenseman and a depth forward.
Of course, there is the 800-pound gorilla that is looming large as the deadline approaches – will Sather need to make a trade for a veteran goaltender?
While Skapski did win his NHL debut, it would be a lot to ask him to play a few games down the stretch against much tougher competition. Some fans point to Montreal’s Carey Price as example of a 20-year-old steeping into the NHL. The point they forget to make is that Price was a first round draft pick (5th overall) while Skapski was a sixth round draft pick (170th overall).
Just as it would be a lot to ask Skapski to step up, it would be tough to ask Cam Talbot to continue to shoulder the vast majority of games without a veteran backup. There is going to come a time when the Rangers offense is not going to be able to continually bail out the defense and Talbot.
Even if Lundqvist is medically cleared in the next week or two, he is going to need another week or two to get back into game shape. Taking it a step further, having a veteran third string goaltender would prevent a repeat of last year when David LeNeveu was The King’s backup in the Stanley Cup Finals.
You also have to wonder how confident the Rangers are that Lundqvist can stay healthy. Granted losing Lundqvist for the playoffs would be a devastating blow, having a veteran backup would give the team a puncher’s chance in the playoffs.
There are three veteran goaltenders who are playing in the AHL and would fit the bill of a veteran backup. Peter Budaj and Dan Ellis both have NHL experience, but are currently third on their team’s depth charts.
However, Chicago’s Michael Leighton is fourth on the Blackhawks depth chart. Leighton is a veteran of 105 NHL games. His last significant stretch of time in the NHL was during the 2009/10 season when he went 17-9-1 with a 2.83 GAA and a .905 SV% with Philadelphia and Carolina.
Since he is fourth on the depth chart, he should not cost that much in terms of acquiring him and in terms of cap hit (his salary is $550,000).
It is the lack of cap space that is the Rangers most daunting task. Cap Space is at such premium the team decided to carry only 12 forwards during Jesper Fast’s injury rather than call up a forward and further deplete its limited cap space.
When they did call up Oscar Lindberg to replace Rick Nash against Calgary they immediately returned the rookie center rather than eat up any additional cap space.
The lack of salary cap space is not the Rangers only concern come the trade deadline. With the 2015 Draft expected to be strong and deep, teams are looking to stockpile draft picks. The Rangers are hampered because their 2015 Draft cupboard is nowhere near being fully stocked.
The Blueshirts have two second round picks (their own and Tampa Bay’s) and draft picks in the third, fourth and sixth rounds. In addition, there is little to no chance that the Rangers will part with the likes of Pavel Buchnevich, Anthony Duclair or Brady Skjei – especially for a rental. The organization would have to literally be blown away to include one their prized prospects in a deal.
With limited cap space and limited resources, the Rangers will have to be very creative as the trade deadline nears. If they want a more experienced backup to Talbot they could recall Yann Danis from Hartford. Danis is a journeyman goaltender who played 43 of his 53 NHL games with the Islanders and Devils during the 2008/09 and 2009/10 seasons.
There is one problem with Danis and it is the reason he is not backing up Talbot at this very moment. Danis is signed to a Player Tryout (PTO) contract with Hartford. In order to play for the Rangers the team would have to sign him to an NHL contract and add him to their 50-man reserve list. Currently, the list stands at 48 and would limit the Blueshirts ability to add multiple players unless they traded a player who is on their reserve list.
With the Rangers have to face the prospect of re-signing a myriad of restricted and unrestricted free agents, the team is not going to make a trade for as player who has multiple years on his contract. In other words, fans who had hoped to see the likes of a Martin Hanzal or Evander Kane in a Rangers uniform were dreaming. The Rangers are shopping in the aisle of UFAs to be – unless someone is willing to take on a Dan Boyle while giving the Rangers and upgrade on defense.
Of course, there is a long shot way of trading for a player with multiple years remaining on his contract. You would have to find a team that is willing to retain part of the player’s cap hit on their books – much like Toronto did when they dealt Daniel Winnik to Pittsburgh. The problem with this scenario is that the Rangers would have to offer a mighty big enticement to get a team to keep a multiple year cap hit – and that brings us back to the Rangers lacking a first round draft pick and being unwilling to trade their elite prospects.
In other words, don’t hold your breath.
With the Rangers options limited – both in terms of cap space and trade ammunition – the Blueshirts might only be able to fill one of their non-goaltending needs. It is a matter of deciding what gives the Rangers their biggest bang for their buck.
Do they take a look at Columbus’ Mark Letestu in an attempt to bring in a center who wins 53% of his faceoffs or do they go against conventional wisdom and strengthen their defense by bringing in someone like Jeff Petry?
Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.ca writes that Patrick Kane’s shoulder/collarbone injury puts Chicago GM Stan Bowman in a position where he can place his star on LTIR and use the cap savings to chase down the likes of Antoine Vermette. Reports state that Kane will be out 12 weeks after having his fractured left clavicle repaired.
Friedman also chimed in on the Mats Zuccarello situation in his latest “30 Thoughts” column when he said, “The simple move for New York is to keep him, make a playoff run and take their chances later. But, there are rumours they will consider trading him, see what they can get and, if necessary, flip that for something else. I can’t prove or disprove those rumblings, but they’re out there.
The problem with moving Zuccarello is that his status as an UFA means you are not going to get full value for him. The Rangers would have to include a pretty good prospect in any deal if they want to bring back a player of equal value.
That is what the Rangers did last year when Sather sent the two first round draft picks to Tampa Bay. Of course, Slats could have, and should have, bargained harder because Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was between a rock and a hard place because Marty St. Louis has his eyes set on Broadway and the Blueshirts.
When you factor in the Rangers lack of cap space and what teams have been asking/trading for, Sather is going to have be a miracle worker at the deadline if he is going to make a meaningful trade.
The idea that the Rangers are in on Toronto center Tyler Bozak doesn’t make sense given his $4.2 million cap hit over the next three years. Even if the Maple Leafs agreed to retain part of Bozak’s salary (like they did with sending Daniel Winnik to Pittsburgh), the Blueshirts would still be hard pressed to find enough of an enticement to get Toronto to retain part of the cap hit.
Bozak’s style of play would be suited to a third line center with the Rangers. He is strong at both ends of the ice and is solid on faceoffs. The problem is that his contract is far too prohibitive for a team who has so many UFAs and RFAs and so little cap space.
The best Rangers fans can probably expect is Sather to make one or two smaller depth-type deals. It is far more likely to see Slats bring in a Raphael Diaz than a Martin St. Louis. Sather can make those type of deals and still keep the Rangers in good cap shape moving forward – all while trading away fringe-type prospects.