The clock can’t strike 3 on Monday afternoon soon enough for the reeling Rangers.
That’s the trade deadline. It has been hanging over them since Feb. 8 when the front office held a news conference and said it planned to rebuild the team, that roster moves were coming before the deadline and in the summer. Out with some of the older crowd. In with the younger crowd. Stockpile draft picks.
The passing of the deadline doesn’t mean the results will necessarily get better in the short term. But the team has had to try to deal with this distraction for more than two weeks. Also, injuries have forced many young guys to get on-the-job training.
So it’s little wonder the Rangers have fallen six straight times since winning the first two after management announced its intentions. There have been two trades already (Nick Holden to Boston, Michael Grabner to the Devils). The remaining uncertainty of who’s staying and who’s going will be resolved shortly for the players, at least for the rest of a season that likely won’t include a postseason for the first time since 2010.
Currently, it’s a group split with different agendas, according to the coach.
“The biggest difference is normally there’s one agenda, and that’s a team agenda,” Alain Vigneault said after Friday night’s 4-1 loss to Minnesota at Madison Square Garden. “Right now, because of our situation and because of how things unfolded, there’s a few agendas out there, which is the circumstances that we’ve decided to put ourselves into.
“So hopefully after Monday we’ll have a group of players here and one agenda and work real hard.”
Like Holden and Grabner, Rick Nash will likely learn his destination before the deadline after being a healthy scratch Thursday and Friday nights. Multiple reports had the Rangers talking with the Bruins about him. And Ryan McDonagh, Mats Zuccarello, David Desharnais and others will know whether they’re staying or going, at least for now.
“We’ll see what happens,” said Brady Skjei, the top defenseman in McDonagh’s absence and the team leader in ice time seven of the last nine games. “It’s part of the job. Every year it comes around. When you’re out on the ice, it’s just playing hockey. So we’ve got to do a better job of getting in these games and staying in games and closing out and getting a win.”
The Rangers have one game left before the deadline, the Garden game against Detroit Sunday night, which is Jean Ratelle Night. The Wild’s Eric Staal mentioned after the last game that his team “seemed to take advantage of some of their young players.”
For the first time in eight years, there were three rookie defensemen playing for the Rangers the last two games, John Gilmour, Neal Pionk and Rob O’Gara, the Long Island native acquired from Boston in the Holden trade. And there was a 22-year-old rookie in goal.
Alexandar Georgiev started instead of the struggling Henrik Lundqvist and stopped 71 of 77 shots over the back-to-back against Montreal and Minnesota — his first two appearances in the NHL.
“He’s quick,” Marc Staal said. “He’s made some really nice saves on some good chances. It’s exciting. He’s a talented guy, and he’s played really well the past couple of games.”
Chris Kreider returned against the Wild after missing 24 games because of a blood clot and a rib resection. Vigneault said “he brought us some good energy,” and his speed that “can push the other team’s defense” was there.
The 26-year-old left wing said he feels “really lucky to be playing hockey at all, let alone in the NHL. It’s hard not to appreciate every single game at this point, especially this first one.”