With American Thanksgiving now behind us and the holiday season coming up, PHR continues its look at what teams are thankful for in 2022-23. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We’ll examine what’s gone well in the early going and what could improve as the season rolls on for the New York Rangers.
Who are the Rangers thankful for?
Finding a defenseman that can play shutdown defense as well as Fox or drive offense as well as he does is a very, very difficult thing for any team to do and generally involves a bit of luck. Finding one defenseman that does both seems to be a once-in-a-generation type of player, and that’s just who the Rangers have in Fox.
The defenseman’s 31 points in 31 games to date represents the best point-percentage of his career thus far and his 10.9% shooting percentage is up significantly from the 7.0% career-high he had last year. Outside of getting the puck into the net, Fox’s 60.9% Corsi and 61.0% Fenwick represent career-high’s to date, fantastic numbers even considering his 58.9% offensive-zone starts. While Fox’s play is representative of the players around him to an extent, his ability to play elite hockey at both ends is invaluable to any team and his ability to take another step even after winning a Norris Trophy is special on its own.
What are the Rangers thankful for?
A Shutdown Blueline
The Rangers come into today with a 16-10-5 record, good enough for the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, in the middle of a five-game winning streak, and fresh off a regulation win over the white-hot Toronto Maple Leafs. This short streak has certainly helped to get things going in the right direction for the team after a rather shaky start to the season, but amid the ups and downs to this point, one positive has stood out for the Rangers: the puck has stayed out of the net.
The team currently ranks 9th in the NHL in goals against, down from their second-place finish a season ago, however reigning Vezina Trophy winning goaltender Igor Shesterkin has taken a step back this season. Shesterkin’s struggles at points this season has been well documented, and this stretch has shown he could be turning things back to his 2021-22 ways, however it seems to be the Rangers defense this season that has made things easier for the team and netminder thus far.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Rangers have two defense pairs in the top-12 league-wide, featuring Jacob Trouba and K’Andre Miller as well as Fox and Ryan Lindgren. What’s more, just two of their defensemen, Trouba and Zachary Jones (16 games) are minuses. Although their blueliners aren’t driving play offensively (omitting Fox), the team’s top forwards, and Fox, have been getting the job done well enough so far, thanks in part to the superb defense putting them in that position.
What would the Rangers be even more thankful for?
Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere taking the next step
If you ask enough people, you’re likely to get a mixed bag of opinions on the Rangers’ development of young players and prospects. On one hand, the team can be praised for putting players like Fox and Shesterkin in positions to become elite, for helping good young players like Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Ryan Strome and making them stars over time, and for turning prospects like Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller into some of the league’s best shutdown defenseman. On the other hand, many would argue that Fox and Shesterkin came to the team ready for stardom while the team failed with it’s own blue-chip youngsters like Kakko, Lafreniere, and Vitali Kravtsov. Both are fair points.
One thing that should be conceded is the Rangers have done well to develop Miller, Lindgren, and center Filip Chytil, who’s enjoying a breakout season himself. In other words, this is an organization that can, has, and does develop young talent, whether or not that’s a strength is a separate argument. Now, what’s become of Kakko and Lafreniere, then? Second and first overall picks, respectively, both have clearly shown in their short careers that they are more than capable of playing NHL hockey. Both have been, overall, pretty good. Kakko has tallied 69 points over 188 career games, adding some physicality and two-way hockey into the mix, while Lafreniere has chipped in 66 points in 166 games, showing some flashes of the talent that made him a clear choice for the first overall selection.
Kakko and Lafreniere have produced, but neither has hit the ceiling expected of them or shown clear signs of getting there shortly. It’s not too late for either to get there and neither are at risk of ending their NHL careers any time soon, but a 30 or 40 point performance with a little extra from time to time isn’t the expectation of a top two pick.
On the team’s end, one would think they’d be happy to keep the pair around and see what happens, however as we’ll see in the next section, the Rangers could certainly use another top-six point-producer and with limited cap room, a breakout from even one of these two would be perfect timing.
What should be on the Rangers’ holiday wishlist?
Another top-nine scoring threat
The Rangers came into this evening 15th in the NHL in goals for, a near match to the 16th position they finished last season in. Though that’s impressive in a sense considering the team lost Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano this offseason (Ryan Strome and Vincent Trocheck a wash offensively) and still has roughly the same offense, it does show what the team might be able to do if they could add a piece like that, or perhaps one even better, into the mix. As suggested above, a breakout of Kakko or Lafreniere starting right about now would be preferable, but at this point, that’s far less out of the Rangers’ control than bringing in a proven commodity.
There’s been plenty of rumors connecting Chicago Blackhawks superstar winger Patrick Kane to the Rangers and though that would obviously fit the bill, bringing Kane to the Big Apple would require a rather complex trade, given the Rangers, as of right now, have just over $1.6MM in cap space. Even if Chicago ate half of Kane’s salary, more work would have to be done, all of this before considering the size of the return the Blackhawks would expect.
More affordable from a salary cap perspective is Vancouver Canucks center Bo Horvat, who the team appears set to trade. However, the price to acquire Horvat could be greater than that of Kane, given his sensational goal-scoring pace. The Rangers have the assets to make a splash, including a pair of 2023 first-round picks, several prospects headlined by Brennan Othmann, and young roster players like Braden Schneider, Jones, Lafreniere, and Kakko.
The Rangers could also look to Vancouver for winger Brock Boeser, who would likely be cheaper to acquire, but does come with two more years after this one carrying a $6.65MM cap hit, a tougher sell given Boeser’s struggles this season. Beyond Kane, Horvat, and Boeser, the Rangers could look to more affordable options such as Nick Ritchie of the Arizona Coyotes or Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou, both of the Blackhawks, though how much of an upgrade of their current group those players represent is a fair question.
Kane to rangers is easy math. If rangers keep staying below 1.5m till the deadline they will have about 6m in cap adjusted space. Shedding bias and halak is another 3 mil. They can almost afford him with salary retention.
As of today they have 7.1 million. And no one is taking on Halak.
Where did i someone else will take him on?
You can’t shed his salary unless someone’s gonna take him on, or you buy him out which is stupid. So what’s your solution for shedding his salary?
…burying him in ahl would cover about 75% of his salary….
They don’t need to make any trades. What they need is to give the kids playing time and make sure they’ve got cap room to sign those they want/need to keep. This team is fine, and grateful that the GMs haven’t moved any of the rebuild players. Outside of Buch, they’ve done a great job. Wished they had kept him.
To everyone talking about Halak: he’s here for the whole season. He has a NMC/NTC (because Drury runs this team like Sather) so unless he wants out, he’s not leaving.