Depth trade delay goals for New York Rangers
The New York Rangers are guaranteed to be buyers at the next trade deadline. Due to the scheduled Olympic break, the deadline is March 21, about three weeks later than usual. Chris Drury will have some big decisions to make over the next month and a half.
Entering the break, Rangers sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division with a 30-13-4 record, giving them an impressive 64 points. Despite being at the top of the standings, this roster has holes that need to be filled if they are to be competitive in the playoffs.
The Rangers are in a unique situation. Teams that are this successful usually face the salary cap. The Rangers currently have $12.7 million that they can use to acquire players at the deadline. They could (and should) perform several moves to strengthen their team.
With their ceiling situation, Rangers have been at the center of almost every rumour. They have the funds to sue virtually anyone, regardless of their ceiling. The big fish everyone has their eyes on are Jakob Chychrun, JT Miller, Tomas Hertl, Joe Pavelski, Mark Giordano, Reilly Smith and Claude Giroux.
Even if Drury makes a move for one of them, there will still be room to acquire multiple players cheaply. When stocking up for the playoffs, it’s important to emphasize depth. Currently with Adam Fox, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko out of line-up, Rangers’ depth has been in question.
Getting the last six forwards and a deep defender by the deadline can sometimes be the difference. Drury shouldn’t be looking to take a big step.
Let’s take a look at some under-the-radar players from struggling teams that Rangers could acquire at relatively low cost.
Lawson Crouse – LW, Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes have been a dumpster fire this season. Despite their performances, they have players who could be useful to a contending team. Lawson Crouse is one of them.
This season, Crouse has 20 points in 42 games. Those numbers don’t jump out at you, but he’s on track for a career-high points in his 24-year-old season. He has a high draft pedigree, being the 11th overall pick in 2014. He may be coming into his own and setting his game up after a disappointing start to his NHL career.
Crouse can put up respectable numbers offensively while playing quality defensive play. It also adds sandpaper to the lineup. He’s 6’4″ tall and weighs 220 pounds. He’s not afraid to get into tight spaces and use his height. Crouse has the tools to move up and down the range and be useful in any situation.
He hit a cap of $1.5 million and is expected to become an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent this summer. If the Rangers like what they see, they could possibly bring him back in place of Sammy Blais. Otherwise, they could trade his rights this summer. He would be a solid addition to any team aiming for a playoff run.
Travis Boyd-C, Arizona Coyotes
Crouse’s teammate Travis Boyd is another name many don’t talk about. He is expected to be an unrestricted free agent this summer and has a cap of just $750,000. In Arizona, he is allowed the most ice time he has seen at 15:49 per game, and he succeeds. He found the net ten times and had 20 points in 35 games.
Boyd, 28, can be a versatile piece in the last six. He plays in the centre, but could be used on the wing if needed. He won’t make a huge difference, but he’ll be a reliable option on the third or fourth line and will do his job well. If it can be had for the right price, there’s no harm in getting it.
Artturi Lehkonen – LW-RW, Montreal Canadiens
Arturri Lehkonen’s name has been mentioned more often than the others on this list as he was reportedly wanted by Rangers for some time. Where he differs from the first two players is his playoff experience. He played 33 playoff games with the Montreal Canadiens. He was a key contributor on their run to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, even scoring the goal to send them there.
He is known to be one of the best defensive forwards in hockey and can play on both left and right sides. He could fit in well on the Panarin-Strome line, as they seem to like having a winger who can do the dirty work. It would depend on whether Kakko returns to that spot or a top-six striker arrives. Otherwise, he would be an excellent forward in the bottom six.
He has 19 points in 43 games, but has an expected goal percentage of 58.54% (stats via naturalstatrick.com). He would probably post better numbers in a better team. It can even be added to the penalty unit. You can never have enough guys who can kill penalties.
Lehkonen, 26, is expected to be a referee-eligible restricted free agent and currently holds a cap of $2.3 million.
Vladislav Namestnikov – C, Detroit Red Wings
Do you remember when he was a Ranger? This name may leave a bitter taste in the mouths of some fans. When Namestnikov was acquired by Rangers in 2018, he arrived with pretty high expectations as a 20-goal scorer with the Lightning. He then recorded just 25 points in 99 games with the team before being traded for a fourth-round draft pick.
Since then, he’s bounced back a bit in the league and thrived in his Detroit role. He’s been used mostly on their third line, but has been skating with their first line lately. This shows his versatility and ability to play in different situations. He also plays heavy PK minutes for the Red Wings. With 12 goals and 22 points, he is heading into his best season since his senior year in Tampa.
With more reasonable expectations, Namestnikov, 29, could succeed in New York. It only makes $2 million and could probably be added for a cheap price. An unrestricted free agent after this season, he’s a player worth looking into.
Luke Schenn – DR, Vancouver Canucks
Luke Schenn of the Vancouver Canucks has exceeded expectations this season. He was previously a seventh defenseman for the Lightning. This year, the 32-year-old has been a very competent solution on his bottom pair.
He has a slight cap of $850,000 and the Canucks could sell him as their playoff chances look bleak. He could probably be acquired for a mid-round pick. He would strengthen the bottom Rangers duo and replace Patrik Nemeth. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup champion with Tampa Bay, so he knows what it takes to win in the playoffs.
What’s interesting about Schenn is that he has an extra year on his contract. It wouldn’t be a rental. However, since he has such a low salary, his contract would be easily mobile after this season. If everything works out, he might even stick around.
Erik Gustafsson – LD/DR, Chicago Blackhawks
Erik Gustafsson is very used to being dealt at the deadline. It has been sold for the past two seasons. Either way, he was a cheap addition that only cost third- and seventh-round picks.
Gustafsson, 29, could also move into bottom pair and replace Nemeth. Gustafsson has been a strong offensive presence on the Blackhawks’ blue line. If he were to be brought here, he would provide significant depth on the power play. People forget that he scored 17 goals just three years ago.
He had 14 points in 39 games this season and was one of the Hawks’ top blueliners in a tough season for them. He only earns $800,000 and would be another experienced body at fullback.
Not all of these players are flashy and won’t make headlines if acquired by Rangers. But they can be just as important to this team in the second half and in the playoffs as the big fish they can trade for. With the amount of ceiling space available, Drury has a plethora of options to bolster the depth of this list.
There is no trade moratorium during the long break, so it’s possible Rangers will make a move, perhaps for one of those players. As more and more players become trade bait options, it will be an intriguing process to watch.