The Rangers are off to a terrible start, so what can they do to try and get the train back on the rails?
It would be an understatement to suggest the New York Rangers are off to a poor start.
Only seven games into this season, the Rangers (2-5-0) ranked 30th in goals-against per game (4.14), 28th in goals per game (1.57), 22nd in penalty killing (78.6 percent) and 21st in faceoff percentage (47.7 percent).
These lousy stats can be attributed to several factors. The players are still adjusting to new coach Alain Vigneault’s system, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was struggling to adjust to smaller pads, while injuries to key forwards Rick Nash, Carl Hagelin and Ryan Callahan hurt their offense.
The Rangers’ struggles have also provided fodder for the rumor mill.
The New York Post’s Larry Brooks questioned management’s handling of contract negotiations with Lundqvist, who’s due to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
It’s widely assumed that, while the Rangers will open the vault to re-sign Lundqvist, negotiations between the two sides have gone slowly.
Brooks isn’t sure if Lundqvist has been distracted by his contract status, but claims he hasn’t been the same since training camp opened in September.
The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch reported the Rangers may have offered Lundqvist a long-term deal worth $6 million per season. He believes the netminder will eventually get an eight-year deal worth between $7.5- and $8-million per.
That would make Lundqvist the NHL’s highest-paid goaltender, but his performance thus far has done nothing to justify such a significant raise.
Garrioch also claimed the Rangers were shopping for a top-six forward and trying to move winger Chris Kreider, who’s been a disappointment since his impressive debut in the 2012 playoffs.
Kreider, 22, was recently called up by the Rangers, though Brooks doesn’t expect he’ll do much to improve a sagging offense still hurt by the absence of Nash, Hagelin and Callahan.
Assuming the Rangers called up Kreider to showcase him, they shouldn’t expect to get much in return.
For that matter, they shouldn’t expect to find much help via trade or free agency at this point in the season.
It’s rumored the Florida Panthers could shop some of their veterans, with Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg mentioned as possible trade candidates. Each carries an annual salary cap hit exceeding $4 million, which would be difficult for the Rangers to fit into their limited cap space. Fleischmann also carries a no-movement/modified no-trade clause.
Buffalo Sabres winger Thomas Vanek’s free agent status next summer makes him a permanent fixture in this season’s rumor mill, but his expensive cap hit ($7.14 million) means the Rangers would have to shed considerable salary to take him on. There’s also no guarantee they could re-sign Vanek, which makes him an expensive gamble.
The equally struggling Philadelphia Flyers also need scoring punch so there’s no fit there for the Rangers there.
Forget about prying Nail Yakupov out of Edmonton, as the Oilers reportedly aren’t giving up on the struggling sophomore winger.
Speculation persists Colorado Avalanche center Paul Stastny could be shopped this season, though that’s not expected until closer to the March trade deadline.
The Detroit Red Wings are reportedly shopping Jordin Tootoo to free up cap space, but the gritty right winger won’t bolster the Rangers’ scoring.
Simon Gagne remains available via free agency, but injuries have seriously hampered his effectiveness as a scoring winger.
The best bet for Rangers management at this point is to remain patient and hope the roster quickly adjusts to Vigneault’s system, Lundqvist adjusts to his smaller pads and they get their injured scorers back soon.