About a week ago, rumors broke that Joe Thornton would waive his no-trade clause if fans in San Jose wanted him out. As soon as that news broke, people instantly began linking him to the Rangers because of past connections with Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis.
It’s the offseason, so we are going to get a lot of “rumors” like this. I put rumors in quotes because right now this is baseless speculation. It’s one reporter saying Thornton might want to go to New York because he has friends from the Olympics there. The problem is that, while Thornton does fill a need for the Rangers, there’s no viable way to get him to New York.
There are really two trade situations for Thornton: A deal that helps the Sharks retool their farm system or a deal that helps them for the immediate future.
The only NHL ready prospects are Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, and J.T. Miller. Since there are pending free agents that the Rangers may be unable to sign, there is a need for at least one, if not all three on the current roster. Also, none of those three are impact players. They are nice complementary players, but they aren’t game breakers. The only young game breaker the Rangers have is Chris Kreider. If he was a non-starter for Rick Nash, he’s a non-starter for Thornton.
In terms of prospects, the Rangers have some raw talent in Dylan McIlrath, Danny Kristo, Conor Allen, and others. But would San Jose, who had a solid regular season before their epic playoff collapse, really want to trade Thornton for prospects? This doesn’t even factor in Thornton’s $6.75 million deal for the next three seasons (offset by buying out Brad Richards, but still limits flexibility).
Plus, if they go the prospect route, the Rangers are without perhaps the biggest piece needed in that type of deal: A first round pick. They dealt two to Tampa Bay in the St. Louis/Callahan swap, leaving them without a pick in the first round until 2016.
There’s always the option of dealing a roster player, Marc Staal or Dan Girardi always seem to pop up in these conversations, but that may wind up being even worse than dealing from an already depleted farm system. The Rangers are spectacularly thin on NHL-ready defensemen, and are likely to lose Anton Stralman to free agency.
First, trading Staal would open up a huge hole on the second pairing. John Moore isn’t ready for second pairing minutes, and Staal is locked up for next year at a very reasonable cap hit ($3.975m). Trading him makes zero sense, as you just open up another hole.
The argument for trading Girardi makes more sense than trading Staal. The logic is that you trade Girardi and his $5.5 million cap hit for Thornton. You then use the $5.5 million to re-sign Stralman. Problem here is, again, you open up a hole. Stralman is a solid second pairing guy, but he’s no top-pairing defenseman. Kevin Klein isn’t really suited for top-four minutes, even though he faked it well in Nashville.
Basically, Thornton to New York makes little sense for the Rangers. Trading for him either creates another hole in the lineup or further depletes an already depleted farm system. In the short-term, the Rangers are better off looking for a cheaper option, both in dollars and roster cost.