At 20-19-2 through the first 41 games of the season, the New York Rangers are at a crossroads. Upper management has two realistic options: a) retool and bring in some fresh blood to change the makeup of the team and hope the move or moves yield positive results; or b) blow it up and rebuild.
Judging by general manager Glen Sather’s offseason moves—and his general distaste for a formal rebuild—blowing it up doesn't seem likely, although stranger things have happened.
That being said, Sather and management should no doubt be very active on the trade market regardless of which road they choose to travel down. And what makes things even more interesting is that there aren't too many players on this team who at this point are untouchable. So if the Rangers continue to rot in mediocrity, it’s only a matter of time before a deal or two is made.
So, in that vein, let’s take a look at the five players the Rangers should most aggressively look to move on the trade market.
Michael Del Zotto
Since Michael Del Zotto’s disappointing sophomore campaign in 2010-11—which included a couple of stints in Connecticut of the AHL—the Stouffville, Ontario native has seemingly forever been mentioned in trade rumors, the most recent of which linked him to Edmonton.
Del Zotto broke into the league as an offensive-defenseman who could quarterback a power play and thread a needle with his passing ability. This is the type of player Del Zotto used to be, during his rookie season, but a crisis of confidence in his second season resulted in him second-guessing himself in his own zone while also appearing reluctant to join the rush.
I personally believe former coach John Tortorella had a lot to do with Del Zotto’s regression. Tortorella essentially wants all six of his defenseman two play the same way: cut down angles, finish checks and collapse in the slot. That’s all great, but offensive creativity was never encouraged.
And although Del Zotto improved greatly in 2011-12, he still lost a lot of what made him valuable to the team in the first place. Unfortunately in 2013-14, Del Zotto is playing the worst hockey of his professional career and has simply become a liability.
But being a former first-round pick possessing a fair amount of potential, the 23-year-old still has value. That’s why the Rangers should pull the trigger now and package Del Zotto with a pick or prospect to obtain a top-six forward.
Other than Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash, Derick Brassard has probably been the most disappointing player on the Rangers this season.
After arriving from Columbus at the trade deadline last season, Brassard impressed, scoring 11 points in 13 regular season games.
The 26-year-old looked even better in the playoffs. He was actually the Rangers’ best forward and tallied 12 points in 12 games.
Needless to say, hopes were high for Brassard, especially considering Brad Richards’ meltdown in the latter half of 2012-13. In nearly all pre-season previews, Brassard was penciled in as the Rangers’ second-line center.
But Richards came into training camp in great shape and turned out to be the Rangers' best player through the team’s first ten games. As a result, Brassard was bounced around between the second and third lines and even saw time as a winger.
The fact is Brassard has yet to find any consistency. His decision making has been poor, his passing—which is his best asset—has been off and he’s clearly lost his confidence.
Brassard is a talented kid, and his struggles in Columbus have been well documented, but Sather should look to see what the market would yield for a piece like him. I’m not saying the organization should necessarily give-up on Brass, but rather see if they could bring in a better option.
Brian Boyle’s situation is nearly the same as Del Zotto’s in the fact that both players have seen success with the Rangers but have fallen on hard times, yet the player still has notable trade value.
In 2010-11 Boyle scored 21 goals, and that was the best and worst thing he ever did. It was the best because, well, he scored 21 goals and that’s impressive for a player of his pedigree. But it was also the worst thing for his career because in the succeeding two seasons Boyle was expected to replicate production.
If Boyle proved one thing over the course of the last two seasons, it is that he cannot replicate that kind of production and will probably never come close to the 20-goal mark again.
But Boyle still has a lot to offer. First of all he’s huge (6’7”, 244 lbs), and although he doesn’t play mean, he can be tough to handle in front of the net and in the corners. He’s also a great teammate and is willing to buy into any system he’s a part of.
At the trade deadline last season there was a lot of interest in Boyle, but the Sather made the decision to keep the 29-year-old. But Boyle is now a pending UFA who currently makes $1.7 million. If Sather catches wind that Boyle is looking for a raise he should be traded. If he’s willing to take a pay cut to remain in New York, then it’s worth it to sign him, as he’s a solid fourth-line option.
But again, as has been the case with the previous two players, it’s worth it to see what the market would return on Boyle, who would be missed if he was dealt.
Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi
It’s tough to imagine the New York Rangers not only without their captain Ryan Callahan, but also without defensive stalwart Dan Girardi.
But I’m not suggesting both should be traded. Just one of them.
This is something I really think the Rangers should do. And here’s why.
Callahan currently makes $4.275 million while Girardi makes $3.325 million and both are pending unrestricted free agents. Both will, obviously, look for raises, but the Rangers cannot afford to invest a large sum in two players who simply are not top-end pieces. It’s as simple as that.
What Sather and the Rangers brass have to figure out is which player is worth keeping around more. Callahan has proven through the years that he can bring a lot to the table; goals, physicality, leadership and intangibles. But he’s severely injury prone and probably has a short shelf life.
Girardi on the other hand is an absolute bull and is tough as nails. He can handle 30 minutes per game on a regular basis and still be effective. The problem with G is that he’s proven over the last couple of years that he can go totally flat and make some really poor decisions in his own end. Also there’s concern over how much he handle in terms of work load as he gets older.
Sather needs to consider the future and realize he’s going to have to collect on one of these players and then commit a fair salary to the other once the season ends.
If it’s me, it’s Callahan. He’s become a piece of glass and is going to demand more money than Girardi, and I personally don’t want to commit to an injury-prone forward with a limited skill set. I’d much rather invest in a reliable right-handed defenseman who has proven that he can battle through just about anything.