The Rangers are doing a good job making it as hard as possible for the front office to conduct a third straight selloff. With five wins in the last seven games, Rangers fans aren’t going to accept a selloff the way they have the last two years if the team keeps winning the way they have been since their 10-day layoff.
Here are 10 thoughts on the Rangers as usual.
1. Igor Shesterkin is the real deal. Everyone expected him to be good and the heir to Henrik Lundqvist’s throne, and when you have the expectations he’s created over the last few years, anything other than greatness will be criticized and questioned. Shesterkin has given the Rangers greatness so far becoming the first goalie in the team’s history to win six of his first seven starts and beating Colorado, Toronto and Winnipeg on the road in those games. I’m still the biggest Henrik Lundqvist supporter and defender there is and think he needs to play more than he has since Shesterkin was called up, but I won’t complain if Lundqvist is on the bench because Shesterkin is in the net. I will only complain if Lundqvist is on the bench because Alexandar Georgiev is in the net.
2. The biggest moment of Tuesday’s win in Winnipeg came when Shesterkin had to come out of the game for the final minutes of the first period. A cold Henrik Lundqvist, who hadn’t seen game action in eight days was forced into a 0-0 game with the Jets buzzing immediately after a power play. Shesterkin had actually hurt his ankle, but replay showed him getting hit directly in the head by a Tony DeAngelo-created collision and he was rightfully removed from the game to be evaluated. I was of the same thinking as the spotter who determined Shesterkin needed to be checked out for a head injury, and while he turned out to be fine, the replay was worrisome and him lying face down on the ice after should have been enough for him to be pulled out of the game then and not a few minutes later. But the biggest moment came when Lundqvist had to make a remarkable save with his left pad right away. If Lundqvist lets that shot by him or any other shot, it’s a much different game with possibly a different end result and an important win might have become a loss. I’m sure the idiotic fans who have been quick to forget what Lundqvist has done for this team for 15 years were also quick to forget that that save might have saved the game.
3. The longer the three-goalie carousel drags on, the better the chance it doensn’t get solved until the offseason and the better the chance Lundqvist is the odd man out and not Georgiev. I don’t think it makes it more likely that Lundqvist is out and Georgiev stays, I just think the odds move less in Lundqvist’s favor than where they are between now and Feb. 24. One more year of Lundqvist at $8.5 million isn’t the worst thing. Yes, a combination of Shesterkin and Georgiev is much cheaper than a combination of Shesterkin and Lundqvist, but Georgiev is due a raise as a restricted free agent at the end of this season, and I believe Lundqvist is still a better goalie at 37 than Georgiev. I don’t see why the option of Shesterkin as No. 1 and Lundqvist at a much less salary as the No. 2 for 2021-22 and beyond isn’t being talked about. One of the biggest reasons being mentioned for extending Chris Kreider even though his game will most likely age poorly is because of his veteran leadership and presence. Lundqvist is the longest tenured Ranger and the best and most important Ranger of the post-lockout era. He might not be what he was a decade ago, but what 37-year-old goalie is? He’s still very, very good and given his reluctance to waive his no-trade clause over the last few seasons when he was younger and had a better chance at chasing the Cup, I feel like he would be on board with being the 2 and not necessarily the 1B going forward if it meant staying in New York and being a Ranger. Is having Lundqvist, even at 38 or 39 or 40 years old playing 20-30 games per season really the worst thing? I think it’s the best solution.
4. The only game keeping Shesterkin from an undefeated start to his career is the third-period collapse against Columbus a few weeks when it looked like he might post his first career shutout, only to lose 2-1 in heartbreaking fashion. I felt sick after that loss to Columbus, writing a blog titled A Season-Crushing Loss for the Rangers. That four-point swing in the standings is still holding up as the Rangers trail the Blue Jackets by 10 points (with two games in hand). The deficit would be only six if not for the ugly turnovers, which cost the Rangers the game, especially the one in the final seconds that cost them at least one point. There will be another four-point swing available on Friday night in Columbus when the Rangers play the banged-up Blue Jackets.
