With two weeks to go until the March 21 trade deadline, the Rangers are methodically rumbling toward their first playoff appearance in five years. Realistically, there are no worries anymore about actually making the playoffs this spring — not with a 17-point lead Saturday morning over the first team out of the playoffs in the East, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
No, at this point, Rangers GM Chris Drury can assume his team will make the playoffs and go from there.
Drury has endless cap space to add reinforcements to his 35-15-5 team, and he has plenty of assets, in the form of well-regarded prospects, plus draft picks, to offer up in exchange for the right piece(s) to bolster his roster.
But does he really have all those assets, though?
One of his prime assets would have been the disgruntled forward Vitali Kravtsov, who went back home to Russia in the fall, after he failed to make the Rangers’ roster. But with the war going on between Russia and Ukraine, how could anyone trade for Kravtsov now, not knowing when — or if — they would be able to get him out of Russia?
The ill-timed injury to Kaapo Kakko and the recent benching of Filip Chytil might have an effect on what Drury can do, as well.
Kakko, the No. 2 pick overall in the 2019 draft, is currently on injured reserve with what the Rangers are calling an upper-body injury, and Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said this week Kakko looks like he’ll be out longer than was initially expected. He may get back just before the trade deadline, or he may not.
Chytil scored the game-winning goal Friday, but he was a healthy scratch for two games last weekend.
Assuming the Rangers are not going to trade rookie defenseman Braden Schneider, or second-year players Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller, then what are we looking at?
Defenseman Zac Jones has looked decent in 11 NHL games, and really good in 28 AHL games. But he’s small, generously listed at 5-10, 172. Matthew Robertson is big (6-4, 201), but he hasn’t yet appeared in an NHL game. Nils Lundkvist started the season with the Rangers and got sent down in January after looking not quite ready.
How much are any of them really worth?
The Rangers’ needs are obvious: They need of a right wing who can plug in on the Artemi Panarin-Ryan Strome line and score some goals, and another right wing who can play on the third line, and score some goals for that group.
Kakko could certainly be one of those. He looked good playing with Panarin and Strome early in the year, even if he didn’t score much; and he had some success playing with Chytil on a Kid Line for most of his first two seasons with the club. If Drury can get someone to fit one of those two spots, Kakko could easily fit in the other.
But he also could be a chip, perhaps the biggest one the Rangers have to offer, if Drury decided he wanted to make a blockbuster deal, one with longer-term implications.
After signing Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox to contract extensions that kick in for 2022-23, and needing to re-sign Strome, who will be an unrestricted free agent over the summer, and Kakko, who will be a restricted free agent, the Rangers have no cap space to work with next season.
But if Drury were open to dealing Kakko away as part of a package to get a guy like Vancouver’s J.T. Miller, who is under contract, at a $5.25 million cap hit, for next season, maybe Drury could make that work.
What the heck, he could throw in Chytil (a $2.3 million cap hit next season) as well, if necessary.
What is Georgiev's fate?
What is Gerard Gallant supposed to do with backup goaltender Alexandar Georgiev?
The 26-year-old is drowning in his backup role to Igor Shesterkin. He’s lost his last four decisions and is 7-8-2 on the season, with a 3.05 goals-against average and an .897 save percentage. His goals saved above average (GSAA) is minus-6.5, meaning he’s given up 6.5 goals more on the 532 shots he’s faced this season than the league average goalie would have.
When Shesterkin was on IR, or out with COVID-19, Georgiev was fine, comfortable knowing he could play without looking over his shoulder, and getting enough minutes to get into a rhythm. But when Shesterkin is healthy and playing as well as he is every night, it’s difficult not to simply ride him.
And the more Shesterkin plays, the less Georgiev plays — and the less effective he is. Against Vancouver last Sunday, in his first start in a month, Georgiev allowed four goals on 33 shots. He wasn’t terrible; he just wasn’t good enough to lift a listless Rangers team to a win that night.
So while it’s probably not his fault, Gallant can’t really trust Georgiev anymore. With no back-to-backs on the road trip this week, can the coach afford to give Georgiev a game? If not, then when?
St. Patrick’s Day at the Garden, against the Islanders, against whom he has brilliant numbers? Or one of the two back-to-back games in Tampa and Carolina on March 19-20?
And here’s a question for Drury: Do the Rangers need to add backup goaltender to their trade deadline shopping list?