Latest posts by Phil Kocher (see all)
- Get Used to This Feeling; There's More Pain Coming - 02/27/2018
- Report: Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller Headed to the Lightning - 02/26/2018
- Rangers Deal Rick Nash to Boston Bruins - 02/25/2018
A 3-7-2 record is bad enough, but even bad teams never want to be kicked when they are down, and few things hurt more than a shot to the ribs when you’re already reeling. Yet here we are, talking about a poorly performing team’s compete level just 12 games into a season that they are quickly losing ground in.
The Rangers are drowning among the unrelenting waves of mediocrity, like a swimmer caught in a riptide, only ever managing to escape long enough to catch a panicked breath of air before getting pounded by the next crash of water. Losing games isn’t their only problem, though. After Saturday night’s 5-4 loss to the Montréal Canadiens, so too, apparently, is their energy level – which is another way of saying this group, at times, lacks the proper motivation to play.
As the spiral worsens, if these Rangers won’t (or perhaps can’t) bring the kind of energy required to adequately compete in games that will only increase in importance as the year progresses, then it’s on general manager Jeff Gorton to find someone who will.
The Blueshirts’ lack of motivation was most recently on display during the first period in which they put themselves in a 3-0 hole before the buzzer. They were only able to muster two shots on goal in that time versus a whopping 19 from the Canadiens. It wasn’t until the second period when the group began to compete and apply themselves in an attempt to salvage the game that had gotten away from them, ultimately failing to do so. This has been a theme for the Rangers throughout the season thus far, as they have found themselves trailing to start the game seven times.
“When someone questions your effort level and compete, it’s not a good feeling,” captain Ryan McDonagh said. “You want to prove it to yourself and prove it as a group that that’s not what we’re about, that’s not acceptable, that’s not who we are.”
Blockbuster trades are a rare occurrence this early in the season. This is likely due to a combination of teams believing they have more time left to sort out their problems than they actually have and an unwillingness to take an early bite out of their salary cap that, thanks to its prorating nature, naturally builds as the year advances toward the trading deadline. The Rangers, however, are in need of some impact if they still have any hopes of making the playoffs this season. A failure to act soon could quickly land them on the sellers’ side of the market this February.
Impact comes in many shapes and forms, and acquiring a top-six center to fill the Derek Stepan-sized void they failed to sufficiently fill would surely make its mark, but would also be among the most expensive paths to take. Instead, given the early nature of the season and understanding the desire to leave some wiggle room for another deal or two come February 26th, let’s look at a few of the more affordable targets.
A Deal With Dallas
Just a few days into their offseason this past summer I wrote about how the Rangers could benefit from bringing in some fire, either via free agency or trade. Among the trade options was 27-year old Antoine Roussell, who is in the final year of his deal ahead of free agency.
The French-born Canadian pest had 27 points and 115 PIM in 60 games last season (0.45 P/GP) and is one of the most hated players in the league. Thanks to playing in the West, he’s someone the Rangers haven’t had to spend much time playing against. Much like the trade that brought Wayne Simmonds to the Flyers years ago, unleashing Roussel’s brand of antagonism on the Metropolitan division might be a worthy cause in their favor. He’s not just a productive and industrious bottom-six winger, but over the last three seasons his score, zone, and venue adjusted 52.98 CF%, 53.8 FF%, and 53.6 xGF% rank fifth, sixth, and seventh respectively among Stars forwards. His minus-8 penalty differential is a drawback, but a manageable one. In the big picture, he’s not a five-on-five liability, despite his role, and his age and contract status are both attractive. He doesn’t have the cache of a high-end impact player, but his in-your-face style of play would give the Rangers an added level of bite in their bottom-six.
The Stars, currently third in the Central division with 12 points in 11 games, could stand to upgrade their top-six forward group where Roussel is currently being asked to skate alongside Martin Hanzal and Jason Spezza on their second line despite having just one point through the Stars’ first 11 games. If the Rangers are seriously considering moving Chris Kreider, perhaps Dallas would be willing to include Roussel in a larger deal?
Roussel’s $2M AAV would easily fit under the Blueshirts’ cap, especially if Kreider is being moved to the West as part of the exchange. But any deal including Kreider runs the risk of robbing from Peter to pay Paul. They need fire, yes, but replacing a player of Kreider’s caliber won’t be easily done. Few have his combination of speed, skill, and aggression. In addition to this, Roussel is a natural winger, where the Rangers are already fairly deep, so it’s not a perfect marriage.
