When asked Wednesday morning whether or not the team needs to make a trade to create more offense, New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault told Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News, "I think we need to get the pieces that we have here to play better."
With limited say in the team’s trade and free-agency happenings, Vigneault’s response was exactly what was expected. As a coach, it’s his job to worry about the players on his active roster and make sure they’re playing the best hockey they can.
However, that doesn't mean the Rangers aren't short on offensive talent.
Before the season even began, there was concern over who would score goals for the club. And that was before Rick Nash—the team’s main source of offense—went down with a concussion. Nash has missed 12 games this season and the Rangers have at times been painful to watch.
They’re 25th in the league in goals per game and the lack of any legitimate offensive game-breakers is one of the reasons the team has a sub-.500 record.
Players like Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard and Carl Hagelin can be counted on to chip in on the offense—even though they've all struggled this season—but the Rangers need more offensive firepower to work with.
With a lack of top-end offensive talent waiting in the wings, the Rangers are short on options. If they want to beef up their group of forwards, there are only two options: exploring the trade market and free agency.
Unfortunately, neither may be a viable choice for the Rangers.
As of Wednesday, CapGeek indicates that the Rangers have just $620,717 of cap space available, although that figure includes the salaries of both healthy scratches (Brandon Mashinter and Justin Falk) and Nash, who has not yet been placed on the long-term injured reserve. If he were to be, his $7.8 million cap hit would come off the books until he is reactivated.
The point is the Rangers don’t have a lot of cap space available and would be limited in the free-agency—which is weak at this point anyway—and trade markets.
The second issue is that the Rangers don’t have many valuable assets that they’d be willing to part with. If the team wanted to acquire a big, talented forward, it would most certainly have to part with Chris Kreider. Moving the 22-year-old would be unwise at this point.
The valuable assets the Rangers do have at their disposal and could move if there was interest are Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto.
Girardi, although a strong defensive defenseman, appears to have lost a step this year and is an impending UFA in July. The 29-year-old will also command a high price tag and the Rangers may not be able to re-sign him.
Therefore, if they could move him out for a solid offensive piece, I think they’d have to pull the trigger. With that said, it would be difficult to find a viable partner willing to take on an expiring contract.
As for Del Zotto, it’s no secret that the offensive defenseman’s stock has taken a hit over the last couple of seasons, but he could be a player that sparks the interest of other teams. He’s generally responsible in his own end and even provides a physical presence.
However, former coach John Tortorella did a number on the 23-year-old’s offensive game and his impact in the opponent’s end has severely diminished.
The Rangers are deep in the defense department and would be wise to shop Del Zotto, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for him to be the centerpiece of a Nail Yakupov deal. Larry Brooks of the New York Post reported that the Edmonton Oilers are mulling over the possibility of trading the former No. 1 overall pick.
What the Rangers absolutely cannot do is be desperate right now. Their struggles are frustrating, but there’s been enough turnover in the past couple of seasons and the prospect pool is starting to deplete. There’s no need for the organization to overpay for a potential quick fix.
This isn't a Stanley Cup contender right now, and as much as Glen Sather probably doesn't want to believe that, this team needs to gear up for the future. That means the Blueshirts need to keep all their best assets intact and stay clear of knee-jerk reactions.
Therefore, the Rangers should be active in the trade market, but not desperate. Sather should not be looking to make a deal, but rather seeing if there’s interest in some of his movable assets (Girardi and Del Zotto).
This team needs some stability, and AV is absolutely on the money about wanting to get his current players playing better. He’s an excellent coach and known for getting the best out of his guys.
Sather should let Vigneault work with the group and allow them to get comfortable with each other.
Next summer, when the cap goes up and Brad Richards is potentially bought out, Sather can then tweak his club. At that point, he’ll be far removed from the desperation he’s feeling now.