Keith Yandle is high risk, high reward for the Blueshirts.
The cap-strapped Rangers might have to treat the returns of Ryan McDonagh and Rick Nash as a form of trade deadline acquisitions whenever their injured captain and left wing get healthy. But given how the Blueshirts are playing and the NHL market is developing, that still would put them in a more envious position than most.
Tuesday’s nine-player Toronto-Ottawa trade notwithstanding, multiple NHL scouts believe most teams are more likely to stand pat in the next couple weeks since about 80 percent still have a realistic shot of making the playoffs. Activity may pick up last-minute at the Feb. 29, 3 p.m. deadline, but only if some general managers are able to decipher by then what their team is, or can be.
First-year GM Jeff Gorton’s task, therefore, is not only to assess the Rangers but to gauge where his 29 counterparts stand on whether to sit tight, sell or buy. Defining a timetable for McDonagh (concussion) would help him know truly what he needs or doesn’t need, but even with McDonagh and Nash (left leg bone bruise) expected out again Friday night at the Garden against the Los Angeles Kings, things look up for the Rangers.
Gorton watched Wednesday night’s 3-0 win in Pittsburgh in person alongside president Glen Sather and assistant GM Jim Schoenfeld, the franchise’s first shutout there since Ed Giacomin was in net on Feb. 27, 1971.
His increasingly improving Rangers (31-18-5, 67 points) worked hard for a fourth straight win, creating a five-point gap ahead of the third-place Islanders (28-18-6, 62 points), who held two games in hand entering Thursday night’s match with the Kings at Barclays Center.
The Blueshirts are starting to resemble the resilient group of recent seasons. They improved to 5-2-0 the last seven games without Nash and 2-0-0 without McDonagh. With Gorton holding little cap space, his most prudent action if the team keeps winning might be to get people healthy and trust this core one last time.
McDonagh’s unknown timetable certainly makes it less likely that Keith Yandle will be traded. However, it was never a given Gorton would move the pending unrestricted free agent if this team could start to win.
Sure, if December’s malaise had dragged toward the deadline, Gorton would have had to unload Yandle as a rental instead of losing him for nothing this summer. But if the Rangers continue pushing toward a high playoff seed and reach full strength, Yandle probably sticks around for the spring given how much deeper his presence as a fifth defenseman makes the Rangers on the blue line than most anyone else.
Yandle is high risk, high reward: He buried a late game-tying goal Saturday in Philadelphia then committed a mind-boggling turnover Monday for a shorthanded Devils goal that cost Henrik Lundqvist a shutout. In Pittsburgh he coughed up several early giveaways, only to make an excellent stretch pass to Tanner Glass to start a rush that resulted in Kevin Hayes’ goal.
The Rangers may also keep Yandle hoping to catch lightning in a bottle on their power play in the playoffs, though he hasn’t been the answer so far. The slumping power play is 0-for-15 through the last five games, 1-for-28 in the last 10 and 2-for-50 in the last 18 matches. It would make the difference if it caught fire in May.
Funny enough, the Rangers did not practice on Thursday after Lundqvist cited more practices, more video and less travel as factors in the team’s improved attention to detail Wednesday night. But really, there is a good chance backup Antti Raanta will make his first start since Jan. 17 against the Kings anyway, spelling Lundqvist from nine straight in net.
DRAFT GETS WINDY
The Chicago Blackhawks will host the NHL Draft for the first time in 2017 at United Center, the league announced (June 23-24, 2017). The Buffalo Sabres host this year’s on June 24-25 at First Niagara Center.
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