New York Rangers Mailbag: All-Star Break Edition
The New York Rangers 2022-23 campaign sure didn't start the way fans had hoped - but ever since their rock bottom came at the hands of back-to-back home L's to the Sens & Blackhawks, only Carolina has been a better team in terms of points percentage. A 16-4-3 run now has the Blueshirts relatively comfortable as the Metro's 3-seed lined up with a postseason matchup against the upstart Devils. Certainly not a cupcake opponent but the easily preferred opener compared to falling into a wild card slot. With the trade deadline a month away, what this Rangers squad will morph into highlights this mailbag post so let's dive right in.
Which depth forwards and/or defensemen should they target at the deadline? I’m expecting a similar approach like last season’s acquisitions.— Rick (@SIickRick23) January 30, 2023
To-Do List:— Anthony Caraturo (@CaraturoAnthony) January 30, 2023
-Top-6 scoring wing (Kane, Meier, Tarasenko)
-LHD third pair (Gavrikov, Stanley, Edmundson?)
Do Rangers also plan on boosting the fourth line? Motte would be a nice add. 4C is a significant question mark. Not sure Jake the Snake Leschyshyn is the answer yet.
I think the Rangers will go for quality over quantity this deadline as they have a drastic need for a slam-dunk top-line RW. If your middle six is the Kid Line & something like Kreider/Trocheck/Vesey there's really not much to upgrade, but if they could conjure up a reunion with Tyler Motte and roll him with Goodrow/Gauthier that'd be a quality depth move. If you wanna make that 4th line a straight checking line they could swap Vesey & Gauthier too. Kreider/Trocheck/Gauthier is a lot of north-south size/speed/sandpaper to handle while Motte/Goodrow/Vesey is a hell of a responsible, pestering threesome. Nick Bjugstad would be another solid depth add. Big body with a little scoring touch and somehow is a +7 on an Arizona squad that's -46 while playing high-leverage minutes. A bargain at $900k that can probably be had for a 3rd, but if there's a bidding war to win then send over a 2nd. I'd rather add a guy "too good" for his role than a guy making a lateral move if the difference is simply a round higher.
I know Ben Harpur just got an extension and has "done his job" so far, but I honestly don't know how much longer that facade is gonna last. It shouldn't be much of a surprise that his analytics paint him as a guy consistently hemmed in his own zone just like any other option they've tried to crowbar into that 3LD spot the past two seasons. They've gotta improve there, or at least acquire better insurance. Gavrikov would be awesome but the price is gonna be too high to go after him as a rental. A guy I like a lot is Dmitry Kulikov. The veteran has been gobbling up minutes on an abysmal Anaheim squad and, despite his surroundings, has been solid defensively. The biggest reason he gets my attention though is that he can still skate & move the puck. I'm tired of the lumbering options back there who may play positionally sound, throw the body & block shots but once the puck is on their stick it'll either be given right back or cleared with no purpose just to get carried right back in. Kulikov is by no means a puck-moving dynamo but, since Zac Jones is apparently not gonna get another crack, has enough of a skillset to help in terms of possession & transition - especially when the speed of the game ramps up in the playoffs.
You think Drury goes for a big name (Kane, Meier) or similar to last year with a couple of role players at the deadline?— James Byrns (@james_byrns) January 30, 2023
Possible return for a kane or Meier trade?— c (@CC302043) January 30, 2023
As I said above I think adding a big gun is a must. Depth pieces like Vesey & Goodrow, while having solid seasons wherever they've been deployed, are much more beneficial to this Rangers squad when skating in their proper bottom-six lanes. Acquiring a quality weapon allows them to slide down and do exactly that. More importantly though it'd give what should be a high-powered offense the boost it needs to avoid the lulls that have plagued them, especially on the powerplay. Over their last 9 tilts the Blueshirts are converting at a putrid 8.3% (2.24) when up a man. Only the Isles have been worse. It's become stagnant and predictable. They're too talented for that to last but adding another elite option would go a long way in resurrecting a once dominant top unit while giving a finisher in Trocheck to PP2.
I just can't comprehend the Kane hate from Rangers twitter like he's all of a sudden washed up. Listen, he's obviously not physically 100% and that's a concern - but any other complaints about his on-ice production this year are plain stupid. The team around him STINKS. And the team around him last year stunk too but at least he had DeBrincat, which was all he needed to have a point on 42% of Blackhawks goals. His 92 points were almost double any forward not named DeBrincat (Strome was next with 48). This past summer Chicago lost their next 5 highest-scoring forwards and essentially swapped DeBrincat for Anathasiou as Kane's primary linemate. Yikes. He's literally the only player opponents have to worry about shutting down and they play from behind so often it's easy for teams to sit back and make sure he's got as little ice as possible. Kane is a premier playmaker without a single teammate skilled enough to make plays for. What did we think was gonna happen? He was gonna make Anathasiou a point-per-game guy? Yet despite all that he's still churning out top-40 powerplay production & has 2 more all-situations expected goals than Artemi Panarin. With NO ONE. Imagine what he'd do in NY?
