It’s 37 games into a 56-game season for the Rangers. Right now there are five teams ahead of the Blueshirts for four playoff spots. Is it reasonable to think that New York can sneak into that last spot? How important is it to even get there?
As far as it being possible–the Rangers have not been mathematically eliminated–so anything is possible. New York is fighting for the final spot with 39 points with Boston (the Bruins have 43 points with three games in hand) and Philadelphia (also with 39 points and one game in hand). The key really lies with the future games that Rangers will play and, specifically, with the games that the Rangers play this next week. Tomorrow night they start the week with a set against Pittsburgh and then move to the Islanders. Losses in even half of those games will make it almost impossible to jump over the Flyers and Boston. In the meantime, Boston plays Phillie three times this week and the Caps twice–five tough games in seven days. Phillie also has a tough 5-game schedule in seven nights. So we will know by the end of Sunday if there is even a realistic possibility for the Rangers to make the playoffs. But should the team even be worrying about making the playoffs at this point? The Rangers are close, but they are not quite there yet.
Being focused on trying to win every game is David Quinn’s mantra, and it is a good one. But Quinn admitted last week that it is a balancing act–winning and developing the young players at the same time. Coincidentally, knowing whether the team can make the playoffs by next Sunday will occur almost concurrently with the trade deadline. There are so many questions to be asked between now and then. Can the Rangers pick up the pieces before the deadline that they need to really contend this year? Should they do so if they even have the chance? Should they be sellers and get picks or should they stand pat or should they do something in between? All these questions can spin one’s head as I am sure they are doing for JD and Jeff Gorton.
But let’s do a reality check for a second. Yes, this team made the qualifiers last season, but they were not really a team that could move forward with the big boys. This season, it is a better, more talented team; but, that does not mean that they have enough pieces in place (and developed sufficiently) to be a playoff team, no less a Cup contender. Let’s be honest here, I know the team wants to win every game, and they should want to, but this is not the Rangers’ year. When you are looking at a trade deadline, you usually are looking to either finish your team for a Cup run or you are looking to build. The Rangers are in an in-between position. They have some excellent established and young players on the team, and still have some excellent players in the system, but they do have some needs that won’t necessarily be filled from within. So, thinking of trades must be on the minds of management.
One of the needs that probably will not come from within is a young top six, face-off winning, playmaking. center. Is there a trade to be made for one of those? Another need is for a young, tough wing, with offensive upside. Then there is the inevitable question, if the team can get either one of these needs filled, what will it take? Remember, the team is likely two or three years away from a Cup run, probably one year away from a playoff spot. It is still unclear how the three young phenom wings (Kravtsov, Kakko, and Lafreniere) are going to develop, so trading one of them at this time is not optimal. But it is not too soon to get value for other players who may not have a place on the team 2 to 3 years down the road. We already know that the Rangers are trying to trade away Tony DeAngelo. But there are other young (and not so young) players that can be exchanged for these holes in the lineup. I guess that we will have to see whether they can be had, but maybe there is a very good reason that players are being switched from line to line rather than just the whim of the coach. Just maybe potential trade partners are looking and asking.