BOSTON — When the clock struck three on Wednesday afternoon, there had been nothing but silence from the Rangers for hours.
The annual NHL trade deadline had passed, and except for defenseman Brendan Smith, who was acquired from the Red Wings on Tuesday and will make his Rangers debut on the first pair against the Bruins on Thursday, the group that has been in place all season is, for all practical purposes, the one trekking to the playoff battle.
Whether that squad is enough for a deep playoff run is debatable.
For third-year general manager Jeff Gorton, surrendering high draft picks and prospects for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who was scooped up by the Capitals, wasn’t considered a reasonable option. Their other serious competition in the Metropolitan Division, the Penguins, added several defensemen, including Mark Streit. The Blue Jackets reeled in Lauri Korpikoski and Kyle Quincy for depth.
Gorton had $6.6 million available in salary cap space, presumably reserved for Shattenkirk, if necessary. Coach Alain Vigneault does have eight defensemen with NHL experience, but no real size and truculence in the bottom six upfront, elements of value in the meat-grinder that will be the playoff group in the Metro Division. A player such as the Kings’ 6-4 wing Dwight King, who went to the Canadiens Wednesday, might have been a fit.
Should the Blueshirts finish with the first wild-card, a very distinct possibility, they will cross over to play the No. 1 team in the Atlantic Division in the first round, which currently is Montreal and which also added pest Steve Ott and sturdy defensemen Jordie Benn and Brandon Davidson. But the initial opponent could also be Ottawa, Florida, Toronto or Boston.
To be sure, speed can counter-strike in transition against some bigger, heavier teams, especially if the power play can cash in. But the 5-on-4 units have been bankrupt (1-for-29) for quite some time. The penalty kill has been a little leaky, too, allowing a goal in five of the last six.
A string of injuries has thrown a curve as well: Dan Girardi (ankle) is out for about two weeks, and Kevin Klein’s back spasms have re-surfaced. Jesper Fast, the reliable, fearless right wing, will miss 2-3 weeks with a shoulder injury incurred on Alex Ovechkin’s hit on Tuesday. Center Mika Zibanejad’s wrist is sore. Derek Stepan seems to be laboring with a sore hip and hasn’t scored a goal in 17 games. With 15 games in March and two longish road trips, the Rangers, who made two minor-league trades, will be challenged.
Forwards Pavel Buchnevich, Nicklas Jensen and Marek Hrivik, all currently available in Hartford, can step in, but have scant playoff experience.
On the plus side, the Rangers have a No. 1 draft pick in June for the first time in five years, which likely will be in the mid-20s, and Gorton can keep that or package it to move up or trade.
However, that won’t provide any juice for the last 20 games of this season, and presumably in April and May.