Several key decisions loom for the Rangers as the Feb. 24 NHL trade deadline nears. Though the most pivotal big call revolves around the long-term future of power forward Chris Kreider, the Blueshirts are reaching a crossroads in their rebuilding plan.
Every move that the Rangers make from here through the final hours of the trade deadline will be handled through the prism of how the front office interprets the pace and progress of the rebuild. Do the Rangers see themselves edging closer to becoming a team that can hold their own against the Eastern Conference’s heavyweights – or is their youthful roster still years away from achieving that status?
The uncertain futures of Kreider, Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome, Alexandar Georgiev and Jesper Fast are among those being put under inspection. Each of these players offer value to a winning hockey club.
It’s possible that Jeff Gorton would consider trading both DeAngelo and Strome on the backs of their career years. In Strome’s case, we’re looking at a No. 2 center who is exceeding expectations with 43 points through 48 games. Yet, how much of that output is tied to playing alongside all-world wing Artemi Panarin? Put Strome in any other situation and it’s hard to envision him being an 0.90 point-per-game center. Maybe it’s time to sell high and avoid an overpay.
Georgiev’s steady net-minding has attracted the interest of several teams around the league. The Rangers are currently complicated by a three-goalie rotation. Henrik Lundqvist possesses full no-movement rights, and Igor Shesterkin is primed to become Lundqvist’s eventual successor. Trading Georgiev would allow Shesterkin a greater share of starts, and it would also fetch the Blueshirts a nice return.
Then there’s Fast. For seven years, the 28-year-old wing has served as a glue guy. Teammates have selected Fast as the Players' Player Award winner for four straight seasons. David Quinn has continually deployed Fast on the second line. Similar to predecessor Alain Vigneault, Quinn appreciates the consistency and maximum effort brought by Fast.
Yet, Fast doesn’t produce like a second-line wing. Should he keep up his current pace, he would finish this season with a career-high 36 points. His production and defense-first mentality make him a better fit in a bottom-six role. Eventually, Kaapo Kakko will seize an increased role once he gains consistency and experience.
There’s also the O-word to think about again – overpay. The Rangers clearly value Fast’s on-ice impact, team-first traits and leadership. You don’t want to overpay Fast, especially when Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov will leapfrog him in the pecking order.
The Rangers only have so much cap room to spread across an up-and-coming roster. It makes more sense to pay a premium to keep Kreider than it does doling out raises to several depth players and dealing Kreider away. That’s something for Gorton and co. to mull over during the coming weeks.