With the offseason completed, all eyes are on when the NHL season begins. Once the season does begin, the roster questions will begin to answer themselves. Much like last season with Vlad Namestnikov, the NY Rangers may be looking at early season trades. There’s some roster logjams, plus more cap space never hurt anyone.
The clear front runner for one of these trades is Brendan Smith. Smith is still a useful defenseman in the right role, but comes with a $4.35 million cap hit. That cap hit isn’t much of a concern nowadays, as real dollars means more in the COVID era. Luckily for the Rangers, Smith’s $2.35 million in actual salary due is a nice bargaining chip. It also helps that he can play both sides of the blue line.
I had been predicting Smith to Ottawa for some time, and turns out the Rangers were able to move Marc Staal instead, an unexpected development. That doesn’t mean Smith to Ottawa is dead though. Ottawa has a bunch of question marks on defense, and depending on how their preseason and early season games go, they may look to add a body. Remember, Smith at 50% retained still has value to both Ottawa and the Rangers.
He’s not a lost cause, as his first game in Extraliga will show you. But he’s further down the depth now than last year. He has to compete with Tarmo Reunanen and K’Andre Miller this season. Then Yegor Rykov next season. The year after that it’s Matt Robertson and Zac Jones. There’s just a lot of depth at LD prospects.
Hajek, especially if he shows he can be an NHL player, is an interesting trade chip. He’s not a salary dump, but he’s a chip that could be used to acquire a young center. It’s less likely, for sure, especially because young defensemen are at a premium. This is only a scenario to consider if two things happen: 1) Hajek improves dramatically, and 2) One or both of Reunanen and Miller are still better in camp.
Before the two-year deals for both Brendan Lemieux and Ryan Strome, I figured Howden would have been expansion draft bait. However now the Rangers have options, and Howden may be best served as a trade chip. This situation only comes to fruition if Morgan Barron and/or Patrick Khodorenko (or Justin Richards) impress so much at camp that they force their way onto the roster. In that scenario, they’ve outplayed Howden and earned the 4C role.
Roster depth is something to consider, so trading Howden is very unlikely, but still a possibility. Injuries happen. Howden is at least an NHL body capable of filling in in a pinch. Lke Hajek, trading Howden is unlikely to start the season, but his future with the Rangers is certainly in doubt.
Phil Di Giuseppe
The Rangers are loaded at wing. The addition of Alexis Lafreniere all but ensure Di Giuseppe doesn’t see top-nine minutes all year. Assuming the Rangers keep Lemieux on the left side, that means PDG is the 5LW. With younger rookies available in the AHL, PDG may not even be the first call up, depending on how camp goes.
The thing with PDG is that he doesn’t have much trade value. If anything, he’d be claimed off waivers. I can’t imagine someone trading an asset for him, but I’m usually wrong with these kinds of things. I’ve only really nailed the Derick Brassard trade prediction. So what do I know? NY Rangers early season trades are hard to really predict.