5. The Rangers have 27 games left and are currently on pace for 89.45 points. Philadelphia holds the second wild card and the Flyers are on pace for 99.26 points. It’s games like the one Friday night in Columbus and the other game left against Columbus this season at the Garden as well as the three remaining against Philadelphia which will determine the wild-card situation in the Eastern Conference. The Blue Jackets’ injury situation coupled with the Flyers’ upcoming guantlet schedule (Florida, Tampa Bay, Columbus, Columbus, Winnipeg) before they play the Rangers could open the door for the Rangers to make the playoff picture in the East more cluttered than it already is.
6. The Rangers came out of their 10-day layoff needing to win 75 percent of their remaining games. So far, they have done so. Well, they will have done so if they can win on the road again in Minnesota on Thursday. They’re 5-2 right now since the break. If you divide up their remaining games into four-game schedules in which they need to win three of four, they went 3-1 in their first four against Detroit (twice), Dallas and Toronto, and they are currently 2-1 in their next four against Buffalo, Los Angeles and Winnipeg. A win on Thursday keeps them on pace. It’s still going to take a miracle for them to make the playoffs in a season in which they were never supposed to make the playoffs, but at least for now, they are keeping their slim postseason dreams alive.
7. The postseason dream has stayed alive because the Rangers have played a much more complete game of late. The team we saw put together lengthy losing streaks early in the season and the team we watched end 2019 and begin 2020 with three straight ugly losses in Western Canada looks nothing like the team we have seen go 9-5 (a 105-point pace over 82 games) since that miserable Edmonton-Calgary-Vancouver trip. Yes, there are the occasional letdown performancs like the third period against Columbus or last Friday’s loss to Buffalo, but there are always going to be letdown performances in an 82-game season. Boston leads the NHL in points and lost to 14-win Detroit on Sunday after having already lost to the Red Wings earlier in the season. Weird, bad losses happen. The Rangers have been able to minimize those losses over the last month after having too many of them in the first three months of the season.
8. If this Rangers team were to continue to play this way for the rest of the season and miss the playoffs, I would feel very confident about them ending their postseason drought next season. The problem is this Rangers team isn’t going to be the team we see next season, and probably won’t be the team we see play the Islanders on Feb. 25. The trade deadline is now 11 days away and while the names and suitors continue to change, the Rangers’ third straight selloff is still going to happen. Maybe Kreider unexpectedly gets extended, but that only means other players would then have to go to clear eventual cap space for him.
9. I have already accepted Kreider getting traded, but all these extension reports involving the Rangers and his agent have me confused and conflicted. The safe play is to move Kreider now. He’s the top available player on the trade market and he would acquire the most possible future assets for the Rangers in what is expected to be the last selloff. The money saved could go to some of the restricted free agents or be used to extend some of the young core of this team, and it will save us from complaining about a mid-30s Kreider in a few years screwing up the Rangers’ finances when he’s no longer the player he is now.
10. The more Kreider plays the way he has this season (with another two goals in Winnipeg and four goals in his last three games), the more it will hurt to see him go at a time when it looks like the Rangers might be ready to take the next step. I understand it’s been one consistent month of hockey, but that’s the most consistent hockey we have seen from the Rangers in which the results weren’t based solely on luck and elite goaltending in three years. I think this recent Rangers play is for real and removing Kreider from this roster will hurt next season when this team will have more than a single-digit perent chance of reaching the playoffs in mid-February. While the Rangers will lose yet another veteran and one of the last pieces remaining from their previous core, I still think they have to move Kreider. It will hurt in the short term, but it’s the right decision for the long term, and the reason the Rangers are in the middle of a rebuild and needing to trade Kreider is because they didn’t make decisions for the long term the last time they had to.