It feels like it’s been months since the Rangers last played a game and they’re still another day away from returning to action. I’m sure the players have enjoyed the 10-day layoff, but with baseball in its lull period before spring training and only one football game left, it’s been a grind since the last Rangers game though I’m sure a lot of the feeling has to do with the back-to-back losses before the break.
Here are 10 thoughts on the Rangers as usual.
1. The Rangers have one last chance to make a run before the front office begins its third straight selloff. The Rangers have 13 games before the trade deadline, and I feel like it would take at least 12 wins for them to hold on to their assets. With 12 wins before the deadline, the Rangers would then be on pace for 100 points and it would put them in contention for a playoff berth. However, Carolina currently holds the second wild card, and their current point pace is still better than the Rangers’ would be if they won 12 of 13 over the next three-plus weeks.
Even if the Rangers won 12 of 13 (or won all 13), their post-deadline schedule includes the Islanders, Philadelphia (three times), St. Louis, Washington (twice), Dallas, Colorado, Calgary, Pittsburgh (three times), Columbus, Washington, Tampa Bay and Florida. In this magical, fairytale world where this Rangers team could win 12 of 13 or set the franchise record with 13 straight wins, it still most likely wouldn’t be enough to reach the postseason.
There’s no scenario over the next 25 days in which the Rangers shouldn’t stick with their rebuild plan. The plan was never to go all out for the postseason in 2019-20. It was to be ready for a possible playoff berth in 2020-21, but most likely in 2021-22, and contend for the Cup in maybe 2021-22, but more like 2022-23 and 2023-24. The team’s play for most of this season was unexpected and enjoyable, but it was never enough to be one of the Top 8 in the East and to make any sort of extended run in the spring.
2. It seems like Alexandar Georgiev, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, is as good as gone. Whether it’s before the deadline or before the beginning of next season, Georgiev won’t be a Ranger. It will be before the deadline if teams like Toronto and Colorado realize their goaltending will be what keeps them from a postseason run and if they are willing to meet the Rangers’ ask of an NHL-ready forward. In an ideal world, the Rangers would be able to keep Georgiev and pair him with Igor Shesterkin for years to come, while also giving Henrik Lundqvist the kind of end to his career he deserves as a Rangers legend and all-time great. But Lundqvist’s no-trade clause, which he more than earned for carrying the franchise for 15 years, isn’t going to get waived, and it shouldn’t.
4. If Lundqvist wants to remain a Ranger through the end of next season and the end of his contract before walking away, good for him. I could also envision a scenario where Lundqvist returns at a much more team-friendly rate beginning in 2021-22 to serve as the backup when this team is ready or close to ready to contend. You can do a lot worse than having Lundqvist as a veteran presence in the room, a mentor to his heir and the backup of your team. Would Lundqvist, a career starter and millionaire, want to sit on the bench and travel around North America and be away from his family at 40 to only play 20-or-so games a season? I don’t know. But I want him to because when this team is Cup-contending good again, I want him to be a part of it.
5. Aside from Georgiev, the Rangers’ restricted free agents include Ryan Strome, Brendan Lemieux and Tony DeAngelo, and I have to think all three are in play. My order of preference to keep would be DeAngelo then Lemieux then Strome. There is no way Strome’s stock will ever be higher than it is now, and it has everything to do with playing with Artemi Panarin. Panarin is on pace for 117 points with Strome and Jesper Fast as his linemates, and the Bread Man has a chance at Jaromir Jagr’s 123-point record despite playing with these two. There is this weird faction of Rangers fans who are very pro-Strome though I’m not sure how they can watch him every game and not see how all of his success is directly tied to Panarin. Trade him. As for Fast, he’s an unrestricted free agent, but he won’t cost much. He’s only getting $1.85 million now, and whatever number he were to sign for after this season certainly isn’t going to significantly hinder the team’s cap situation in the future. But unless the Rangers plan on extending him if they don’t trade him, losing him for nothing in the offseason as a free agent would go against the team’s goal of acquiring as many future or draft assets as possible.
6. DeAngelo is an interesting trade candidate because he’s a restricted free agent who will command a substantial raise and because he’s only 24 and on pace for a 63-point season. Defensemen who can score like DeAngelo does aren’t exactly easy to find, and they are rarely ever available at a deadline when they’re 24 years old. But with the Rangers’ abundance of young defensemen, a player like DeAngelo could be expendable, if the Rangers believe they will hit on most of those young defensemen and if they believe they can get the kind of haul DeAngelo could return. The Rangers also might have to believe this season is the ceiling for DeAngelo and that his scoring is a product of the Rangers’ offensive-minded style of play which will surely need to change in order to truly contend. It’s hard to envision a team which allows the most shots per game winning the Cup.
7. It would be a lot easier to keep DeAngelo if the Rangers could move Brady Skjei, who is one year older than DeAngelo and who is owed $5.25 million through 2023-24. Or maybe there is a plan to move Jacob Trouba, as the 25-year-old is owed $8 million through 2025-26. If it were my call, I would move Skjei though I could see why the Rangers might feel they no longer need Trouba, especially at $8 million per year, the same way they thought they did last summer when they traded for and extended him. Trouba’s deal wasn’t unreasonable coming off a career-best, 50-point season, and over time his number won’t seem like as much as the cap goes up, but there is certainly a case to be made to move him. After next season, the Rangers will have Marc Staal’s $5.7 million coming off the books as well as Brendan Smith’s $4.35 million (unless some team wants to take either of them off the Rangers hands before Feb. 24 … any takers?!). But they will also be looking at paying raises to restricted free agents Pavel Buchnevich, Filip Chytil, Brett Howden and Ryan Lindgren.
8. I can’t believe it’s already been eight years since I wanted the Rangers to trade Chris Kreider in order to land Rick Nash before the 2011-12 deadline. The Rangers had a chance to trade a college kid with no professional hockey experience for a Team Canada first-liner for a potential Cup run. The Rangers chose not to make the move and ended up losing in the Eastern Conference finals to New Jersey, losing Games 4, 5 and 6 of the series while scoring only six goals combined in those three games. It’s possible landing Nash could have been the difference in that series and maybe the Rangers beat Los Angeles for the Cup rather than playing and losing to an even better Los Angeles team two years later. Even though the Rangers were able to land Nash that summer without having to include Kreider, I would still make that pre-2012 deadline trade today.
9. When it comes to Kreider now, the only option is to trade him. I keep seeing and hearing about the idea of extending him, but there’s no way Kreider risked injury in his impending free-agent season to lower his contract demands and take a hometown discount. Kreider will be 29 for next season and this is his one chance to cash in. It’s unfortunate his career timeline doesn’t match up with the timeline of this rebuild and he won’t have a chance to compete for another Cup as a Ranger (if only some of his Cup Final breakaways had found the back of the net), but that’s been the case for nearly the entire previous core of Rangers over the last three seasons. The Rangers can’t afford to be overpaying for Kreider on the wrong side of 30 when they will be in need of cap space to pay their new, young core. Sure, Kreider would provide veteran leadership in what’s currently the youngest locker room in the league, but the Rangers won’t be in any position to pay for an intangible in a few years.
10. There are so many ways the next three-plus weeks could play out for the Rangers that it feels like a choose-your-own adventure book as each decision has signficant, franchise-changing ramifications. The Rangers could move only Kreider. They could move no one. They could move everyone mentioned here. They could move players not mentioned here. Whatever they do, it looks like this is it: the last selloff. Two years after sending the letter to fans to publicize their plans to tear the team down and what will be three selloffs later, the Rangers will be on to the next phase of this rebuild.