The New York Rangers are finally starting to play like an elite team after a slow start to the season and have won five of their last six games.
However, there are still holes in the Rangers roster, primarily in the bottom-six forward group, where the team lacks the superb depth it had last season.
As much as the Rick Nash trade has helped the Blueshirts, losing valuable depth players such as Artem Anisimov has left head coach John Tortorella without four quality lines to use each game. Young players such as J.T. Miller have been forced to play important roles, which isn't an ideal situation for a team expected to win the Stanley Cup.
Rangers GM Glen Sather isn't the least bit pleased with his club's inconsistency. Sources say the Rangers are trying to do "something" to shake the club out of the doldrums since it would appear coach John Tortorella isn't going anywhere. Since the Rangers have skill, they'd like to bring in more grit. The talk amongst NHL executives is the Rangers have floated the idea of moving RW Marian Gaborik. He has a cap hit of $7.5 million through 2013-15 and will be a UFA at the end. It's believed the Rangers are sniffing around to see what kind of value he has on the market ...
Trading Gaborik for "depth" and not getting a star player in return might not seem like a good idea to some Rangers fans, but it's almost impossible to win in the playoffs without the proper amount of scoring depth and truculence.
Let's take a look at the offensive production that New York's bottom-six forwards have provided the team through the first half of the season (24 games).
As you can see from the chart above, the Rangers don't have the offensive depth they had last season, when players such as Anisimov (36 points), Brandon Dubinsky (34 points), Brandon Prust (17), Ruslan Fedotenko (20 points) and John Mitchell (16 points) gave the third and fourth lines a good combination of scoring, toughness, defense and penalty-killing ability.
When you also consider the fact that Boyle is having one of the worst seasons of his career and top prospect Chris Kreider isn't even capable of making the NHL roster at the moment, it's clear that Sather has to make a move for additional bottom-six scoring.
The acquisition of Nash has made Gaborik expendable because the newly acquired power forward is a better playmaker, adds more truculence to the lineup and is more consistent offensively than the veteran winger.
Nash is an all-around better fit in the Rangers' defensive-minded style of play than Gaborik and still finds ways to positively impact games even when he doesn't score goals, which is something Gaborik rarely does.
Nash leads the Rangers in scoring with 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) despite missing four games with an unspecified upper-body injury earlier last month. At this point, it's safe to say that coming to a major market with high expectations has not caused Nash to be any less effective than he was with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and now that he has top-tier players around him, we are finally seeing just how productive he can be offensively.
With that said, there's no reason why Sather should be against trading Gaborik, especially if the right deal can be made.
The 31-year-old forward is one of the league's streakiest scorers. After scoring five goals in his first five games of the season, Gaborik has found the back of the net only three times in his last 19 games. If we were in a normal 82-game season, Gaborik would be on pace to score just 27 goals.
With the salary cap going down to $64.3 million next season, the Rangers would have $33.12 million in cap space tied up between Nash, Gaborik, Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan and star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. That's more than half of the team's cap payroll spent on just five players.
This wouldn't be an ideal situation with important players such as defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forwards Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin due for raises at the end of this season as restricted free agents. In the summer of 2014, Callahan, Lundqvist, Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi will also be eligible for free agency.
The tremendous quality and depth in the 2013 draft class will give more value to draft picks before the April 3 trade deadline, so if the Rangers could acquire a first-round pick in this year's draft as part of a deal involving Gaborik, that would be a good move. The Rangers already traded their first selection in this year's draft to the Blue Jackets in the Nash trade.
The Rangers have enough top-six talent without Gaborik to win the Stanley Cup in 2013, and if Sather is able to trade him and acquire some quality depth forwards who are capable of providing toughness, penalty killing and some additional scoring to the lineup, he should strongly consider making a bold move.
Trading Gaborik would not be a move that signals that New York is giving up on the 2013 season. It would bolster the club's depth and make the Rangers a more complete team, one that would be much tougher to beat in the playoffs with four quality lines, a strong blue line and an elite goalie.
The Rangers could certainly wait until next year to trade Gaborik, but at that point, he will be less than a year away from free agency, and it's unlikely that teams would offer Sather anything valuable to acquire the star winger when they could just sign him in the summer and keep their prospects/draft picks.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs.
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