Well this could make for a pretty interesting NHL trade deadline.
According to a report from Larry Brooks of the New York Post on Friday afternoon, the New York Rangers could become major sellers at the trade deadline, regardless of where they stand in the playoff race, and use it as an opportunity to “refresh and replenish” the organization.
The mandate, approved (if not established) in the owner’s suite by Jim Dolan, is to build a Stanley Cup winner rather than to simply extend a seven-year playoff streak that is in jeopardy.
The objective is to add young NHL or NHL-ready players every bit as much as garnering additional selections in upcoming entry drafts. Teams in the market for rentals generally own picks in the overall 24-to-31 range. You can get a good player toward the bottom of the first round, but generally not a franchise guy even if Boston’s David Pastrnak (25th in 2014) might prove a notable exception to the rule. The Rangers are neither plotting nor anticipating a deep dive to the league’s nether regions from which it can take years to escape.
Among the names mentioned as potential trade bait are forwards Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, and Michael Grabner, as well as defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
Nash and Grabner are both unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2017-18 season, while Zuccarello still has one more year remaining on his contract at a $4.5 million salary cap hit. McDonagh is also signed for one more year at $4.7 million season.
Even after their 6-5 win on Thursday, the Rangers head into the All-Star break a point out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture and are one of the seven teams in the Metropolitan Division that are separated by just five points in the standings. Trading potential free agents like Nash and Grabner wouldn’t really be that bold of a move, but potentially sending out players like Zuccarello and McDonagh that are signed beyond this season certainly would be. Especially since they are still among the Rangers’ best players.
Zuccarello is the team’s leading scorer while McDonagh plays more minutes than any other skater on the team. Given their production and ability, as well as the fact they both have term left on their contract, both could land a pretty significant haul if they were traded.
Nash is having a down-year offensively but is still on pace to score around 25 goals and is still a strong two-way player. Grabner could also be intriguing for a contender given how productive he is at even-strength. The Rangers signed him to a two-year bargain contract a year ago and have been rewarded with a player that has scored 46 even-strength goals during that stretch. The only players with more in the NHL are Auston Matthews, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Nikita Kucherov.
He counts only $1.7 million against the salary cap this season.
No matter what they do — buy, sell, stand pat — the Rangers probably are not a Stanley Cup team this season and the fact it has come to this means they have almost certainly missed out on another opportunity to capitalize on Henrik Lundqvist‘s career and get a Stanley Cup during his watch. He turns 36 in March and for as great as he still is — and he is still a difference maker this season, who knows where the Rangers would be without him playing the way he has — there is going to come a point sooner rather than later where he is no longer at that level.
Whether the Rangers actually go through with this plan remains to be seen, but it is at least intriguing to think about it possibly being on the table.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.