Voulez-vous faire une affaire?
If not Roussel, the Rangers could possibly look to the team who most recently embarrassed them in the Canadiens, who themselves are embroiled in a very disappointing season. Saturday night’s victory over the Rangers was just their third of the season (3-7-1) and failed to pull them out of the eighth and final spot in the Atlantic division.
The Habs—who are dead last in the league with 2.00 GF/GP—could use any offensive help they can get their hands on. Like Dallas, they’d probably have a significant interest in Kreider, who despite being off to a slow start this season scored a career-high 28 goals last season.
Alex Galchenyuk, currently buried on the Habs’ fourth line and seemingly being driven out by Montréal’s media, seems the most likely target, but in his 31 Thoughts column, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman did mention that Andrew Shaw could also be in play:
I do think they would move Andrew Shaw, potentially keeping some part of his salary. Shaw does have four more years at $3.9 million. Trading with term is not easy.
If the Canadiens were willing to retain at least 25% of Shaw’s $3.9M (bringing his AAV to roughly $2.9M), Shaw would be an interesting third-line center option for a team who, until two games ago, has been struggling to ice a roster with four NHL-caliber centers on it. Like Roussel, Shaw is an agitator supreme, and also like Roussel, one whose abilities don’t come solely away from the puck. Even for a near-league-worst Canadiens team with a minus-19 goal differential this season he’s a positive possession player. Through Montréal’s first 11 games his 56.62 corsi for percentage (CF%) and 1.28 points per 60 minutes (P/60) are sixth among all Canadiens skaters this season at five-on-five.
He does have five years left on his contract, but at age 26, it’s not as though the Rangers would be bringing in a player with very little career runway left.
An Exchange With Edmonton
If neither Roussel or Shaw suffice, a look to the West might be in order, as the Rangers and Canadiens aren’t the only teams underperforming this season. The Connor McDavid-lead Edmonton Oilers, 3-6-1 on the season, are also trying to meet expectations in a competitive Western Conference in which they made it to within a game of the Western Conference Final last postseason.
Part of their problem has been dealing with a wave of injuries, including concussion symptoms for Leon Draisaitl, a significant knee injury to Andrej Sekera, and an undisclosed injury to Drake Caggiula. Add to this the struggles of starting goaltender Cam Talbot, who has slipped from his .919 Sv% last season to just .904 this year, and whose GAA has gone from 2.39 to an alarming 3.10 through nine starts this year, and it’s not all that difficult to understand why they are where they are.
Though they are tenth in the league in GF/GP (3.30), the brunt of the scoring has come by way of McDavid and Patrick Maroon, though Draisaitl does have seven points in six games. Friedman speculated on Saturday night that Kreider would be an interesting add for the Oilers, but it’s difficult to see where he’d slot in given the Oilers’ depth at left wing that currently features Maroon, Milan Lucic, Caggiula, and Jussi Jokinen. Lucic, 29, still has six years remaining on his contract (this season included), so one of Maroon or Caggiula would probably need to be coming to New York in the deal. Of the two, Maroon would best address the lack of fire on Broadway, but the deal would certainly appear lateral as both he and Kreider are cut from the same cloth and boast similar size and production (Maroon scored a career-high 27 goals last season).
If not Maroon, the Rangers would likely be asking for 24-year old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (RNH). Given their need for quality centermen, Nugent-Hopkins, currently centering the Oilers’ second line between Lucic and Letestu, would help to mitigate the loss of Stepan, but would also leave the Oilers dangerously thin up the middle given the buyers remorse they’re currently feeling following the Jordan Eberle-Ryan Strome deal. Putting aside for a moment his progressively falling production over the last three seasons, RNH would also fail to provide the kind of aggressive spark that Roussel or Shaw could, so a deal for him may still not actually solve the Rangers’ “energy” problem.
It’s possible the two teams could attempt to help one another in a trade, but most conceivable scenarios appear to be sizable, which probably pushes any deal between the two closer to New Years than before Thanksgiving.
No matter the team they look to to find it from since it’s apparent that it’s not coming from the current roster, the Rangers need to find an energy source sooner rather than later. A “total lack of energy” and “lack of compete” as McDonagh told the NY Post after Saturday night’s loss is unacceptable and could destroy any chances, no matter how diminished, of making the postseason.
“If I had the answer, I’d tell you”, McDonagh said. Well, if he doesn’t have the answer, and Alain Vigneault can’t seem to find it either, then it’s on Jeff Gorton to figure it out before time runs out on the Rangers.