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NHL trade deadline a lingering cloud over Rangers

"It's a thing where you don't really know what's going to happen,'' defenseman Marc Staal, the second-longest tenured Ranger, said. "It's the same feeling we had last year, going through it. It's not a fun situation for anyone.''

Rangers right wing Mats Zuccarello looks on against

Rangers right wing Mats Zuccarello looks on against the Kings during the first period of a game at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 4. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Three games remain for the Rangers before the NHL’s trade deadline on Monday. Three games – or fewer – for this current group to be together. And the days are growing increasingly uncomfortable.

“It’s a thing where you don’t really know what’s going to happen,’’ defenseman Marc Staal, the second-longest tenured Ranger, and an alternate captain, said after the Rangers closed a four-game road trip Tuesday with a 2-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. “It’s the same feeling we had last year, going through it. It’s not a fun situation for anyone.’’

The players on the team have been asked about the impending deadline virtually every day for the last few weeks. Popular forwards Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes, both set to become unrestricted free agents this summer, are the two players everyone expects to be traded by the deadline. Both are on record saying they don’t wish to be traded, and both have played well this season. Adam McQuaid, the defenseman the Rangers acquired in a trade with Boston on the eve of training camp, is another unrestricted free agent whose name has been come up in trade speculation. He also has said he wants to stay with the Rangers, and he also has played well.

“I thought, all the guys we’ve had in here that have been rumored, they – and we – have done a great job of still competing for each other, and playing the game the right way,’’ Staal said. “It’s a testament to them and to our team. And so, we wait. There’s a few more games until the deadline.’’

After going 2-2 on their road trip, the Rangers, who were off Wednesday (they host the Minnesota Wild on Thursday), have a record of 26-25-8, good for 60 points through 59 games. They’ve played well recently, and they’ve been competitive. They are 5-5-1 since the All Star break and 9-6-1 since an 0-5 start to calendar year 2019.

And the youngsters seem to be coming along under coach David Quinn’s tutelage. Filip Chytil, the 19-year-old forward who was one of two first-round picks by the team in 2017, has been up and down – but mostly up – and has 10 goals and 10 assists in 57 games. Brett Howden, the 20-year-old center acquired at the trade deadline a year ago from Tampa Bay in the blockbuster Ryan McDonagh-J.T. Miller deal, had played in every game but one before he suffered a knee injury just after the All-Star break. And goaltender Alexandar Georgiev has played well enough to earn himself more ice time down the stretch, according to Quinn.

So things are going according to plan at the moment. But the next part of that plan is days away from happening. The team might look very different a week from now after the trade deadline has come and gone. And that part might not be so much fun.

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