The New York Rangers are headed in the right direction with a 5-1-1 record in their last seven games after a poor start to the season, but adding some forward depth to the roster should still be a goal for general manager Glen Sather before the April 3 trade deadline.
The ideal player for Sather to target is Colorado Avalanche restricted free agent center Ryan O'Reilly, whose two-way game would be a perfect fit in head coach John Tortorella's physical style of play.
There's a belief he will never play for the Avalanche again. I do believe that this week the Avalanche and the New York Rangers kind of went down the road on what a deal would look like and they talked about Ryan O'Reilly and one of Colorado's defenseman for a package that I believe would have included Michael Del Zotto, a player that the Avalanche really like. But as Colorado started asking for more and more, the Rangers pulled back and said no. So that's off right now...
Brian Boyle has not played well this season in the third-line center spot and was a healthy scratch for a few games last week.
Adding more depth, offensive skill and grit to the third line is one move that could help catapult the Blueshirts up the standings and give them a roster that's more capable of making a Stanley Cup run than the current edition. Very rarely does a team without four quality lines win the Stanley Cup.
O'Reilly scored 18 goals with 37 assists in 81 games for the Avalanche last season despite not having a lot of quality offensive talent around him. New York's offense ranks 17th in goals scored and its power play is the worst in the league. O'Reilly would help both of these areas, and while his offensive game improved tremendously in 2011-12, defense is where the 22-year-old forward really shines.
He finished fourth in the Frank J. Selke Trophy (given to the NHL's best defensive forward) voting last season and should be a finalist for the award many times over the next decade. O'Reilly led the league in takeaways last season with 101, had 62 hits and also won 52.8 percent of his faceoffs.
His gritty and responsible play defensively would benefit the Rangers tremendously because he thrives in a physical, heavy style of hockey. O'Reilly will block shots, backcheck, kill penalties and also give the team's bottom-six forward group a much-needed scoring boost.
The following video is one example of how O'Reilly's impressive defense can quickly turn into a quality scoring chance.
At the moment, the Rangers' bottom-six (including Boyle, Taylor Pyatt, Jeff Halpern, J.T. Miller, Stu Bickel, Chris Kreider, Darroll Powe and Aaron Asham) has a combined 11 points this season, which isn't anywhere near the scoring production needed from this group. The Rangers don't possess championship depth at forward, and this is a serious concern that must be corrected before the trade deadline.
There's no question that O'Reilly would be a great addition to the Blueshirts roster, but finding an acceptable trade package that Avalanche general manager Greg Sherman would find acceptable could be a real challenge.
Friedman mentioned Del Zotto in the above passage, and even though the young defenseman has had a good Rangers career as a solid offensive defenseman, he shouldn't be an untouchable player. Ryan McDonagh is a future superstar that Sather must keep at all costs, but Del Zotto is not this kind of player.
Offensively, he's fantastic, but with veteran defenseman Marc Staal back in the lineup full time after battling a concussion last season, Del Zotto's importance to the team's scoring output from the blue line is not what it was in 2011-12.
Sather has to re-sign McDonagh after this season (RFA) and must also consider extending Del Zotto and All-Star defenseman Dan Girardi in the summer of 2014. Each of these players will be due for substantial raises, and of the three, Del Zotto is the least important.
Del Zotto alone probably isn't going to pry O'Reilly from Colorado, so the Rangers might have to part with a young forward such as Chris Kreider or J.T. Miller. Both forwards have a lot of potential and have impressed at times, but each player has been inconsistent at the NHL level.
Miller has added a physical presence to the Rangers lineup with two goals scored in six games this season, while Kreider has struggled mightily in 2013 with one goal in seven games.
Kreider has more potential long term as a goal-scoring power forward, so he should be kept, especially since Miller can give Colorado the physical center that it will need if O'Reilly is traded.
Sather chose not to trade Del Zotto, Kreider or Miller as part a possible package for Rick Nash at last year's trade deadline, and luckily for the Rangers, their patience paid off when Nash was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the summer for very little.
Since the team didn't have to part with any quality assets for Nash, Sather now has some valuable trade chips to use for O'Reilly, who is younger than Nash and will not cost the Rangers as much in salary.
Sather could try to offer Boyle, but he's not a young player with a bright future. Derek Stepan would be an ideal replacement for O'Reilly in Colorado, but trading both him and Del Zotto would be foolish.
A package of Miller and Del Zotto should be the Rangers' best offer for O'Reilly and an Avalanche defenseman (such as Shane O'Brien). Anything more and Sather would be giving up too much.
This is how Tortorella's lines could look if Del Zotto and Kreider or Miller are traded for O'Reilly and a Colorado defenseman.
|1||Carl Hagelin||Derek Stepan||Rick Nash|
|2||Marian Gaborik||Brad Richards||Ryan Callahan|
|3||Taylor Pyatt||Ryan O'Reilly||Chris Kreider/J.T. Miller|
|4||Arron Asham||Brian Boyle||Jeff Halpern|
|D||Ryan McDonagh||Dan Girardi|
|D||Stu Bickel or Shane O'Brien ||Marc Staal|
|D||Anton Stralman||Matt Gilroy|
The Rangers' depth on the blue line would take a hit if Del Zotto was traded, but Tortorella would still have three elite defensemen, plus a Vezina Trophy winner in Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes.
Signing O'Reilly to a contract that meets his demands could be a significant challenge, especially since Sather has been unwilling to give RFAs more than two years coming off their entry-level deals, which was the case with Del Zotto after the recent lockout.
However, a two-year deal worth anywhere between $5-5.5 million would be appropriate for O'Reilly and gives the Rangers two years to determine if he's worth a monster long-term contract in the future. He will contribute in so many areas, and at just 22 years old, O'Reilly is still several seasons away from the prime of his career.
Should Sather trade Kreider or Miller this season?
His ceiling is a No. 1 center, and the Rangers will need one of these soon if Brad Richards doesn't improve and/or is bought out before the 2014-15 season.
The Rangers are as close to a championship as any team in the NHL and will be for at least two or three more years since the core of the team is strong with a great mixture of young and experienced players.
Acquiring O'Reilly is a move that would give the Rangers a great chance to win the Stanley Cup this season and well into the future. His two-way game and gritty play in all three zones would be a perfect fit in the Rangers lineup.