NEW YORK, NY – Around this time I usually think to myself, ‘Pitchers and catchers are in camp and February is almost over. Spring will be here soon!‘ Then I watch a few days of bland news stories with footage of CC covering first and speculation of which Triple-A All-Star is going to claim the Mets’ 1B base job. After that I flip open the calendar, do the math and realize there’s still over a month left of winter. Damn it.
Don’t Tank… Trade Hank?
On Saturday I hit the gym and took a detour on the way home to have a beer and catch the second period of the New York Rangers game. After giving up two quick goals to go down 3-1, the feisty Rangers powered back to tie it before the end of the period. And they had most of a double minor on Crybaby Sidney Crosby to start the third.
The third Rangers goal was a thing of beauty. The fore-check was relentless. Every time a Penguins player touched the puck, a Ranger was all over him like Phil Kessel on a hot dog. The Penguins could not get it out of their zone and eventually Ryan Strome found the loose puck in the slot and put it home.
My thoughts started to get away from me a little bit. This team is legit. They have a true first line, up-and-comers on the blue line and this goalie Georgiev is obviously the real deal. This team should be buyers at the trade deadline, not sellers. I quickly checked the standings and realized a win would put them within single digits points from a playoff spot. They can do it!
Reality Sets In
But by the time I paid the check, drove home, and threw a few squeaky footballs for my dog Chief to run down, the Penguins were up six to three. Womp Waaa, cue the Debbie Downer music. The Rangers didn’t quit and scored two more, but it was a tough loss.
While this team is scrappy, hard working, and looks great in bursts, the hard truth is that they don’t have the depth up front or the consistency or experience on the blue line to hold up for the full sixty minutes very often.
If they could keep this team together for a few years, let youngsters like Filip Chytil, Brady Skjei, Tony DeAngelo, and Neil Pionk continue to develop, bring in a key free agent or two, they might have something.
Hayes and Zucc
But the problem is that key cogs Mats Zuccarrello and Kevin Hayes are unrestricted free agents after this season. If they’re not going to win now, it makes sense to get something for them while you can. But with the way initial brothers Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zucarello have synched up since the Hobbit’s return from injury, the Rangers are reportedly now looking at giving them extensions.
It’s a conundrum. How can you break up the trio of Mika, Mats, and Chris Kreider when they have been so dominant? And while Hayes hasn’t been as good as was early in the season, in part due to playing with lesser players because of the success of the top line, he’s taken a big leap this year. His fake slapper pass to set up the tie breaking Pavel Buchnevich goal in Friday night’s win against Buffalo was a thing of beauty. He has excelled this year in all situations and proved he’s a top six player. And at 26, the Rangers have to at least kick the tires on a contract extension. And what’s not to love about Zucc – the little fan favorite underdog with the golden passing touch.
The Hank Problem
In spite of Georgiev’s poor third period, it’s time to let this kid play and see what he can do. The Rangers also have Russian super prospect and possible heir to the King’s throne in Igor Shestyorkin playing well in the KHL. He is nearing a North American debut, possibly as early as next season.
Lundqvist is about to turn 37 and he has two more years on his contract with a cap hit of $8.5 million in each. And while it pains me to say this, it’s not going to happen for him here. It would be difficult to get the King of New York to waive his no trade clause and I’m not sure if there would be a taker for his contract.
But the Rangers have to at least explore this option and ask him if he would consider waiving it. Getting his contract off the books would open up a lot of doors and increase their chances of bringing in a free agent like Artemi Panarin. And if Georgiev flops in full time duty, at least they’ll know. I hope the King’s reign ends with more dignity than King Geoffrey’s, but it’s time to find his heir.
Lundqvist still plays well in spurts, but has also looked mediocre – like in his last start vs the
J-E-T-S Jets. In one of Mark Scheifele’s goals, Hank did not hug the post and let a tight angle shot squeak by him. Hank’s body language told you that he knew the goal was on him. The Rangers played well and may have deserved a better fate, but a 3-2 lead turned into a 4-3 loss when Lundqvist gave up two in a short span in the third.
Anyway, Quinn has these guys playing hard and they’re fun to watch at least. But they’ve got some tough decisions ahead.
What’s never a tough decision? Coming back tomorrow for Angry Ward. Follow us on Twitter at @BenWhit8, @MeetTheMatts, @Matt_McCarthy00, Instagram @MeetTheMatts and like our Facebook page, Meet The Matts.