The New York Rangers were the second-best team in the NHL this past season despite only having two of the three pieces a bona fide contender usually has. They had an elite goalie in Henrik Lundqvist and an elite defender in Ryan McDonagh, but they lacked an elite center and got smoked down the middle against the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final.
According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, the Blueshirts are unlikely to sign Paul Stastny, so they will need to acquire an elite center via trade.
Informed source reports that Rangers have NOT inquired about impending UFA Stastny. Don't have the cap space to be bidder in auction. #NYR— Larry Brooks (@NYP_Brooksie) June 25, 2014
One player who should pique the interest of general manager Glen Sather is Joe Thornton based on his value and talent, but should the Blueshirts attempt to trade for him?
On the surface, it is easy to say no, because trading for him would appear to be business as usual. The Rangers are known for acquiring older stars in the limelight of their careers, and to date, Jaromir Jagr has been the only player to be successful.
Should the Rangers pursue Thornton?
The Rangers also just went to the Cup Final, so blowing up the roster isn't something appetizing to most fans.
However, Thornton has shown he can be consistent in the regular season, and despite his age, he is still one of the best playmakers in the game today. He turns 35 on July 2, but former center Brad Richards just turned 34, and he looked a lot older than that.
In theory, Thornton is a slightly older, bigger and significantly better version of Richards when it comes to on-ice talent. He also has a better contract in regard to total term, and if he had to retire early, there would be no cap recapture, so there is no possibility that the Rangers would carry dead space.
Although you can argue that the Rangers have two good young centers in Derek Stepan and restricted free agent Derick Brassard, they need more. To date, there has been no indication that Stepan can be an elite offensive center, so the Rangers should look for someone to play in front of him.
The Blueshirts could really use a strong, 6'4", 220-pound center who imposes his will on the opposition, and they could especially use one that has chemistry with Rick Nash.
Nash failed to make his mark in the playoffs for a second straight playoff run, and he was a major reason why the Rangers were unable to win the Stanley Cup. Had Nash been on his game, there is a chance they would have taken advantage of some of the opportunities the Kings gave them.
Adding a hulking center would help Nash get more space on the ice, and it could also benefit Chris Kreider as he continues to develop as a goal scorer.
Now that the subject of playoffs has been raised, you are probably wondering why it is being suggested that the Rangers trade for a player who has been a member of teams that have soiled the bed during the postseason.
It is a valid concern, but Thornton himself hasn't been the sole problem. In fact, Adam Herman of the New York Rangers Blog raised a good point about Jumbo Joe in the postseason.
Joe Thornton has averaged .85 PPG in the playoffs since 06. Jonathan Toews is at .86. How is Joe Thornton not good in the playoffs?— Adam Herman (@Herman_NYRBlog) June 18, 2014
The stats speak for themselves, and being in company with Jonathan Toews isn't a bad thing.
So to review, Thornton is a regular-season performer, he has performed in the playoffs, his age hasn't slowed him down and he has a friendly contract that is almost exactly the same as Richards' despite the cap recapture.
With that in mind, there is only one potential drawback. In this situation, it comes down to cost in terms of what general manager Doug Wilson of the San Jose Sharks would want in return. Thornton, although old, is an elite center of value.
While there's a chance Wilson could set a high price, Thornton's no-movement clause could lower that price. According to Doug MacLean of Sportsnet, Thornton may only want to go to the Rangers if he waives his no-movement clause.
MacLean "it seems that right now Joe Thornton only really wants to go to 1 team & that's NY [Rangers]. That's the scuttlebutt"— Hope_Smoke (@Hope_Smoke) June 18, 2014
Thornton himself has publicly said he wants to remain in San Jose, according to David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News. However, there is a chance that could change if management pressures him to leave. It is a possibility if the Sharks want to kick-start a rebuild, but that remains to be seen.
That is speculation at this point, but the fact remains that the price for Thornton could be reasonable if it is true that he wants to only go to the Rangers.
Ultimately, it comes down to Thornton, but based on what the Rangers need, where they currently stand as an organization and what Thornton would add to the team, it is a move that Sather would need to consider and make if the price is right.
If the cost is too high, there is no reason to force the issue, but it is still something to consider.
It is easy to say that it is shortsighted to trade for an older player, but it appears the Rangers will pull out all the stops to win the Stanley Cup after getting so close this past season.