In case you missed it the other day, Dominic Moore –out with an oblique injury– has stated he expects to return to the lineup on Saturday. Moore has been out since October 29, missing seven games in that time. Without him, the Rangers have used a combination of J.T. Miller and Brandon Mashinter to fill the hole in the lineup.
When Moore returns the Rangers will need to sit a player, and there are really only three candidates to sit right now: Miller, Mashinter, and Benoit Pouliot. Miller barely played in the Rangers 3-2 loss to New Jersey (5 minutes), but still managed to play more than Mashinter (3 minutes). Pouliot has been the topic of debate lately due to inconsistent play. A case can be made for any of the three to sit or be demoted.
But it’s not just Moore whose return is imminent. Rick Nash has been skating at practice –albeit with a yellow non-contact jersey– and he is no longer an unknown. He should be returning within a few weeks (I’m optimistic). Right now the only real unknown is Taylor Pyatt, who hasn’t been seen since his concussion.
With Moore coming back first and the Rangers set to play a few games against some smaller teams (Boston being the exception here), a safe assumption is that Mashinter is the first casualty from the lineup. Simply put: He isn’t getting minutes. The interesting thing here is that his numbers (51.9% CF%, -5.7% CF% rel, 28.6% OZ starts) are actually better than Miller’s (47.5% CF%, -7.4% CF% rel, 31.9% OZ starts). But a roster casualty doesn’t necessarily mean a demotion to the AHL.
While roster moves are the first thing our minds run to when players return to injury, New York is not in a position where they need to make a move. They don’t need the cap space at the moment (no one was on LTIR), so they don’t need to demote someone. They don’t have a spare forward at the moment, and they are about to hit a five game road trip at the end of the month. Even when Nash returns, the team may still need to keep a 14th forward (13th is a given) until after the game in Buffalo on December 5.
An important thing to keep in mind is that Moore was never placed on IR (unless I missed something). The team does not need to demote a player when he comes back. Ditto Pyatt. In fact, only Nash is on IR at the moment. When he returns the Rangers –currently carrying 24 players (Nash on IR makes it 23)– can do one of two things: 1) Demote a player, or 2) Move Pyatt to IR. We don’t know Pyatt’s time table, but if he’s hurt long term, it’s unlikely the Rangers would eliminate flexibility when they can just file paperwork to create an extra roster spot.
Although we are getting hopeful signs that players are returning from injury, the Rangers don’t necessarily need to make any roster moves to make room for the returning players. It’s a luxury and a flexibility that few teams have. It will sure be nice to see a fully healthy Rangers team in the near future.