Rangers should be aggressive ahead of NHL trade deadline

NHL Trade Deadline New York Rangers
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The 2022 NHL Trade Deadline is a little more than a month away and we saw one team get a head start on the moves on Monday. That is when the Calgary Flames, quickly emerging as a contender in the Western Conference, acquired Tyler Toffoli from the Montreal Canadiens to address a significant depth problem beyond their top line. They are reportedly still in the market for additional moves before the deadline.

The New York Rangers are in a similar position (top team, obvious depth need) and should follow their lead and try to make a serious run this season.

The Rangers are a fascinating team this season because there is a lot to love, and a lot to not love, about the way they are constructed at the present time.

Their top half of the roster is, quite honestly, as good as any other contender in the league.

Artemi Panarin is one of the most impactful offensive players in the NHL, Chris Kreider is having a career year offensively and in contention for the goal scoring crown, while Mika Zibanejad has started to catch fire again is back to being a point-per-game player.

Adam Fox is the reigning Norris Trophy winner and might be even better this season, while their goalie, Igor Shesterkin, is not only the front-runner for the Vezina Trophy, he also has a strong case for the league MVP award (or should have a case for it).

[Related: Five likely playoff teams that need to address their depth]

The concern for the Rangers is that their underlying numbers are not in line with what you would normally see from a contender, while they get badly outscored when their top-two forwards are sitting on the bench. A lot of that stems from the fact that for as good as their top-tier players are, their bottom-six is just not all that intimidating and is lacking a lot of scoring punch. Part of it is due to them just not really building out those bottom lines that well. Another part of it is recent top picks Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko not yet emerging as stars just yet. Either way, they need depth. They need secondary players that can complement their stars and balance out their lineup.

The front office has the ability to correct that, and they should explore all options in doing so.

New York currently has more salary cap space than almost any other contending team in the NHL and a decent cupboard full of prospects and young talent in which to deal from.

It is absolutely the right time to dip into that. For starters, players like Panarin and Kreider are on the other side of 30 and while they should remain productive players for several more seasons, it is far from a given that you will ever get *this* level of production from them again. The Rangers are also going to see some significant new contracts kick in next season that will tap into their salary cap space. Fox’s contract goes from $925,000 to over $9 million. Zibanejad goes from $5 million to over $8 million. They will still have to fill out the remainder of their roster.

So this is the time to strike, and there are no shortage of intriguing options that could be available to them.

This week the Post’s Larry Brooks threw out the possibility of a reunion with J.T. Miller, who could be a game-changer for their depth given his versatility and production. He has been a point-per-game player the past three seasons in Vancouver and the Canucks could be looking to shake things up with a new front office taking over in the middle of a disappointing season.

[Related: NHL Power Rankings: Avalanche in a tier all by themselves]

Would the Flyers trade Claude Giroux within the division? Why not try!

Tomas Hertl could obviously be in play if he and the Sharks can not come to terms on a new contract.

If the Rangers wanted to upgrade their defense around Fox, John Klingberg and Jakob Chychrun could be available (and Chychrun’s contract is a steal for the next three seasons).

The Rangers are not the best team in the league right now and are probably a tier below the true elites like Colorado, Carolina, and Tampa Bay. But they have a game-changing goalie that can steal games and flip a playoff series upside down against any team, as well as a couple of superstar players at extremely important positions. Those two things can mask a lot of flaws and take a team a very long way. Give them a little bit of help around that and you might have something special. The Rangers have the assets and salary cap flexibility to give them that help.

 

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    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.