If Kane's hip issue isn't likely to derail his season then he's still the primary target for me when you take into account the acquisition cost. I saw something dumb floating around Twitter that a deal for Kane STARTS with either Lafreniere or Kakko along with a first. That's the biggest load of bullshit I've ever seen. The Hawks have no leverage here just like Philly had none last year when moving Giroux. If Kane says he wants to come to Broadway then Chicago essentially takes whatever they can get, which will end up being something like a first with Jones/Kravtsov and a sweetener. They wouldn't have to move young roster pieces or part with Othmann to acquire a first-ballot HOFer with three rings who just came off a 92-point season. How could anyone have a problem with that???
If we're talking Timo Meier, we're talking pipe dream. The only way Timo Meier dons a Rangers sweater is if Drury plans on flipping him this summer to recoup some of the assets it cost to get him here. It's just not worth it. He's the crown jewel of the deadline and every team will be kicking the tires - including non-contenders with the space to ink him long term. To win that bidding war it's gonna take AT LEAST Othmann and more likely one of the Kid Line. If you're gonna move one of the Kid Line you're only doing it because you can extend Meier, which means you'll have to ship San Jose the most expensive member - Filip Chytil, who's due for a raise likely in the $4M+ range - and then find a summer trade partner for Goodrow & his 15-team NTC in order to make the money work. The Blueshirts aren't in a space where they can part with key pieces up the middle, especially a young one under team control for another two seasons who's just now started to scrape his ceiling. I'd absolutely love Meier in New York, but not for the collateral damage it'd seemingly cause. Kiss that dream goodbye.
The other big name that should be on the Rangers radar is Vladimir Tarasenko. He's got a full no-trade so he'd have to approve it but I have a hard time believing he'd say no. After a healthy '21-22 campaign that ended with a 34/48/82 line, Tarasenko was cruising with 29 points in 33 games before a hand injury sidelined him for a couple weeks. He's been held pointless since his return but has gotten off 13 shots in 4 contests so it's safe to say he'll be fine. The Blueshirts could certainly use a pure shooter and Vladi has a history of stepping up in the postseason (41 goals in 90 games). The wild card here is that he's also got a history of inconsistent effort - but you'd like to think being moved to a contender that got his stamp of approval would ensure his engine is revved all the way through the playoffs. He definitely skated with some talented players in STL (Thomas & Buch), but nothing like the potential of riding alongside Panarin & Zibanejad.
I’d be interested in how you would rank these 5 in order of NYR preference at the deadline— G Buckley (@gbuckley19) January 30, 2023
ROR, Kane, Meier, Tarasenko, Chychrun
5. Ryan O'Reilly - It's just been an awful season for the captain and now he's out with a broken foot. Mileage seems to be catching up. Pass.
4. Timo Meier - Simply because of the cost/collateral damage of acquiring/re-signing him. It's too much now and in the immediate future.
3. Vladimir Tarasenko - I'd be happy to add him and assume the cost won't be outrageous. Just too one-dimensional to get overly excited about, although it's a dimension the Rangers need. If he's not finishing though, what do you have? A disgruntled defensive liability?
2. Jakob Chychrun - I wrote about it as a hypothetical here about a month ago. Yeah the price would be high but man, adding Chychrun in his prime for 2.5 seasons to a defensive corps that already includes Fox, Miller, Lindgren, Trouba and Schnieder…you've got arguably one of the best groups in the league. Highly unlikely but I'd absolutely love being set on the back end and in the crease through '24-25.
1. Patrick Kane - It's somehow become cool for a sect of Rangers fans to shit on Kane as a player as if these 45 games without a single bonafide top-six talent override his entire career and a 92-point season a year ago. Don't like the person? Fine. Nervous about his lingering injury? Understandable. If he's good enough to go though, Kane is easily the highest return on investment option out there who can also leave cap room/assets for more low-key moves.
Do you ease up on Igor’s workload in the second half considering Halak’s recent play? There are 8 back-to-backs in the second half.— michael cowan (@cowanmike_) January 30, 2023
Any Blueshirts Cup dreams start & end with Igor's health - but I don't think his workload is a big deal. He's on pace for 60 starts which is right on par with what you'd expect from an elite #1. If not for an injury that cost him most of December last season he'd have been knocking on 60 then too. With 33 games to go & 8 back-to-backs it pretty much works out perfectly in terms of balance. Halak will essentially man the crease once a week and maybe get mop-up duty at the end of the year depending on if there's anything left to play for. Jaro finding his game makes it a hell of a lot easier to avoid over-extending Shesterkin though. Over his last 7 starts he's 6-1 with a sexy 2.02/.930 line that makes up for an ugly start as a Ranger. Maintaining that level is a lot to ask - but all he's gotta be is "good", not "great", to give his squad a chance at grabbing two points whenever their Vezina winner needs a breather.
