Trade deadline strategy

It’s interesting. If you watched the Rangers play, while ignoring the rest of the conference, you might think they are destined for greatness. They’re playing uptempo hockey, bagging 2.92 goals per game. The power play is over 19% for the first time since Leetch was dropping knowledge on the NHL. Most importantly, they can just flat out fly whenever they play their game.

However, despite winning 15 of 18 games at one point, the Rangers sit in 8th place in the Eastern Conference. A playoff berth seems likely, but a chance to win the Cup still remains an elusive goal.

Tampa has our number. Ryan Callahan has dictated that much. The Bruins still manhandle us every time we take a trip up I-95. The Islanders have out scored us 13-4 this season. While we may be built for West Coast trips, handling our own conference is a different story.

Let’s face it. We’re not big enough to handle the Bruins. We’re not fast enough to handle the Islanders or the Lightning. Despite some regular season success against the Penguins, a seven game series could go either way.

The problem of course is our salary cap. We have about a mill and change to work with this season. Next year is anyone’s guess, but a combination of Staal and Girardi’s contracts and a weak Canadian dollar spell trouble.

It’s no secret, the Rangers have holes at center and on the bottom four defensive pairings, while being fairly stacked on the wings. These issues are compounded when you look at Hartford, as the cupboard is pretty much bare in those positions as well.

Right now our top prospects are arguably, Anthony Duclair (wing), Pavel Buchnevich (wing), Ryan Haggerty (wing), Brady Skjei (defense), Oscar Lindberg (center), and Bo Nieves (center). And most of these guys are at least a year or two away. Law of averages might suggest half won’t ever see Broadway on a full-time basis.

Long story short, the Rangers can’t stand pat at the deadline. They must make some upgrades to their roster, not just for this postseason, but beyond.

Acquiring depth at center will likely be too difficult to address during the trade deadline, as every hockey club wants to add centers. There’s just not enough to go around. Our best bet is to zero in on defensemen who can play in the NHL right now, but are somewhat cost controlled and still have some upside.

Sabres GM Tim Murray and Coyotes GM Dan Maloney are both on record saying they are open for business. Carolina and Edmonton will be as well, as they always are. Looking at a few of these clubs specifically, here’s a few targets on defense that are worth considering.

Michael Stone (Yotes) – The 24 year old is currently on the top pairing in Arizona playing with Keith Yandle, who is also rumored to be on the block. Stone, a righty, is a big (6’3) two-way guy with some jam in his game. He is locked in at $1.1M for another season and then he’s an RFA. Stone also has a decent point shot and popped 8 goals last season.

Another righty probably isn’t ideal in the short-term, but let’s face it, Boyle will likely be two and out and who knows what will happen with McIlrath.

Ryan Murphy (Canes) – Faulk gets all the love. Sekera gets all the ink. Murphy is the guy on Carolina’s blueline I’d target. He’s 24, in his sophomore season, and has a paltry cap hit of $826K for another season before being an RFA. Murphy, another righty, can wheel. He dominated the OHL dropping over a point per game at Kitchner.

He’s listed at 5’10 185 lbs, so he’s never going to be a shutdown guy, but at this point our roster has enough of those. Not defining metrics, but for what it’s worth Murph’s corsi and scoring chance percentages have improved over last year, which is a feat since his team hasn’t.

Mike Weber (Sabres) – Another name that may not have the appeal of a Yandle, or an OEL, but could be a nice pickup for the playoff run and beyond is Mike Weber. Weber has been manning Buffalo’s blueline for his entire 6 year career. At age 27, he is right in the middle of his prime. He’s locked up at $1.6M for another season before becoming a UFA.

Weber is a 6’2 lefty in the defensive d-man mold. He plays a quick, but physical style game and could probably make the transition to AV’s man-on-man defensive system. Acquiring him could free up Klein for more offensive opportunities, or he could lock it down for Boyle. His fancy stats numbers are ugly, but how much of that is due to the club he plays on is up for debate.

None of these players are particularly expensive and wouldn’t blow up our cap. So as far as what’s heading in the other direction, I don’t think you need to start including MZA or Hagelin in any scenarios until the offseason. Picks and/or prospects, maybe J.T. Miller should get it done.