Thursday night’s 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadians pushed New York’s losing streak to five games. With Monday’s 3pm NHL trade deadline in sight, the Rangers opted to not dress Rick Nash or Michael Grabner as a precautionary approach. Not only did they healthy scratch Nash and Grabner, the Rangers gave Alexandar Georgiev his first career start, while demoting Henrik Lundqvist to the backup position. As trade talk rumors begin to swirl around Madison Square Garden it has become very evident that New York’s General Manager, Jeff Gorton, is on the verge of dealing his veteran players and issuing a full on rebuild.
Gorton already shook things up on Tuesday by trading defenseman Nick Holden to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Rob O’Gara a 2018 third-round draft pick. Although, this was not a shocking deal by any means, the Rangers receive a big, shutdown style defenseman to add to their depth on the back-end. At 6’4”, 207lbs, O’Gara has all of the physical tools to be a solid fourth or fifth defenseman in New York, while having a higher upside than what Holden had contributed in his short stint with the organization.
Nash and Grabner have likely also played their final games in New York and will be on the move this weekend. By scratching their two biggest offensive trade targets the Rangers could not risk an injury to either player as any minor setback would ultimately hurt their chances of pursuing the rebuild. The Nashville Predators have already expressed their interest for Nash, but with the likelihood of pursuing a top defenseman in return, the Central Division leaders would probably not be willing to deal. Another team hiding in the woodworks in pursuit of the power-forward is the Winnipeg Jets. Although, the Jets have strong wing depth, they do not have a big, powerful goal scorer to pair on the left side of either Mark Scheifele or Bryan Little. Winnipeg has the potential to make a deep playoff run and Nash’s size and goal scoring ability would complement their system nicely.
Captain Ryan McDonagh has been out of the lineup since February 8 with an upper-body injury and is close to returning. The question now is has he played his final game as a Ranger? The likely answer being, yes. With a very appealing $4.7 million cap hit, McDonagh will not cost very much and any cup contending team would easily deal for the 28-year-old, Minnesota native. The two most outspoken candidates who would be willing to take the cap hit are the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Bruins. Even though Boston already dealt for Holden this week, they have expressed major interest in acquiring McDonagh as well. Tampa Bay currently holds the best record in the Eastern Conference and could pair the Ranger captain with all-star defenseman Victor Hedman, implementing a top five defensive pairing in the league.
New York’s franchise goaltender is possibly on his way out the door as well. Lundqvist has expressed his unhappiness over the past month and his body language on the ice tells it all. The 2011-2012 Vezina Trophy winner has played his entire 13 year career with the Rangers, but has failed to hoist the Stanley Cup. A playoff hungry team in dire need for an elite goaltender would be the New York Islanders, who are currently tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final wild-card spot in the East. However, Lundqvist would have to waive his no-trade clause and the chances that the Rangers would even think about trading an elite talent to their crosstown rival is very slim.
If Gorton does in fact make the necessary moves in rebuilding this franchise from the bottom up, he best not fail in acquiring younger, elite talent in return. With New York bolstering the nation’s biggest sports market and the spotlight shining brighter than ever, Gorton’s future and his legacy will be at stake as the deadline nears.