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With Chris Kreider Set For Surgery, What Do The Rangers Do Now?

Not exactly surprising news, but Chris Kreider having surgery to essentially have a rib shaved down sounds pretty ominous. When I blogged about this last week I noted that his issue was comparable to Andrei Vasilevskiy a couple seasons ago where he missed 2 months – that was the early side of an expected 2-3 months. Assuming this ends up best case scenario for the Rangers, which is pure speculation, last year’s leading goal scorer could return for the final 10-15 games of the regular season. I don’t think the Blueshirts can sit back and wait for that to happen though. So what happens now?

Well this is the New York Rangers. They’ve never been a team to “throw in the towel” and they won’t do so now. Nor should they. Even without Kreider they’re still a well-balanced team on the wings, although they’re obviously better when he’s in the lineup. They will still be active at the trade deadline (or sooner) looking to improve their squad for another anticipated playoff run. But the loss of such an important piece for what could easily be the rest of the season should be more of a reason to try and make calculated improvements rather than an “all-in” move. They’re in a position to avoid sacrificing too much of their own future while still looking for a spark down the stretch.

It starts with trading Rick Nash. I know there’s Nash loyalists out there who point out how well he’s skating this year. And they’re right. He’s skating hard, driving pucks to the net, creating scoring opportunities – but what’s the result? 17 points in 40 games from a top 6 wing. Just 2 PPG, both of which came almost 2 months ago. That’s entirely unacceptable & a continuation of a decline that’s not his fault. Father Time hits some players earlier than others. But after a monstrous ’14-’15, Nash played 60 games & buried just 15. He shot 8% on the year – which is essentially where he is again now. For those saying he’s been unlucky, maybe you’re right. But “unlucky” has been more the norm than not ever since he notched 42 goals. It’s silly to hold onto a soon-to-be 34 year-old UFA and hope he “gets lucky” when you’re a team on the fence.

For those who might bring up how well Nash plays defensively – sure, he’s one of the Rangers better defensive forwards. Active stick. Responsible with the puck. He’s a primary PK component on a top-10 unit. That’s all true. But compare him to the other 3 forwards that are mainstays on the kill. Nash is on the ice for TWICE the rate of PPG against than Fast, Grabner or Hayes. At even strength, only Zibanejad is on the ice for a higher rate of goals among top-6 forwards. Now understand what I’m saying here. I am NOT singling out Rick Nash. I am not scapegoating. I am simply pointing out that there’s no statistical reason that backs this team in this situation hanging onto an aging UFA. For whatever reason, the marriage hasn’t worked for a majority of the last 2 & a half seasons and almost never in the playoffs. But there’s certainly other teams that would love to rent his veteran presence & hope a change of scenery (and teammates) can get the best out of him.

Look no further than the Islanders. I’m using them as an example simply because I know more of their situation being a local team than most others in the league. But they lost Nikolay Kulemin earlier this year. He was one of their best defensive wings & ate up PK minutes. They’re a very top-heavy scoring team who leaks goals at a league-high rate thanks in part to the second-worst penalty kill. You don’t think the Isles wouldn’t love to bring a guy like Nash on board in an attempt to get back to the playoffs? A veteran who’s played a ton of meaningful hockey in a young locker room who could help in every single area they’re lacking? Don’t forget the Isles got some extra draft picks to play with when they shipped Hamonic to Calgary. Again, this is purely a hypothetical but I’m sure there’s some other teams in similar situations.

So what could the Blueshirts expect as a return? Well for starters they’d most likely have to eat half of his remaining salary – but that’s fine. They’ve actually got a decent amount of cap space already with Nash on the roster. Last year the Ducks gave up a second rounder for Patrick Eaves. Thomas Vanek fetched a third & a player (albeit Dylan McIlrath). Only centers & D bring in the huge hauls, not wingers. Based on those comparables I think a second & a sweetener is fair market price. One that I’m sure a squad not on his 12-team no-trade list would gladly pay. If that landing spot is found, Gorton has to pull the trigger.

Gorton doesn’t have to stop there though. With even more cap space and a spare draft pick to kick around the Rangers can go after anyone they want. There’s not many, if any, Cs or Ds that might be available that could help the Rangers where they need it most. But what about a guy like Evander Kane? 26 years old, having a career year on a terrible team. Seemingly more mature now. Real tough kid, plays a heavy game. Shoots a ton, can play either special teams and most importantly has never seen the playoffs through 8 NHL seasons. I would love to see this kid’s sandpaper attitude in a meaningful stretch of hockey on a quality squad. Even if it’s not Kane, Gorton could flip what he acquired for Nash and bring in a player he thinks could have a greater impact than the lack of one Nash has had.

If the plan is to improve this team despite losing Chris Kreider for at least a significant chunk of the year, doing it without giving up much of their own future is the only way to try. The best way to use someone else’s future is to acquire it by parting ways with a longtime Ranger who shouldn’t have one here. Rick Nash’s greatest value to the Blueshirts is saying goodbye.