When the Anaheim Ducks traded defenseman Josh Manson to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, that was the first domino to fall in what is likely to be a hectic final week before the NHL trade deadline arrives next Monday. And with the Ducks having now declared themselves to be a team ready to sell, then Tuesday night's game at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers was well-timed.
The Rangers, as everyone knows, are looking to buy at the deadline this year. And with the Ducks closing out their five-game road trip against the Blueshirts, Rangers GM Chris Drury could sit in his box at the Garden on Tuesday night and get a good look, with his own two eyes, at what Anaheim has to offer.
Unfortunately for Drury, perhaps the player he most covets from the Ducks’ roster, forward Rickard Rakell was not in the showcase on Tuesday. The 6-1, 195-pound Swede missed his second consecutive game with what the Ducks said was an upper-body injury.
And while that may be a case of poor timing, it wasn’t going to change the fact that the 28-year-old Rakell, who is a pending unrestricted free agent, would make an excellent addition to coach Gerard Gallant’s lineup over the season’s final 22 games and into the playoffs. Rakell is a two-time 30-goal scorer who has 16 goals and 12 assists in 51 games this season, and assuming whatever kept him out of the lineup Tuesday night wasn’t a long term problem, he’d be a fit on the right wing of any of the Rangers’ top three lines.
The thing is, Rakell wasn’t the only shiny object on the Anaheim roster that might be appealing to the Rangers. Ducks GM Pat Verbeek has gone on record saying that he is trying to sign all his upcoming UFAs to extensions, but if he can’t do that before the deadline, then he’ll look to trade them.
Defenseman Hampus Lindholm, another 28-year-old Swede, is another of the Ducks’ pending UFAs who might intrigue Drury. The Rangers don’t necessarily have a pressing need for a veteran defenseman, but they are looking to improve wherever they can, so if Drury determines that someone like Lindholm would be an upgrade over someone like Patrik Nemeth – currently the left defenseman on the third pair – then perhaps he would consider it.
Meanwhile, Gallant, whose team is coming off a 2-2 road trip, insists he is focused on the players he has in-house, and isn’t involved with Drury’s efforts to upgrade the roster before the deadline.
"No, not really,’’ Gallant said after practice Monday. "This is my first year with Chris at this time of the year, and obviously we’ve talked about individual players – what possibly could happen -- but it hasn't been a lot, honestly. Chris wants me to coach my team, the guys I’ve got here. That's all I'm going to do. And that's my job. But again, if he asked me about some players that I know, then I'll definitely give him the feedback.’’
Their loss to the Islanders Sunday night was apparently the impetus the Ducks needed to convince them to give up on trying to chase a Western Conference playoff spot this year and start selling off assets now. They agreed to retain half of Manson’s $4.1 million salary and got back defensive prospect Drew Helleson and a second-round draft pick in 2023 in exchange.
The Rangers have plenty of salary cap room this season and a cupboard full of prospects to offer up. So Drury and Verbeek would have had lots to talk about if they just happened to bump into each other in the Garden press box.
And while the Rangers are primarily focused on rental players, such as Rakell and Lindholm, there’s every reason to believe if there is a player under contract next season Drury likes, he will try to get creative.