Rangers seem to suck in Ot and have blown leads. Could this be a conditioning issue? Ice time management issue ? Or just bad OT strategy— t (@teepeesea) January 30, 2023
Overall, yeah, they've definitely been bad in OT/SO - but the majority of that came before they began to right the ship in early December. They dropped 4 of 5 games in the overtime period and another in a shootout to start the year. In half those games, they blew leads to SJ, DET & OTT. Gross. They've been better though since. 2-1 in shootouts, 2-2 in overtime periods. Extra time is a crapshoot though. No rhyme or reason. All it takes is one faceoff loss, one turnover, one homerun pass and it's an odd-man going the other way. Blowing leads to GET to those overtimes is the bigger concern. Look no further than last week when Toronto found the equalizer late in the third before letting Marner walk in for the OTGWG. Or a couple weeks prior when the Devils stormed back down 2 with less than 12 minutes on the clock.
Those games are gonna happen once in a while, especially against quality opponents - but the Blueshirts are in the bottom third of the league when leading after 2. If they were middle-of-the-pack they'd have another 4 points banked right now. That could end up being the difference between home-ice or not come April. Granted, being the 3rd best team in the league when trailing after 2 helps offset that (they've won 4 of their last 7 in this spot which is crazy), but there's no question they've gotta tighten up when playing ahead. And by "tighten up" I don't mean go into a shell. They've got to continue to dictate the game as much as possible but in a straight-line manner. Get pucks out of the d-zone and into the o-zone with purpose, then go to work on possession. I'm pretty sure that's exactly what Gallant preaches, but it's up to the players to execute. The deadline should bring a body he can trust more in late-game situations.
I’m a little disappointed in Lafreniere. Can you tell me exactly what you see when you watch him play? I honestly can’t think of one thing that he does very well. Can you?— Eddie (@iac17shore) January 30, 2023
Let me preface my answer here by saying I still think the future is bright for Alexis Lafreniere. This season though has been revealing. What specifically does he do very well? Good question. He's not a great skater, hasn't shown much high-level deception or creativity, doesn't own an elite shot & won't be mistaken for a Selke candidate. He's not a liability in any aspect but on the NHL stage he's yet to consistently display any of the A++ skills that littered his pre-draft scouting reports. None of that stopped him though from putting up impressive 5x5 goal numbers his first two seasons. Of all skaters with 1500+ 5x5 minutes over that span, Lafreniere was 28th in goals-per-60. Same rate as Nate MacKinnon. Pretty impressive company and the stat Rangers fans immediately go to when defending their guy from the "bust" crowd.
The caveat to those goals though is that no one out-performed their expected goals rate more than Laf. He essentially doubled it which is unheard of. Of the top 50 no one had a lower expected goals rate, lower individual scoring/high danger chance rates or a higher shooting percentage. So what does that mean? Was he extremely lucky or just that good at putting himself in position to cash in on opportunity? Well if this season is any indication it might've been the former. Despite more top-six ice time and a rise in shots/chances/expected goals his 6-goal output (tied for 10th on the team with Julien Gauthier) has been uninspiring. While he's obviously facing some luck regression, the biggest thing I see is a kid with zero confidence. He's trying so hard to do the right thing instead of sometimes just being an alpha and letting hockey instincts take over. A perfect example was in OT three weeks ago when Lafreniere had a prime opportunity to break out against the Devils with the puck on his stick & plenty of space. Instead of his skills taking over to create a scoring chance, he instantly froze like a six year-old at a talent show struck with stage fright & turned over the puck before a blind collision as he stared at his feet. New Jersey went the other way and won the game seconds later.
An illegal hit on Lafrenière and the Devils go on a 2-1 rush to win it in Overtime. What a horrific way to end a great game. Terrible look on the league, something needs to change. pic.twitter.com/QCgx4IWyaN— Matt NYR (26-14-8) (@Zibanejesus) January 7, 2023
We gotta remember though, we saw a passive, timid Chytil for years and now he's got an outside shot at burying 30. We saw it with Kakko as well and now he's piled up 15 points over his last 22 games. Both are skating with supreme confidence and truly look like they've turned a corner. Chytil wants the puck everywhere on the ice while Kakko is an absolute puck possession menace along the boards. That takes time though, and there's no reason to believe Lafreniere won't get there as well especially while riding the coattails of kids who have gone through the same growing pains. The reassembled Kid Line has been in on three goals together in the Rangers last three games. Laffy finding his groove again may be closer than we think.